For the businessman, the politician, or the police chief, these may be the six most feared words in the English language: “Al Sharpton is on line one.”
The call is not unexpected, but it is nonetheless jarring when it comes. Something has happened, something with racial implications, something that has made it into the news or onto Twitter or Facebook or Instagram or what have you, there to travel at nearly the speed of light until it tickles the finely tuned antennae of the racial grievance industry and triggers an app on Mr. Sharpton’s cell phone, on which is now displayed the phone number, the direct, no-choose-a-menu-option line to the Head Guy himself, the affected businessman, politician, or police chief. And displayed along with the number, the simple question: “Call?”
The Head Guy is trying his best to affect the pretense of a normal routine, to convey the impression of working as usual behind the closed door of his inner office, but he finds it difficult to concentrate. He does not hear the phones ring in the outer office but he sees his telephone light up as the staffers just outside his door field the many calls from reporters seeking his comment on The Incident. These calls are brief, and he watches as the lines light up and then go dark as the staffers end each call with a firm “No comment.”
And then line 1 lights up, the direct, no-choose-a-menu-option line, the number that very few people even know about, and then rather than going dark it begins to blink as the caller is placed on hold. And then the intra-office line seems to burst into light like fireworks, with a beep or a chirp or a buzz that is somehow a bit louder and more grating than ever before. And though the Head Guy answers in a voice he hopes will portray strength to the underlings in the outer office, there is a slight but noticeable quaver in his voice as he picks up the phone and says, “Yes.”
“Al Sharpton is on line one.”
And so it begins. If the Head Guy is a businessman, he knows he is in for a humiliating period of public bowing and scraping. Bowing, scraping, and don’t forget check-writing, the funds of which are to be entered in the ledger under “community outreach” or some such euphemism for “shakedown.” When there has been sufficient bowing, scraping, and check-writing, the sin will be expiated and the crisis will pass. The board of directors will understand this temporary hit to the bottom line as merely another cost of doing business, like the occasional loss of a franchise to a hurricane or tornado. The Head Guy’s job is secure.
But when a politician gets this call, say, the mayor of a large city, he cannot be so sanguine. Yes, there will be bowing and scraping, lots and lots of it, but this is nothing new to him. Nor is the check-writing, though that hardly matters to the mayor as he is burdened with neither a board of directors nor a bottom line. He answers to the voters, some share of whom can be counted on to mark their ballots in a manner Mr. Sharpton has instructed. If that share is sufficiently large, Mr. Sharpton will be allowed to burrow into the very woodwork of City Hall, there to remain and gorge off his host for as long as he pleases. And once he is ensconced, no one will dare lift a finger or even utter a word with the aim of dislodging him.
And when that call is made to a police chief, things are even more complicated. The police chief knows, as do the businessman and the politician, that Mr. Sharpton is a fraud, but unlike the businessman and the politician, he is constrained in how he must deal with the unwelcome intrusion. It’s not that he’s averse to bowing and scraping – how else did he become police chief? – it’s that he knows if he displays too much obeisance to Mr. Sharpton, he will become a laughingstock to the cops he hopes to lead. Worse, if he sacrifices one of his cops to the demands of Mr. Sharpton and his mob, every other cop on the department will fear his could be the next neck in the noose and refrain from doing the things cops must do if crime in the city is to be controlled.
Welcome to New York City in 2015.
Last week, the New York Times wondered on its pages if it was time to dismantle the criminal justice infrastructure erected in the 1990s to combat the crime wave that had brought ruin to New York and most other cities you could mention. “In a Safer Age,” read the headline, “U.S. Rethinks Its ‘Tough on Crime’ System.” The article, like a similarly themed post at the Washington Post’s Wonkblog, seeks to discount advances in police strategy and higher incarceration rates as primary contributors to the decline in crime seen in the United States since the 1990s:
The major increases in drug and gun sentences in the 1980s and ’90s played some role, but only a modest one, most experts say.
And it wouldn’t be the New York Times if it didn’t include this:
… with soaring incarceration rates bringing diminishing returns while disproportionately hitting minorities. (Emphasis mine.)
