In struggle for NYPD reform, disinformation emerges to cloud issues

By LOUIS FLORES

As Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York City) manages a public relations disaster over stalled reforms at the New York Police Department, he is crossing paths with police unions, which are pushing back against any criticism of the lack of accountability for police corruption and misconduct, and with police reform activists, who are demanding an overhaul at the NYPD.

Caught in the middle is the truth.

After recent tensions with City Hall, some police officers circulated a "do not visit my funeral" letter, asking that Mayor de Blasio and New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Harlem) stay away from police funerals, raising the question as to whether the two elected leaders would attend Saturday's funeral for fallen NYPD officer Rafael Ramos.

Mayor de Blasio did show up to Saturday's funeral, and he even delivered some remarks.  However, thousands of police officers turned their backs to Mayor de Blasio in a uniform display of disrespect that further escalated tensions from Friday, when an airplane flew a banner over the Hudson River, denouncing the mayor, and a continuation of the practice of turning their backs that was first on display last week at Woodhull Hospital, where Officer Ramos and his partner, Officer Wenjian Liu, were both declared dead following an unprovoked shooting in Brooklyn.

Staged or Misleading Photographs

The official Twitter account of City Hall published a photograph showing Mayor Bill de Blasio warmly hugging an unidentified uniformed police officer on Saturday.  This photograph was published in answer to several damaging images showing NYPD police officers turning their backs to the embattled mayor and to a brutal photograph of an airplane pulling a banner denouncing the mayor on Friday.  Under pressure by police unions and police reform activists, it's not known if the police officer receiving the hug is employed by the NYPD, or if a general appreciation by the mayor of just any uniformed police officer was the sensibility that City Hall wanted to invoke in an effort to appease disgruntled police unions.  Source :  NYC Mayor's Office/Official Twitter Account

The official Twitter account of City Hall published a photograph showing Mayor Bill de Blasio warmly hugging an unidentified uniformed police officer on Saturday.  This photograph was published in answer to several damaging images showing NYPD police officers turning their backs to the embattled mayor and to a brutal photograph of an airplane pulling a banner denouncing the mayor on Friday.  Under pressure by police unions and police reform activists, it's not known if the police officer receiving the hug is employed by the NYPD, or if a general appreciation by the mayor of just any uniformed police officer was the sensibility that City Hall wanted to invoke in an effort to appease disgruntled police unions.  Source :  NYC Mayor's Office/Official Twitter Account

In an effort to counter the negative imageries that are now threatening to become damaging memes on the Internet, Mayor de Blasio posted a photograph to City Hall's official Twitter account, which purported to show Mayor de Blasio hugging a uniformed police officer.  The intention of the image was designed to invoke a shared sense of loss between the mayor and police officers, a sensibility which police unions deny exists.  Unfortunately, the officer being hugged has his back to the camera, so the patch on his arm is turned away at an angle from the camera, making it impossible to definitively determine if the officer is from the NYPD.  

The City Hall's press office was asked by Progress Queens to identify the names of each of the police officer being hugged and the police department for which he works, but the press office did not answer Progress Queens' request.

For some time, the City Hall's press office rarely directly answers questions from Progress Queens.

In the public relations battle with the mayor, the NYPD also invoked misleading imagery Saturday, posting onto Twitter from several precinct station house accounts a photograph of thousands of uniformed police officers supposedly taken today.  However, the entertainment and news Web site BuzzFeed revealed that the photograph being published by several NYPD precinct station houses was actually taken in 2007 during a funeral for a different fallen police officer.

The campaign of misinformation extends from photographs to articles to social media.

The 1992 NYPD riot at City Hall

In a report in The New York Observer and on social media, notably on Tiwtter, some have incorrectly stated that a riot of 10,000 off-duty NYPD officers outside City Hall in 1992 was staged to protest the creation of a complaint board, a reference to the Civilian Complaint Review Board, or CCRB, which Mayor David Dinkins (D-New York City) eventually transformed into being in 1993.  

When the reporter of the article was challenged with different information, the reporter held his ground, which allowed the reporter to completely omit any reference from his news report to the correct name of the panel, which so motivated the NYPD to protest in 1992.

When a Twitter user was challenged for providing incomplete information about the same panel that triggered the 1992 police riot, the author of the misleading tweet never responded, bringing no clarity to the confusion between the CCRB and the rightful name of the controversial panel that played a role in driving police to riot in the first place : the Mollen Commission.  

Instead of a reaction to the eventual transformation of CCRB, one of the primary motivators of the police riot, held in September 1992, was the NYPD's opposition to Mayor Dinkin's creation of "an outside panel to investigate corruption," otherwise known as the Mollen Commission, which had been empaneled in June 1992.

The Mollen Commission was a panel of civic leaders, who were tasked by Mayor Dinkins to independently investigate allegations of wrongdoing at the NYPD after "a growing public perception" gave cause for concern "that the department cannot be trusted to investigate itself," according to a report in The New York Times

The inability of journalists or people on social media to connect the dots between the 1992 police riot as a reaction to the creation of the Mollen Commission bodes poorly for efforts to hold the NYPD accountable today for corruption and misconduct for which some precedents already exist.

Mayor de Blasio as a victim

After thousands of NYPD officers symbolically turned their backs to Mayor de Blasio at Saturday's funeral for Officer Ramos, many people took to social media to portray this uncouth act of free speech as more than just a display of disrespect -- but as an act of insubordination.  This conclusion extended to make Mayor de Blasio a sympathetic figure amongst some police reform activists, in spite of the fact that Mayor de Blasio made the regressive appointment of William Bratton as police commissioner, and Commissioner Bratton has overemphasized the use of a neoconservative and discriminatory "Broken Windows" theory of policing that many blame for the accusations that the NYPD has become racially insensitive, at best, or racist, at worst.

Even if Mayor de Blasio's unwavering support for Commissioner Bratton has not been enough to worry police reform activists, then Mayor de Blasio's staunch defense of Broken Windows policing after Eric Garner's chokehold homicide should have opened the eyes of activists to Mayor de Blasio's duplicitous machinations.

Remarkably, some activists are somehow reading possible racism against Mayor de Blasio's wife and children into the reason that the NYPD are actively opposing Mayor de Blasio in public instead of the fact that, should police reform activists really win deep, structural reforms in NYPD accountability, a win would upend the corrupt status quo at the NYPD, something that neither police unions nor big business interests, which support the NYPD and its unions, ever want to see happen.  Nor are police reform activists taking into account long-outstanding labour contract negotiations between two police unions and City Hall.

Factoring into these and other acts of disinformation are circumstances that place either lobbying firms or political allies loyal to Mayor de Blasio in charge of some police reform groups. As some police reform activists fall into the trap of seeing Mayor de Blasio as a victim, they lose sight that of the fact that Mr. Garner and others have died or been brutalised by Broken Windows policing tactics that specifically targets low-income communities and communities of color, and that activists are confronting the non-stop Broken Windows over-policing because of a police commissioner installed into office by Mayor de Blasio.