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Operation Stand-Down

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For the better part of a month, New York’s police have been throwing temper tantrums, turning their backs on the new mayor and refusing to do their day-to-day jobs, prompting the New York Times to publish a series of admonishingincensed editorials. ‘What New Yorkers expect of the Police Department is simple,’ one said:

1. Don’t violate the Constitution.
2. Don’t kill unarmed people.

To that we can add:

3. Do your jobs. The police are sworn public servants, and refusing to work violates their oath to serve and protect. [Police Comissioner] Bratton should hold his commanders and supervisors responsible, and turn this insubordination around.

That was two weeks ago. But until last Friday, ‘Operation Stand-Down, Protect Yourself, Do Nothing’ seemed still to be in effect. That day, Bratton ordered his men, who are legally prohibited from striking, to get back to work. (We’ll see if the order has any effect.) Either way, there’s been no conversation about the firing, or suspending, of insubordinate cops. This may be a practical impossibility, given the number of police involved, an obstreperous police union (currently involved in contract negotiations with the city) and the surrounding political climate. But that, in itself, is cause for concern.

Although it’s the size of a small standing army, New York’s police force now sees itself as a victim: of the ungrateful, undeserving public it serves; of the attorney general, Eric Holder; of New York’s pot-smoking mayor, who campaigned on an anti-stop-and-frisk platform and warned his mixed-race son to ‘take special care in any encounter with the police officers who are there to protect him.’ Among other things, this is an upside-down response to public outbreaks of sympathy for Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, John Crawford III and other victims of police violence.

In New York, the police presence has been especially strong in and around the World Trade Center, where the Freedom Tower recently opened for business. ‘This Is Who We Are,’ reads the text on a construction site. ‘Optimistic. Courageous. Undaunted. This is the World Trade Center – a pioneering spirit unchanged since 1972.’ ‘Speak for yourself,’ I want to reply; it feels pretty different to me. But there’s no one to reply to – the cops are all in the food court, walking around in groups, or standing about, chatting up the cashiers. They ignore everyone else – which is pretty much how it’s been with the cops in New York since 9/11. For the most part, people in the food court ignore them, too. The city’s reply to the slow-down was a collective shrug. ‘We’ll park wherever we want, smoke dope in the streets, do what we like,’ the city said. But that’s what New Yorkers do anyway. It’s why the NYPD’s slow-down was destined to fail. ‘See how much you need us,’ the department said. But, as far as anyone’s been able to establish, even adjusting for the cold snap that coincided with the slow-down, crime in the city went up only slightly.

The World Trade Center

The World Trade Center

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