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Tag Archives: NYPD

Political Sausage

leaner

I admit it; I know very little about how political sausage is made. I actually don’t want to know how things do or don’t get done. Ten years of administrating in higher education is about all my soul can withstand. But the drawback of averting my eyes is I’m often left with so many things that make me go hmmm. The most recent of those hmmms involves the impending changing of the guard in New York City. The mayoral race, which at times seemed more like an energetic walk, spurred little enthusiasm. The two viable candidates are both relatively agreeable chaps (and yes, they were chaps, white Christian chaps.) But neither had the charisma, pedigree or star power to really excite. Of course who beside another billionaire (or perhaps a fourth reinvention of Alec Baldwin) could have captured the imagination of New Yorkers? Even forced reveals about private family issues failed to yield much public excitement. Let’s face it if you’re not a little man with a lot of money or a big man with a lot of media attention (and featured prominently in a reality show about Newark) it’s hard to enliven the crowd.

The election is over and this (predominantly) democratic city elected a democratic mayor. Bill de Blasio ran a campaign based on opposing several Bloomberg initiatives. It’s not clear if any of these talking points will result in actual change. (Somewhere there’s a doctoral thesis about how many campaign promises actually come true.) The most discussed of these initiatives involve: taxation, policing and education. There are concerns, stoked by de Blasio’s opposition that tampering with policies in any and all of these areas is tantamount to buying a one-way ticket to the 1970s. Without a crystal ball or a finely tuned sense of paranoia, it’s hard to say. Before I jump on the bandwagon, or perhaps more aptly; the Datsun B210, I need just a bit of edification. I don’t need to see the whole sausage in the making perhaps just the vienna sausage or maybe a snausage.

While it’s true that de Blasio opposes stop and frisk policing tactics, it’s not clear to me that there aren’t equally successful methods of crime deterrence. Many stop and frisks happen to people who live in less safe neighborhoods. Are there other ways, perhaps involving employment and community centers to deter criminal behavior? Nobody voluntarily wants to pay more taxes (unless you count those who play the lottery) but they do know that there is a deep economic divide in this city. If raising taxes can mean more affordable housing, many would happily grab their checkbook. But does it mean that? Or will higher taxes simply fill budget gaps left by business leaving or not being courted by a business superstar mayor? Funneling more money into the school system is a sentimental favorite; “it’s for the children!” But do increasing teacher’s salaries and/or extending the kindergarten day really improve education? Is that why so many kids graduate high school barely able to read and write? When did teachers’ salaries, which are the same as police officers in NYC, equate to teaching skill, meaningful curriculum and competent administration? Of course teachers (and police officers) should be handsomely rewarded for a job well done. Everyone should. But the notion that what is wrong with our education system can be fixed with higher salaries and longer kindergarten days is baffling. But it’s surely not as simply as that. Somewhere there are serious conversations taking place involving 10-point plans and advisory committees.

It’s very early days and if history is any indication many of these questions will be answered, as we get closer to the inauguration. All we know right now is that things will change and hopefully for the people who need it the most they will change for the better.

 
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Posted by on November 7, 2013 in Cultural Critique, Education

 

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Good Cop, Bad Cop

adam12

Being a police officer is a job, a dangerous, often unpleasant and demanding job. It is not however a way of life, say like being a monk or a nun. Police officers are entitled to a life outside of their oath and duties. It would be nice if they were model citizens during their off-hours, but it’s not required. We, the public, can no longer be surprised by domestic violence, alcohol and drug use among officers. We’ve seen Al Pacino movies and NYPD Blue. We get it; the job does things to you man. And perhaps more importantly the people who are attracted to such a job are perhaps wired for action.

Chicken or egg aside, it is troubling to discover police officers on the wrong side of the law. It’s always upsetting to hear of an officer involved in a drunk driving incident. (Especially when we factor in how bad the incident must have been for it to have ever seen the light of day.) Moving or cashing in on illegal guns and drugs is equally disturbing. But the most recent incident to come to light, involving an attack on a motorist chills one to the marrow. Feelings about swarming motorcyclists aside, the notion that a cop would participate in terrorizing, chasing and attacking a man driving with his wife and child is shocking. To then run from the law (which is what not coming forward is) and lie about the degree of involvement is unconscionable. Maybe, just maybe, we could think; “Okay so this thug has evaded his superior’s detection. It’s an anomaly.” But see there were two officers involved in the rampage. And that second one? Well he was already on modified duty what with being charged in a domestic dispute.

