September 25, 2017

Razzle Dazzle

John Jay Cop-Mocker Too Cruel for School


CLASSLESS CLOWN: After igniting a furor and being suspended over his tweet that ‘it’s a privilege to teach future dead cops,’ John Jay College of Criminal Justice instructor Michael Isaacson (left) continued lashing out, claiming he was the victim of a conspiracy coordinated by Mayor de Blasio and Patrick J. Lynch despite their known distrust of each other. But John Jay Professor of Law and Police Studies Gene O’Donnell (right), who’s an ex-NYPD officer, said he was using ‘insane rhetoric…that can actually cause damage to the police as individuals.’

After he was suspended from his teaching duties at John Jay College of Criminal Justice Sept. 16 for attracting scary threats with a tweet that mocked police murders, Michael Isaacson declared, “My biggest regret is putting my students and the John Jay faculty and staff at risk.”

It might have seemed surprising that this bothered him more than the world having learned via Twitter that he viewed his students who were pursuing careers in law enforcement with the irreverent contempt that drips from the statement that “I think it’s a privilege to teach future dead cops.”

It’s the kind of bewilderingly stupid joke that made more than a few people want to smack Mr. Isaacson, who’s 29 going on 16, sillier than he already is. It would have been in deplorable taste even if there hadn’t been three NYPD officers since 2014 murdered by crazy people simply for wearing the badge in the service of the same city that had been paying Mr. Isaacson’s salary. Not to mention the other cops gunned down while confronting criminal suspects during that period, and all those who risked their lives fighting crime and in some cases foiling terrorist attempts to create mass-casualty situations.

Sees Himself as a Victim

The baffling part of it was that Mr. Isaacson, who taught economics at John Jay as well as several other colleges in the past, didn’t seem to grasp the implications of his tweet even after it blew up on him. He told a Philadelphia radio interviewer Sept. 18 that his suspension was imposed for security reasons rather than over the abhorrent sentiment he had expressed.

“I was receiving a barrage of death threats,” he told Dom Giordano on WPHT, adding that when he arrived at John Jay the previous Friday, school-security supervisors “said they were posting plainclothes officers outside my classroom and one next to it because of the threats the university had been receiving.”

John Jay President Karol Mason, who began her tenure at the beginning of August, had acknowledged there were safety concerns that extended to “students, faculty and staff.” But she also said in the statement announcing the suspension, “I am appalled that anyone associated with John Jay, with our proud history of supporting law-enforcement authorities, would suggest that violence against police is ever acceptable.”

The Professional Staff Congress, long known for its left-of-center politics, issued a statement that concluded by stating that “the right of free speech protects even repugnant speech, and every worker should be entitled to due process,” pledging to “vigorously defend” any member who needed its help.

But that assertion of its institutional duty was preceded by statements that, given the union’s role in relation to Mr. Isaacson and its political leanings, were arguably more damning than the harsher critiques offered previously by three police union leaders.

It began by decrying Mr. Isaacson’s original tweet for “imagining his students dead. Isaacson’s statement is anathema to the teaching profession. It in no way represents the position of the PSC as a union or the tens of thousands of [City University of New York] faculty—both full-time faculty and adjuncts—who choose to work at CUNY because of a profound commitment to the diverse and largely working-class students we are privileged to teach.”

Prior to his suspension, Mr. Isaacson was quoted as saying that he encouraged his pupils considering police careers to pursue something else, but “unfortunately, most of my students don’t have the luxury of a wide variety of career options. They are from low-income backgrounds and are mainly people of color. Most of them are just looking to get a job with a salary.”

So What’s His Excuse?

He apparently couldn’t reconcile their economic situations with his amusement at contemplating them as “future dead cops.” And the gap that would seem to have separated his views about the NYPD from those of many of his students raised questions as to why he would have chosen to teach at a school that long has been a place for law-enforcement people to further their educations, unless he felt his own career options were limited and was “just looking to get a job with a salary.”

He had begun his tweet by writing, “Some of y’all might think it sucks being an anti-fascist teaching at John Jay College” before delivering the money quote. Mr. Isaacson during the radio interview last Monday portrayed himself as a victim, stating that a right-wing website had dug out the Aug. 23 tweet to whip up sentiment against him, and after his appearance on a Fox News program helped take it viral, he fell victim to “a coordinated campaign” that had united two extremely unlikely bedfellows in Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch and Mayor de Blasio as they “conspired against me.”

Even if you suspended belief long enough to imagine those two men set aside their longstanding tensions over matters ranging from politics to police compensation to make Mr. Isaacson’s life more stressful, it was hard to ignore how much help he’d given them in that regard. He’s not the first immature nitwit to go to extremes to call attention to himself and then regret it, but what’s particularly inexplicable is that the course he took never had a chance of ending well for his reputation.

