Consequences of Turning One's Back to the Mayor

Two policemen were shot and killed in New York City by a black man in a crazy response to the series of killings of unarmed black men by those who represent the law. His deed was horrible and unforgiveable, but it was alas also one of those incidents that characterizes a dark part of violent American culture where buying, owning and using guns is a right, even for those who are mentally disturbed and go unchecked and untreated. Most black individuals and all black leaders reacted with restraint and dignity on this sad incident.

As the white father of two black kids and the son of a police officer from Rotterdam, The Netherlands, I followed closely the reactions of our elected officials and of the New York City police force at the funerals of officers Liu and Ramos. With my fathers' eyes I saw our mayor and Vice President Biden doing their job by just being there to stress that the murder of a police officer is something else than the murder of a citizen. On a human level they are the same, but on the level of the workings of a civil society they differ profoundly: the murder of an officer is implicitly an assault on our collective safety.

The reactions of a significant number of our New York City officers were however less 'civil spirited' or dignified. They turned their backs to the man who was democratically chosen by us all on a platform that promised to change a police culture, which was factually biased against people of color. Those officers didn't show their disrespect just once at the Ramos funeral in the final days of 2014, but -- even after being admonished by their boss, Commissioner Bill Bratton -- they did the same for a second time last Sunday at the funeral of Officer Liu.

The disrespect was not only for Bill de Blasio personally, but was also for his political anti-racism agenda. It is of course acceptable for officers to disagree with an elected official and to discuss a different point of view, but in the end it is the votes of the citizens which decide what happens in New York: the police force has to act in function of our democracy. The uncooked actions of the police officers constituted an assault on that democracy.

Looking with the eyes of my kids, I see something more. I see a police force at a highly emotionally charged moment in time and using the extreme visibility of the event, showing its unwillingness to rethink their positions until now and to explore and fight their racial biases. The consequences of this attitude, when unchecked, are dire. If elected officials will let this pass and will not take disciplinary measures, it will mean that the city of New York in essence allows racist policing by their Finest, it will mean eventually that the city stays 'officially' less safe for people of color. It would be bitter if that would be the result of weeks and weeks of passionate, moving and concerned protests trying to accomplish the opposite.