One of the first things every cadet is taught at the New York City Police Academy is to respect the chain of command and have proper decorum while wearing the uniform. Throughout my 22-year career as a police officer and captain, this lesson was never lost on me. When I disagreed with police policy, as I often did and still do, I spoke my mind – as a private citizen – not wearing dress blues.
In the aftermath of the horrific assassinations of Police Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, one of the first things I called for was a pause to the protests that had arisen in the wake of Grand Jury decisions in Ferguson and Staten Island. I urged those justifiably advocating for police reform to allow family members, including the NYPD family, to honor their fallen without distraction.
Never did I think that message would have to also be directed to those that had sworn an oath to protect all New Yorkers, follow the chain of command, and display professionalism while in police blues.
In what has become a common collective action by some members of the NYPD, officers turned their back on Mayor de Blasio as he spoke during the solemn funeral for Officer Ramos this past weekend. Historically, funerals have been neutral zones for protests as we come together to honor the fallen. This act was a display of misplaced anger that only served to detract from honoring the extraordinary life of Officer Ramos and the ultimate sacrifice he made to protect and serve the people of New York City. It served no purpose but to heighten our pain and further divide our city.
At a time when constructive dialogue is needed to heal our city, these officers’ not only turned their backs on the Mayor, but also the people of New York. Their actions played seamlessly into the hands of those who are happy to divide us at the very moment when we need to be united most. The officers that took part in such an incendiary action at a most inappropriate time must remember who they receive their orders from and who they report to: the duly elected Mayor of New York City and his appointed Commissioner of the New York Police Department.
The recently graduated Police Academy cadets, all of whom sat respectfully, while Mayor de Blasio was heckled by a few audience members during his keynote address to the graduating class, recognize this, as do most members of the NYPD.
These 800 new NYPD officers showed that their training taught them the discipline needed to police in 21st century America, a discipline that recognizes that policing must be impartial enforcement, not a venue for protesting. Their discipline and wherewithal is why the future of New York City policing is so bright. Perhaps it is time for those protesting officers to go back to the Academy for a refresher course.
True leaders, like these cadets, recognize that now is the time for putting aside differences and coming together as one. True leaders understand that calls for needed police reforms and supporting New York’s law enforcement community are not mutually exclusive.
Mayor de Blasio has shown true leadership in rejecting this false dichotomy, which is why he has reached out to the NYPD Union leadership this past week to help heal our suffering city. We must hope that this breaking of bread can lead us beyond the divisive commentary to common ground.
Finding this common ground is especially important as we approach Officer Liu’s funeral this coming Sunday. All 8 million New Yorkers, as well as a mournful nation, will once again grieve alongside a family who has lost a husband and a son. We will honor a man who exemplifies the highest ideal of what the New York City Police Department represents and a man who gave his life serving the people of this city. But as we come together again in honor of Officer Liu’s life and in support of his family, we must not reprise actions that push us apart.
Our pain is too raw to bear additional salt in an open wound. We must help heal this wound by moving forward as One City, united in our efforts to ensure the rights of our citizens from overzealous policing and supporting the brave men and women who everyday stand ready to protect us.
Only when we stop turning our backs during times of difficulties and face one another will we move towards a safe and compassionate city for all.
Eric L. Adams is the Borough President of Brooklyn, New York.