‘Absolutely Outrageous’

As Mr. Lynch had put it before Mr. Isaacson’s suspension was announced, “It is absolutely outrageous that an individual who holds and expressed these views could be employed by any academic institution, much less by one that counts an overwhelming number of New York City police officers among its students, alumni and faculty members.”

A few weeks earlier, Sergeants Benevolent Association President Ed Mullins had taken some heat over a video called “Blue Racism” that argued that the targeting of cops, whether for killing or scorn, based merely on their occupation was another kind of bigotry. Critics countered that it was a flawed analogy and that police officers, unlike the minority groups to which they were being compared, had the power of government behind them, even when they abused their authority.

But their analysis in this instance was undercut by Mr. Isaacson’s sneer about having the “privilege to teach future dead cops.” Substitute any ethnic, racial or religious group for cops and attach it to the end of that phrase and ask whether a college instructor could keep his or her job after making that remark.

There have always been concerns that the emotionally grueling aspects of police work can take a psychological toll on those who perform it: that working in situations where they are exposed to tragedy and the worst sides of people, combined with the abuse they sometimes endure from the public and even their own supervisors, can have a numbing and even dehumanizing effect.

Hate Sin, Deride Sinner?

But Mr. Isaacson’s tweet was a reminder that this impact can also be seen in those who become willing to deny cops’ humanity and see them as tools of the power structure. He had stated prior to his suspension, “I don’t have a problem with individual officers—I mean I teach them—but I don’t like policing as an institution.”

How does this version of “hate the sin, love the sinner” square with his vision of “future dead cops”?

It doesn’t.

He isn’t the only CUNY instructor who has gone around the bend trying to burnish his radical credentials at the expense of cops.

On Dec. 13, 2014, 10 days after a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo for his use of a chokehold that helped cause the death of Eric Garner, Eric Linsker, a poet and adjunct instructor at both Baruch and Queens Colleges, during a demonstration on the Brooklyn Bridge picked up a garbage can. He appeared ready to hurl it from the walkway toward cops on the bridge below, which had been closed off to traffic, when he was confronted by other officers. When they tried to arrest him, he resisted and fled while other protesters attacked police. During his escape, though, he dropped a bag that contained his CUNY ID and a passport, as well as some hammers, and he was arrested a short time later in Brooklyn. Soon after, he was stripped of his teaching duties, although he was allowed to perform “academic support functions” at Queens while his case made its way through the court system.

Getting Treatment

Mr. Linsker pleaded guilty six months ago in Manhattan Criminal Court to a felony charge of Assault in the Second Degree and misdemeanor charges that included resisting arrest and criminal possession of a weapon. He is undergoing mental-health treatment, and if he successfully completes it will be allowed to withdraw the assault plea and be sentenced to three years’ probation on the five misdemeanor counts to which he pleaded guilty.

His criminal activity wound up being overshadowed, actually—initially by the more-successful violent actions by his fellow protesters on the bridge, including an attack on the two Lieutenants from the NYPD Legal Bureau who had confronted Mr. Linsker, one of whom suffered a broken nose. There was subsequent video footage that went viral of several dozen protesters who wound up a couple of miles from the bridge and were recorded chanting, “What do we want? Dead cops! When do we want it? Now!”

Criticism of those protesters, and of Mayor de Blasio’s decision not to publicly denounce them following a Dec. 19 sit-down with protest leaders, escalated dramatically after the assassination of two police officers sitting in their patrol car in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant section the next afternoon.

Gene O’Donnell, an ex-cop who is a Professor of Law and Police Studies at John Jay, said the irony behind Mr. Isaacson’s rhetoric and Mr. Linsker’s unsuccessful attempt to injure cops who were merely monitoring the march across the bridge was that both instructors had dehumanized the very people they accused of being tools of an oppressive system.

‘Sophomoric Theory’

Referring to Mr. Isaacson’s rationale, he said in a Sept. 19 phone interview, “We have to show why his entire theory is sophomoric—it’s not for grown-ups. That’s not an adult conversation.”

He spoke of Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, the two cops killed by a crazed career criminal from Baltimore nearly three years ago, and Miosotis Familia, the Bronx officer shot to death two months ago by another man with a lengthy rap sheet and a history of mental illness. What were supposed to be blows against a white-dominated power structure for its treatment of minorities, Mr. O’Donnell noted, had this result: “You killed a Latino cop, you killed an Asian cop, you killed a Latina cop.”

And just as mentally-ill criminals create their own twisted rationales, he continued, “bloggers don’t live in reality. Cops do. They’re going out and trying to make a better world, and they’re connected to reality.”

When their actions go wrong, Professor O’Donnell said, “There’s a focus on the police. What about the victims of crime? We have violence problems, we have criminal problems. Do you say the system is so bad, it’s worse than these problems?”

