New York Times
December 18, 2014


EDITORIAL

Dying In, Rising Up

The protesters who lay down in the streets by the thousands across New York City this week, memorializing Eric Garner and calling for policing reform, showed a vivid grasp of symbolism and, despite seething anger, a commitment to peaceable dissent that lent credibility and potency to their demands.

Too bad their admirable example — repeated many, many times in the months since Mr. Garner was fatally assaulted by police officers on Staten Island — has not been followed by some who cluster at the fringes of this movement or have set themselves in staunch opposition to it.

There were those seeking to provoke violence, like the group that attacked police officers on the Brooklyn Bridge, one of them a college teacher who was accused of trying to toss a garbage can at officers and was toting, police say, three claw hammers and a ski mask. They do not represent the vast majority of protesters, or their peaceful spirit.

And then there is the president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, Patrick Lynch, whose extremism has been no less abhorrent for being rhetorical. He has tried to recast the Garner tragedy as a story of police victimhood, spreading a false narrative that city leaders disrespect all cops, to the point of urging fellow officers to sign a petition demanding that Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito stay away from their funerals should they be killed on duty.

In a private meeting with union members last Friday, Mr. Lynch was heard urging cops to use “extreme discretion in every encounter” with what he called “our enemies.” The suggestion was that the police should follow the rules only to protect themselves, not the public.

Mr. Lynch’s attacks against the mayor and Council speaker, for the alleged offense of hating cops, are the extortionate provocations of someone who is blind and deaf to what has been going on in this city — and what still needs to happen. The anger at Mr. Garner’s death is entirely understandable, given the appalling video that shows an unarmed man’s needless death by a smothering band of officers.

The response by city leaders has so far been exemplary. Mr. de Blasio and Ms. Mark-Viverito in particular have made clear their respect for the police and have been unstinting in calling for nonviolence among protesters. Mr. de Blasio will surely do so again when he meets on Friday with young leaders of Justice League NYC, one of the groups leading the call for police reforms.

Mr. Lynch and other critics may wish it were otherwise, but the Garner case has not split the city into opposing camps. The protests have been inspiring in the way they have united New Yorkers across boundaries of race, ethnicity, age and social class.

Young leaders of the police-reform movement, like their counterparts in Ferguson, Mo., and other cities, have creatively used social media and their own energy in translating grievance into mass action, assembling crowds at the drop of a pin on a smartphone map. The mayor and Council speaker are right to respect that.