Disproportionately? Only if the expectation is that arrests and imprisonment will occur at the same level across all ethnic groups regardless of each group’s actual participation in criminal behavior. And only if one is willfully blind can an expectation so manifestly at odds with reality so stubbornly persist. Such is the case at the New York Times, at most other media outlets, on most American college campuses, and at New York’s City Hall under Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Putting these racial disparities aside, New York City may soon become a laboratory for the type of relaxed law enforcement posture the Times advocates, all thanks to Mr. de Blasio. He took office last year at a time of record low crime, a gift bequeathed to him by years of hard work undertaken by his predecessors and, more importantly, the men and women of the NYPD. With the utterance of a few poorly chosen words, the mayor may soon see it all undone as the city slides back into the sort of chaos that reigned through the ‘70s, ‘80s, and much of the ‘90s, the abatement of which so baffles the New York Times.
In reacting as he did to the death of Eric Garner, in ascribing Mr. Garner’s death to “centuries of racism,” in lecturing us on the mortal perils his biracial son Dante faces at the hands of the NYPD, Mr. de Blasio demeaned his cops while seeking to burnish his own leftist bona fides and appease Al Sharpton. Behold the results.
The NYPD made very public their displeasure at the mayor’s insults, turning their backs on him at the funerals for their two murdered comrades, the second occasion coming after NYPD Commissioner William Bratton implored them not to. In turning their backs on Mr. de Blasio, they did it as well to Mr. Bratton, whom they see as a sellout to Mr. de Blasio’s brand of leftist race-baiting.
In this public display of contempt for de Blasio and Bratton, the cops illustrated the divide that exists between those who work on the street and their superiors who occupy the offices at One Police Plaza. The higher one goes in a police department, the more one must hew to the political ideology in place at City Hall. Mr. Bratton has demonstrated a certain elasticity of conviction in this regard over the years, evolving as he has from Rudy Giuliani’s tough-talking top cop in the 1990s to the more conciliatory figure he is (or seems to be) today.
In his 1998 book Turnaround: How America’s Top Cop Reversed the Crime Epidemic, (co-written with Peter Knobler), Mr. Bratton wrote proudly of stiff-arming Mr. Sharpton when, as is wont, Mr. Sharpton attempted to play a role in a racially charged police incident. Mr. Bratton wrote:
I had never met Al Sharpton, but I was well aware of him. He was one of New York’s most recognizable figures and injected himself into every New York racial issue, as he was now attempting to in this one. He had counseled Tawana Brawley in a bogus case alleging abuse of a young black woman by six white men that, after months of salacious race-baiting by him and his cohorts, turned out to be a hoax. His rabble-rousing around a black boycott of a Korean grocery store was shamefully destructive to the city’s race relations and had seriously undermined the administration of David Dinkins and his police commissioner, Lee Brown. While Sharpton has some following in certain segments of New York’s population, his effect on the city has not been a positive one.
[. . .]
He had no role in this situation, and I wasn’t about to let him get on his soapbox and use this issue to establish himself as a player with this administration.
Fast forward twenty years, and Mr. Bratton’s opinions seem to have evolved. Mr. Sharpton is a player in the de Blasio administration, and Mr. Bratton was only too willing to share the stage (or soapbox, if you will) with him, even if he (unconvincingly) expressed regret for having done so after the fact.
All those cops standing in the street at the funerals in Brooklyn, all those backs turned to Mr. de Blasio’s image on the big screens, they all know that the man who assassinated their colleagues did so at least in part because he was inspired by the anti-police rhetoric so ignorantly espoused by Mayor de Blasio, Al Sharpton, and so many others. Those cops also know that if the murdered officers, Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, had somehow seen the murderer approaching and killed him rather than being killed themselves, the same crowd, led by Al Sharpton and abetted by Mr. de Blasio, would have accused them of racial profiling and unnecessary force and the entire litany of calumnies we’ve been hearing about police officers since Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson and Eric Garner’s in Staten Island.
And now, in a rational response to these insults from their supposed leaders, the NYPD has taken a far less aggressive posture in enforcing the laws, a state of affairs which, if the theories expressed in the New York Times are correct, should have a negligible impact on the city’s quality of life.
We’ll soon see if they’re right.