I believe strongly in non-violent protest. Following the examples of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I believe that non-violent protest is an effective and mature way of stating opposition to existing rules, laws, or methods of enforcement. Had it not been for such demonstrations in the 60’s and 70’s we would not have made progress in civil rights practices to the degree that we did. We have a long way to go, and it is my hope that we will continue to value and practice non-violent demonstrations and protests in order to move further forward.
One of the ways in which police officers(particularly those in the unions) have chosen to demonstrate non-violent protest against management is to turn their backs when assembled in the presence of management. In the current dispute (which began several years ago) between the powerful NYC police department and its management (particularly the Mayor) a common practice is for the cops to quietly turn their backs and “shun” the Mayor when he is speaking. It is a powerful statement of protest against the policies perceived to be embraced by the Mayor and his administration.
This means of protest has been widely viewed on television screens across the country ever since the violent deaths of two NYC police officers who were gunned down by an angry man. The labor leadership saw the Mayor as being anti-cop in comments he made following the announcement of the tragedy. The highly-sensitive police unions reacted by calling for a turning of backs at public gatherings where the Commissioner was speaking.
The primary point being made is that the Mayor said that he told his interracial teenage son that there are things he should be prepared to know and do when he and his fellow black teens are confronted by police. They are commonly understood to be general practices in this era of tension between primarily black communities and primarily white police forces. Wearing hoodies, keeping one’s hands in his pockets and just hanging out on a street corner or running are seen as flash points for police officers and appears to have resulted in violence upon black teens who are confronted by police.
The union spokespersons have said that the Mayor shows disrespect for the police when he says such things, although reasonable people all over the country have acknowledged that the Mayor was being a good father and a realist when he spoke to his son. Further, the Mayor vetoed the practice introduced by the previous Mayor that police could stop and frisk “suspicious” citizens without any visible signs of weapons or contraband. It has been shown by people studying this practice that there is a degree of racism involved in this practice, so Mayor DeBlasio eliminated it from police practices. The cops are furious with him
There are times and places where the “backs to the Mayor” practice is effective. It is a perfectly legal and legitimate form of non-violent protest. But when it has occurred at funerals of slain police officers over the past couple of weeks, it has crossed the line from “non-violent protest” to “rude” behavior. A funeral is not a political gathering. And the Mayor’s well-prepared homilies and memorials have been from his heart, not his political notebook. As with anything that is good and effective, it can take on a negative quality when over-used or used in inappropriate ways. This is a perfect example. Digging the chasm deeper between the organized police and the administration is not going to lead anywhere. When the Mayor is publicly insulted by his police force it is personally embarrassing and hurtful, and it is hardly endearing to the citizens of the largest city in the nation. Or the citizens of the nation itself.
The leadership of the unions needs to reign in its membership if there is any hope of reconciliation and collaboration in the management of the streets of New York City.
Image Credit: J