For those few people who have not seen the video(s) of the rampage, be assured it was terrifying. Motorcyclists on the West Side Highway surrounded the families’ S.U.V. One of the bikers who cut directly in front of the S.U.V. slowed suddenly and the S.U.V. bumped the bike causing it to crash. The driver stopped his S.U.V. and the bikers swarmed. He drove from the scene and was chased, cornered and attacked. The bikers (including at least one of the officers) pummeled the S.U.V., broke a window, dragged out the driver and beat him.

The incident itself is very bizarre and Wild West. There are many things to fear in NYC and motorcycle gangs aren’t often one of them. The idea that police officers would not stop (let alone participate) in such barbarianism is simply unfathomable. Who exactly are we to call when we find ourselves transported into a horror movie?! Of course in our most rational moment we know these officers are not typical. There are 40,000 NYPD officers and it stands to reason that there will be some less than stellar employees. In my neighborhood alone there is a mounted officer who greets residents and allows tourists to pose with his horse and there are officers sitting in their car glued to their mobile phones. (Why uniformed officers need to or are allowed to carry their personal phones escapes me, but I also think theaters should make audience members check their phones.) Suffice it to say there are varying degrees of competency in any industry. But there’s a whole lot of real estate between incompetency and criminality. Exactly what kind of screening goes on in law enforcement? It’s a question posed often about the military, but do we ask it about domestic peace officers? Inciting a riot and terrorizing innocent people is one of the fundamental reasons we, the people, need law enforcement. After an incident like this, one as jarring for the amount of video as it is its content; we are entitled to ask these questions. New Yorkers need to be told exactly what happened (including attempts at a cover-up) why we should consider this an anomaly, and what kind of measures are in place to prevent future occurrences. These are the same things one asks of anyone who has betrayed a sacred trust.

 
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Posted by on October 9, 2013 in Cultural Critique

 

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Everyday People*

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The New York City Police Department has a melting pot guide for its officers. This guide offers tips for understanding the ingredients that make up our multicultural stew. At first blush it would seem a little quaint in the 21st century to need such a guide (in New York City). Unless the police recruits are coming from a small town (in the 1950s!) it’s a pretty sure bet that they’ve met or seen people of other backgrounds. But more than a cursory familiarity is needed on the front lines.

What is striking about this 21st century guide is the assumptions it makes. The reports of its content would suggest that it is written for the white, Christian, heterosexual police officer. Unfortunately there’s nothing unique about this approach. “Diversity” manuals are almost always written from that perspective (and without irony!) Social worker guidelines, medical manuals, public and private sector human resource documents are almost always written from the perspective of the white Christian heterosexual. Anyone doubting this need only flip through the tomes in pursuit of the chapter: Understanding White Christian Heterosexuals. Good luck with that.

Beside the obvious bias that this perspective has, there is a larger efficacy issue at hand. Police officers, social workers, et al. who are not white, Christian and heterosexual experience a gap in their training. A social worker, let’s say from an observant Jewish urban background, working in a rural white Christian area is not well served by this type of training. It is assumed that she will know the customs and culture of white rural Christians. The assumption that NYPD officers are white, Christian and heterosexual is (mercifully) outdated. A first-generation Chinese-American police officer may be well versed in the customs of Chinese-Americans but not know the customs and culture of white Christians. It is true that people who are outside of the power-base of a society know some of the ways of that power group. It is an integral key to survival to know of the holidays and some customs of Christians, whites and heterosexuals if you are not of that background. But the more subtle cultural cues (the type which are always addressed in these manuals and training) need to be spelled out clearly for all people of all backgrounds. Creating diversity manuals, which only have the potential of being 100% effective for white Christian heterosexuals transcends irony.

