Students Return to Charged City Following NYPD de Blasio Rift

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Students Return to Charged City Following NYPD de Blasio Rift

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Students weigh in on the current situation between the mayor and members of the NYPD. John Minchillo/AP

Students weigh in on the current situation between the mayor and members of the NYPD. John Minchillo/AP

By Joseph Vitale

Following the decision of a Staten Island grand jury not to indict an NYPD officer in connection with the death of Eric Garner during an arrest for selling untaxed cigarettes, New York City experienced several weeks of events that some say revealed its deepest disparities.

In response to the decision not to indict the officer, thousands filled the streets and public parks of New York City. Some participated in die-ins (including Fordham students in December), while some remained faithful in the judicial system’s ruling.

Speaking at a news conference about the decision, Mayor de Blasio invoked his son, Dante, whom he instructed to take special care during encounters with the police.

The comment struck a nerve with police officers. Tensions flared even higher when two on-duty officers were killed while sitting in their patrol car in Brooklyn. The officers were gunned down by a man who traveled from Baltimore and, just minutes before pulling the trigger, said on social media that he was going to “put wings on pigs.”

The ambush was undoubtedly a tipping point in the situation. During a news conference in Brooklyn, police officers and union leaders could be seen turning their backs on the mayor and NYPD Commissioner Bratton as a form of protest toward the mayor.

Speaking on behalf of his police union, Pat Lynch, the president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, later addressed the mayor directly, declaring: “Mayor de Blasio, the blood of these two offices is clearly on your hands.”

On Dec. 26, during the funeral for one of the officers, nearly 20,000 police officers flocked to Queens, where some turned their backs on de Blasio while he delivered a eulogy. On Jan. 4, during the funeral for the second officer, similar protest ensued, as some — but not all — officers turned their backs on the mayor.

Though the mayor met with police union leaders just before the end of 2014, the rift remained: Police, feeling disrespected, continued to lash out against the mayor.
For the first two weeks of the new year, city cops responded by cutting back on arrests and the issuing of summonses around the city, with some news sources reporting that arrests were down 90 percent.

During the first week of the year, officers made half as many arrests as they did in 2014. Parking and traffic tickets were down 90 percent, according to police statistics. Across the five boroughs, 347 criminal summonses were written, compared to 4,077 a year ago.

On Jan. 5, two officers were shot near Fordham’s Rose Hill Campus after they were investigating a robbery at a deli, though they are expected to recover.

“This is absolutely a case of officers going above and beyond the call to protect their fellow New Yorkers,” de Blasio, who visited the officers overnight at St. Barnabas Hospital, said.
Now, in the fourth week of January, arrests and summonses have begun returning to their normal levels, though not fully.

Most of the events happened while students were on winter break, with many returning to a city somewhat different than the one they left after finals week.
The distance for some, however, has not prevented them from keeping tabs on the situation.
“Even as someone generally supportive of police departments, the turning of backs on Mayor Bill de Blasio was inexcusable,” said Benjamin Shull, FCRH ’16 and editor-in-chief of the Fordham Political Review. “A funeral is no place to make a political statement.”

“Even worse was Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch saying that City Hall had ‘blood on its hands’ in the wake of the shooting — that kind of rhetoric is incendiary and only makes the problem worse,” Shull added.

Shull is not alone in his feelings toward police officers who thought it appropriate to turn their backs on the city’s mayor.

“I am deeply disappointed in the decision of some NYPD officers to turn their backs — literally — on Mayor de Blasio,” added Canton Winer, FCRH ’15, and a former editor for The Fordham Ram. “The actions of these individuals represent a disturbing resistance to civilian control of the police force.”

“New York City is a much safer place than it once was, and the NYPD deserves a huge amount of credit for that. But turning their backs on the mayor was a disgrace to their uniform and an embarrassment to the city,” Winer said. “If NYPD officers have issues with the way they are being treated in the public arena, they should address those grievances straight in the eye.”

Some Fordham students continue to play an active role in voicing their opinions on such matters.

One student, Rachel Field, FCRH ’15, is an active organizer with groups such as Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER) and Millions March NYC.

“You turn your back on the mayor,” Field said, “and you turn your back on the people and on democracy.”

“How we move beyond it is acknowledging systemic racism,” she added. “We have to talk about policy changes and all the ways we can effect changes.”

“This is a symptom of a larger issue,” Field added. “It’s not just New York City, it is the entire country.”

In addition to joining off-campus organizations, some students have been active on campus grounds.

In October, nearly 100 students attended a candlelight prayer vigil on McGinley Lawn in remembrance of the victims of police brutality.

The event was comprised of various campus groups, including the Muslim Student Association, Fordham University South Asian Entity, Satin Dolls, Campus Ministry and the African and African American Studies Department.

One of the event’s organizers was Brandon Mogrovejo, FCRH ’15.

“The people of NYC and elsewhere can both support the police force as a profession and institution while also seeking that officers be held to the same standard of legal and moral codes as everyone else,” said Mogrovejo.

Mogrovejo, like many who side with the mayor, felt that the mayor’s remarks about his son and his need to take “special care” during encounters with the police, needed to be said. “By the NYPD taking offense to the mayor’s comments, it shows to me either a severe miscommunication between them and widely available information and current events or active distrust of such information,” he added.

“Dialogue is needed to flush out the cause of tension by the mayor’s comments on his son,” said Mogrovejo. “There should be no tension.”