‘Language Can Damage’

Although they taught at the same school, he said he didn’t know who Mr. Isaacson was before his “future dead cops” tweet brought him notoriety. And while that feckless use of Twitter did not pose the concrete threat of a trash can hurled from above at cops who were trying to ensure that a demonstration stayed peaceable, Mr. O’Donnell remarked, “It’s a terrible thing to say. It tends to legitimize language that can actually cause damage to the police as individuals.”

Unlike the police-union leaders, he wasn’t sure that firing Mr. Isaacson was the best solution, noting, “there’s a real big trend on college campuses to silence people.” If CUNY terminated his employment, “There’s a chance he’ll be a martyr—‘he took on the machine.’”

Rather, Mr. O’Donnell contended, “The challenge is to show everyone how ludicrous his position is. We should be able to deconstruct his insane rhetoric and really dismantle it: that the multi-ethnic cops of the NYPD are servants of some sinister, unseen force. This argument that democracy is not a democracy—it’s more dangerous than just the visceral reactions it produces.”

A Nest of Contradictions

Pointing to Mr. Isaacson identifying himself in the tweet as part of the anti-fascist movement known as Antifa, he added, “A lot of what they say doesn’t have democratic support. It’s hard to run a democracy because of all the diverse points of view and take ownership of [your actions] and take risks.”

One city cop—call him Al—who’s younger than Mr. Isaacson said that among the contradictions in his behavior had been his decision to appear on Fox’s show hosted by Tucker Carlson, noting that members of Antifa generally tended to do their talking out in the streets rather than to what they would consider hostile interviewers.

“He probably thinks there’s something in it for him,” he said. “My personal view was he was asking for attention and he got it.”

The officer continued, “Being that he’s an instructor at John Jay, it seemed very weird to me. I think [other cops] were just shocked that someone could say something that stupid. And aggressive. Especially at John Jay, where if you’re not already a cop, you’re planning to be one.”

Too Easy to Stereotype

The “what do we want? Dead cops!” rhetoric goes beyond free speech and amounts to incitement. An argument could be made that the chant a week before the assassination of Officers Liu and Ramos came from a small contingent in a rally that attracted 25,000 people, the great majority of whom did not engage in violent behavior with the cops who were there to keep things orderly. On the other hand, 36,000 city cops often shoulder the weight of the bad actions of a handful of cops on the force, and sometimes, the questionable actions of officers in other cities and other states.

And protesters have been known to occasionally be unwilling to turn down the temperature when actions such as those murders makes greater rhetorical restraint necessary. After cops at Woodhull Hospital turned their backs on the Mayor when he came to pay his respects to Officers Liu and Ramos, and their union leaders accused him of having “blood on his hands” for some of his remarks following the non-indictment in the Garner case and his decision not to bring attention to the “Dead Cops” chant by denouncing it, Cardinal Dolan appealed to them to shelve the angry rhetoric until after the funerals for the two officers. When the Mayor made a similar request of the protesters, it was honored for one day before some of them took to the streets carrying signs that stated “Jail Killer Cops” while others chanted “F--- the police!” during a march through Harlem.

The rationale offered by protest leaders was that it wasn’t their fault that the two cops were murdered and so why should they have to scale back their protests or modulate their tone? They seemed impervious to the logic behind showing that much respect being a potential bridge toward getting their grievances addressed and improving the climate between police and protesters, as if the onus for that was on just one side.

A Serial Offender

It was what Mr. O’Donnell was alluding to when he spoke of the need for “an adult conversation.” And given that this wasn’t Mr. Isaacson’s first death wish for cops—on Dec. 5, 2015, he tweeted, “The solution to American gun violence is more dead cops,” and a week before his “future dead cops” eruption he had tweeted, “What’s even the point of a cop that isn’t dead?”—he’s probably incapable of participating in something like that. At some point, you have to wonder whether the Antifa movement shouldn’t become as concerned as John Jay administrators about the hit inflicted on its credibility by being associated with this enfant terrible.

Mr. de Blasio, at least, showed he had learned from experience, tweeting on the day the story blew up, “New York City won’t stand for the vile anti-police rhetoric of Michael Isaacson and neither should John Jay College.”

Mr. Isaacson’s failure to realize that it was a moment to try to make amends for the damage his words did was reminiscent of some high-school student activists of the late 1960s and early 1970s, and of some Teachers of that era who made a point of telling their classes that they entered the profession for shelter from the military draft rather than to cultivate young minds.

And so whether those students whom Mr. Isaacson casually derided without any thought to the implications of his tweet could forgive him if he eventually returned to teaching at John Jay may be beside the point. Of greater relevance is whether there’s anything they could learn from this rebel without a clue if he remained on the John Jay payroll.