By not viewing whites, Christians and heterosexual people as a “group” we are asserting that these people are the norm and everyone else is a minority or special interest. This perspective is not helpful and is on the verge of being utterly false. If nothing else it is woefully old-fashioned. When it comes to the topic of cultural awareness we must be ahead of the curve not behind it.

*I am no better and neither are you
We are the same whatever we do – Sly Stone (1968)

 
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Posted by on June 11, 2013 in Cultural Critique

 

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Crime Of The Mind

Edgar Allan Poe

In New York City a man has been convicted of conspiring to kidnap and could be sentenced to life imprisonment. He did not in fact kidnap or hurt anyone, but did type extensively about his desire to do so. It is conceivable that this 28-year old man could spend the rest of his life in prison for having creepy thoughts. This in a land in which people who’ve been convicted of actual crimes serve their time and are released. What in the world does it mean for thoughts to be illegal?

Was the fact that this man a N.Y. police officer too emotionally charged for the jury? Was the jury swayed by the graphic nature of the defendant’s writing? Was the fact that the writing occurred in cyberspace perceived as more threatening than a handwritten journal? Was it that the defendant engaged with other typists in these fantastical plans? Something must have clouded the jury’s vision to render such a verdict. Is there reason to be concerned about the judgement of this police officer? Absolutely, but that’s a personnel issue, no? Were the messages so convincing that the jury was concerned about imminent danger? Perhaps, but that is why probation, monitoring and court mandated treatment were invented.

By equating thought with action we set a dangerous precedent. What does this mean for all crime writers for example? What does it mean for anyone who’s ever put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard)? And what of those who engage with the dangerous writing? Are book clubs or theatre audiences aiding and abetting these dark thinkers? While no one will ever confuse Sweeney Todd with the contents of a chat room, the overarching premise is the same. The fact that the chatting, posting, emailing and texting wasn’t particularly well written or the least bit musically engaging doesn’t mean it wasn’t an exercise in creative writing. Creative writing by a man of questionable mental health of course.

But questionable mental health is not a crime. Do we want people with questionable mental health to be carrying a gun and be charged with protecting people? No. Do we want real and meaningful treatment for those who are not entirely well and who harbor violent thoughts? Without a doubt. Imprisoning (for any length of time) because of mentally illness is a black eye for us all. It is an ugly bruise of a reminder of how inept and misguided we are in matters of mental health.

 
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Posted by on March 13, 2013 in Cultural Critique, Well-Being

 

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Making Noise With Silence

ART=AMMO

Times Square is all about sensory overload. Even during daylight the cacophony of lights and video are enough to give a person vertigo. Thousands of disoriented and staggering people whip their heads up & down and to & fro taking in any and everything. Advertisements flash and beckon from the sidewalk up to the sky. Spotting themselves on the jumbotron, visitors wave frantically to big brother. They squeal and scream in disharmony with ticket hawkers and coupon dealers. Underneath their sound is the white noise of traffic, preaching and ranting.

Yesterday the chaos of sound was silenced and the sight was undistracted for several minutes when a couple of hundred of us raised our hands in synchronicity and protest of gun violence. We held up our hands for 26 seconds, each second representing a victim in Newtown. Instantly the crowd was silenced. We slowly sank to the ground as our ‘partners’ held their hand over our hearts for 26 seconds, and then outlined our bodies in chalk. Lying on the ground, and hearing nothing, absolutely nothing was more realism than most of us bargained for. It was the subway rumbling underneath that reminded us to get up and chalk our partners’ body. We wrote inside the body outlines.; “Crisis” “Boy” “Joseph” “Glock” “Emilie age 6” and quickly dispersed. Making our way through the tour groups and Elmos we looked back. The ground was covered with chalk outlines in a chilling and strangely beautiful tableau. On the perimeter of the ‘performance space’ the assigned police officers still solemnly stood. Moments before the start time they had asked for their friend’s name to be chalked into an outline.

 

Thank you to ART=AMMO for organizing this event.

 
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Posted by on February 25, 2013 in Cultural Critique

 

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