Can the NYPD Be Trusted to Keep the Post-Election Peace?

Police using their bicycles as weapons against protesters in Union Square last year. File photo
Police using their bicycles as weapons against protesters in Union Square last year. File photo

Who ya gonna call — Trump lovers?!

Mayor de Blasio and NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan pushed back on questions that NYPD officers will be ill-equipped (or ill-inclined, given their union’s endorsement of the president) to keep the peace in the event of mass protests or violence after the Nov. 3 election — especially if President Trump is defeated at the polls and refuses to step down.

In separate news conferences on Tuesday, both officials said police officers — the majority of whom live in the suburbs — will leave their politics at home.

First, Streetsblog raised the apparently controversial question with the mayor:

Question: Over the summer, the city had mass protest over police misconduct, some of which led to incidents that you yourself agreed were not well handled by the NYPD. Now we are at the precipice of an election in which the president has not indicated whether he will step down if he loses, and in fact has hinted that there will be violence. Given that such a scenario might involve millions of New Yorkers taking to the streets, and given that the NYPD’s union has endorsed the president, we need to know the extent to which you, the governor, the police commissioner and others have really gamed out the various scenarios to deal with the potential for widespread unrest and violence, and the possibility that the police force has conflicted members.

Mayor: I think it’s a fair question. It’s something that Commissioner Shea and I have talked about, and that kind of work to prepare is happening right now in the NYPD and at City Hall and we are going to have a very clear approach because I’m not going to be surprised if there is a prolonged count, recount, whatever it may be in this election and extremely strong views, and a lot of people out expressing themselves, and we have to protect the right to protest, and, you know, we expect and should be ready for a lot of peaceful protest, and obviously would have to deal with it if anyone attempts violence and we have to stop that violence.

The mayor then went on to describe himself as “sad” and unprecedented that people might misconstrue the Police Benevolent Association’s endorsement of the president as evidence that cops will be conflicted in carrying out their duties, should the protesters be calling for President Trump to leave office.

It’s sad … people literally saying that they think what a leader of the PBA says reflects the whole NYPD, and that’s just false. That’s painfully, bluntly false. And I don’t know what happened in this city that that could become so unclear. I think it’s something we’re going to have to work on a lot going forward, but, no, the PBA leadership does not speak for the men and women of the NYPD. I would tell you having gotten a real good sense of the members of this police force, they hold a broad, broad range of views. I would note, again, this is a majority people of color police force and a police force that is very, very substantially city residents. … And so, you’re going to have police officers that have views across the spectrum, but I also think we’ve seen overwhelmingly officers leave their politics at home and they go and do what has to be done to keep people safe and to respect peaceful protest, and any officer who can’t or won’t do that we have to discipline and we have to address, but I don’t get an indication that that is a widespread challenge. I know a lot of people feel it. I know there’s a lot of fear. I think there’s a lot of fear on so many fronts right now, but it’s not what I see in all that I work on day to day with the NYPD including right down to the grassroots level. And I know that the leadership, the NYPD would not tolerate people, bringing their politics into the work.

A few hours later, Chief Monahan was asked a similar question, and gave a similar answer, “When we put on this uniform, we are apolitical,” Monahan said. “We have no stance in one way or another.”

how sb covered the flatbush ramming
How Streetsblog covered the story.

Streetsblog’s own readers have seen evidence that the opposite is sometimes true, such as last year when a patrol officer told a woman to “go back” to where she came from — a put-down the president made at around the same time — when she questioned why he was parked in a bike lane. And at the start of the George Floyd protests in May, cops were caught on camera ramming squad cars into protesters on Flatbush Avenue. (Mayor de Blasio later said he “did not like” what he saw on the videos, but none of the cops was disciplined.)

Cops were also seen brutalizing protesters with bicycles in Union Square. And cops tackled a cyclist who was merely riding as part of a peaceful protest during the summer, as Streetsblog reported.

And last summer’s protests provided ample evidence that NYPD officers can and will act brutally to protesters. The New York Times analysis of scores of video clips, multiple on-the-street stories in Gothamist by Jake Offenhartz and David Cruz, and even a report from Human Rights Watch demonstrate some officers’ implicit bias against protesters.

And coverage in the NY Post earlier this summer documented a slowdown by NYPD officers who were apparently motivated to make fewer arrests after the City Council passed, and the mayor signed, a ban on chokeholds. Monahan and Shea had openly defied the mayor, their boss, over the issue. The police unions are also fighting a law change that allows the public to see disciplinary records of cops, a change that also had the mayor’s support — and led to the PBA’s endorsement of Trump.

The PBA tweeted from its official account that accusing cops of possibly being biased is “hysterical nonsense.”

But some members of the public were not convinced.