One year after a grand jury failed to indict NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo for the death of Eric Garner, a 43-year old black man from Staten Island, Progressive Caucus members reject Police Commissioner Bratton’s accusations regarding public protests and demonstrations below.
Dear Commissioner Bratton,
We write this letter in response to comments you made last week, Tuesday, November 24th at an NYPD promotion ceremony in which you stated that last year’s protests (in the wake of the tragic death of Eric Garner) “led to the murder of two of our police officers,” the horrific killings of Detectives Ramos and Liu last December.
Given the climate of New York City and the nation, it is imperative that our city’s leadership choose their words carefully and reliably. It is our belief that this was not done last week.
We believe your comments were not only false, but also conveyed to your officers a harmful and counterproductive message about overwhelmingly peaceful calls for racial justice, about the role and purpose of protest in a democratic society, and about the responsibility of police officers to protect democratic expression. We acknowledge that this may be more challenging when officers personally disagree with those expressions, and when protestors are critical of police actions or policies.
It is clear that the vile, murderous actions were that of the deranged killer. It is inappropriate to link overwhelmingly peaceful protests to the murders of two officers. It would be just as specious to connect the killer’s 19 previous arrests, his attempted suicide or shooting of his girlfriend in Baltimore that took place immediately preceding his trip to New York City.
You often speak of “collaboration” when working toward the common goal of improved community-police relations and safer streets. To do that, we must be mindful of the words we choose, particularly when we assert them as fact. The community is listening to us and will be responsive. That kind of language and assertion before a large group of officers on an otherwise joyous occasion for them is reckless and dangerous. Indeed, it is even more negligent to make such remarks after five people were shot the day before in a Minneapolis hate crime, while championing the same cause as the protesters you now decry.
Unsubstantiated comments like the one you made do nothing to move any constructive conversation forward. In addition, officers work within a system that requires them to follow orders. They look toward leadership in that system to guide them. The leadership of this city must be responsible for setting policies and tones that make them better officers, not ones that strain their relationship with the community.
Unlike you as Commissioner, or us as elected officials, it is the beat cop who interacts with the public on a daily basis and has to carry out the policies and tones set forth by leadership. It is the community who feels the brunt of these policies – good or bad. We all must use this influence responsibly.
It was made clear by other recent comments that you have little regard for us as legislators. Irrespective of those feelings, we are here as duly elected members. Nothing will prevent us from providing the type of oversight that they expect. We ask your help guiding this needed, albeit difficult conversation. In these times, breaking down the false narrative that equates engaging in oversight and recommending improved police practices, with being anti-police is imperative. This narrative is dangerously false and we would like to think you believe it to be false as well.
It’s difficult to overstate the importance of words, language and honesty in setting the tone for relations between the police department and New York’s many diverse communities. We are confident that you’re aware of this. We sincerely hope, therefore, that in your subsequent remarks – be they public or semi-private – you strike a more balanced tone and – we believe – a more accurate description of what has happened.
We mourn the still-raw loss of Detectives Ramos and Liu, who were murdered while seeking to protect the New York they loved. We also mourn the preventable loss of Eric Garner.
We stand ready and willing to meet, talk and act on moving this city forward together.
Yours in service,
The New York City Council Progressive Caucus
IN THE NEWS