De Blasio’s double standard on police brutality

Protesters at City Hall on May 28th demonstrating against the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers.
Protesters at City Hall on May 28th demonstrating against the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers.
Protesters at City Hall on May 28th demonstrating against the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers.

De Blasio’s double standard on police brutality

The NYC mayor thinks Minneapolis should do what New York didn’t.
May 29, 2020

Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer who allegedly suffocated George Floyd to death during an arrest, by pinning Floyd’s neck to the ground with his knee, was arrested Friday and charged with murder. The Minneapolis police department had already fired Chauvin on Tuesday, along with the three other officers who were at the scene of Floyd’s death – none of whom intervened while Floyd pleaded “I can’t breathe.”

Floyd’s death – another black man who died while being arrested by a white police officer – has been condemned by civil rights activists, liberals and people of color across the country. 

But when New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted his outrage at the incident calling for all the officers involved to be charged immediately, many New Yorkers saw the bandwagon-jumping as hypocrisy. 

“As if we don't remember your lack of leadership with the death of Eric Garner,” responded Brandon West, a City Council candidate in Brooklyn. “Don't insult us.”

“You are an absolutely disgusting bootlicker & phony. #EricGarner was killed by an NYPD cop & you let that cop continue collecting a paycheck for years afterward,” activist journalist Ashoka Jegroo tweeted. “NYPD has killed numerous people since then & you didn't care at all. Disarm & defund the NYPD!”

“Sit this one out, pal,” wrote journalist Harry Siegel.

In what has come to feel like typical de Blasio fashion, it’s been much easier for de Blasio to call for swift action in Minnesota than it has been for him to take swift action on police brutality in his own city. The video of Eric Garner’s death at the hands of the NYPD in 2014 seems to be seared into the nation’s memory. Like Floyd, Garner was a black man held on the ground, with pressure on his neck, during an arrest. And, just like Floyd, Garner’s death, as he gasped “I can’t breathe,” was captured on film. 

But the government’s reaction in New York was nowhere near as quick or as decisive as that in Minneapolis this week. Then-Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan declined to charge Daniel Pantaleo, who put Garner in a chokehold, and instead brought the case to a grand jury. That grand jury, on cop-friendly Staten Island, didn’t find cause to indict him, and the whole process lasted until December – nearly five months after Garner’s death. Pantaleo did eventually get fired for his role in Garner’s death, but it took more than five years, during which time Pantaleo was paid to do a desk job. None of the other officers at the scene were criminally charged or fired. A sergeant, Kizzy Adonis, lost 20 vacation days

All the while, de Blasio never called for swift justice in the way he now has after Floyd’s death. He promised “a full and thorough investigation of the circumstances of this tragic incident,” the day after Garner’s death. Though de Blasio had the authority to suspend Pantaleo from the NYPD, he never did. And over those five years, the mayor never asked his NYPD commissioners to fire Pantaleo, claiming he wanted to avoid a lawsuit

On the other hand, the mayor’s detractors are misremembering if they think de Blasio didn’t in fact say anything about Garner. In fact, his comments about teaching his own black son to be careful with the police enraged many cops and the unions that represent them. They turned their backs on him after two officers were killed in an ambush attack in 2014, and he seems to have been trying to win back officers’ fleeting approval ever since

De Blasio’s fear of being seen as unfair to the cops continues to this day – as long as the incident in question happens in New York, and not Minnesota. After an NYPD officer was caught on video making a violent arrest while enforcing social distancing, de Blasio tweeted on May 3rd that “the officer involved has been placed on modified duty and an investigation has begun.” While the incident may not have been as egregious as the Floyd arrest, and the man who was being arrested did not die, it was essentially the same response that de Blasio gave to Garner’s death, six years ago.

But some things may be changing. In an interview on “The Brian Lehrer Show” Friday, de Blasio conceded that he should have taken action more quickly after Garner’s death. And if it were to happen again, he’d “want to see charges acted on immediately.”

Hours later, de Blasio announced that the officers involved in the social distancing arrest in Manhattan would face internal charges. The victim, Donni Wright, has further called for the Manhattan district attorney to bring criminal charges against Francisco Garcia, the officer who arrested him. De Blasio has not.

Jeff Coltin
is a senior reporter at City & State. He covers New York City Hall.