NYC Police Union Activism Aggravates Race Divisions; Thwarts Needed Revival of Unions in Private Economy

The behavior of New York City (NYC) Police Union leader, Patrick Lynch, and some of his union members in the wake of recent citizen and police officer deaths is regrettable and deeply disappointing.   Lynch obviously enjoys playing the tough guy, loud mouth, “don’t give an inch,” NYC public sector union boss, right from central casting.  But he wasted a big teachable moment after the Garner choke-hold deaths and ensuing cold blooded murders of two Brooklyn police officers.

Lynch’s inflammatory statements will go down in history as some of the most reckless and foolish behavior by a NYC public sector union chief. This, in a city that has had entirely too much municipal labor union melodrama and strife for decades.  How sad!

The tragedies in New York, the Union response,  and what it implies for race relations has been amply covered; but what all that means for the Democrats’ fragile coalition and the role of labor unions in advancing “progressive” ideas,  has not even been buried on page seven.

Lynch’s and his Union’s behavior is lamentable, not only for its lawlessness (not enforcing laws on the books as a protest) and  aggravation of racial conflict, but equally in its disregard for a core democratic principle, which says civilians in America, not police captains and generals, have ultimate control of armed services of all varieties (from U.S. Army on down). Civilian control has been a key plank of American exceptionalism, one that both liberals and conservatives have normally praised and respected as a core founding principle of the country.

Lynch, with body language and facial expressions to match, lashed out at NYC Mayor DeBlasio – his civilian boss — saying the Mayor “has blood on his hands” for the cold blooded murder of two police officers by a deranged gunman,  while the two public servants sat quietly in their patrol vehicle at the corner of Tompkins and Myrtle Avenues in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood.

Department store clerks are routinely fired for ill considered remarks on facebook about their employers. But I suppose its OK to call your boss a murderer, and for police, during a solemn ceremony, to diss and turn their backs on the City’s top elected official. I guess belonging to a Police Union, or any public sector union, makes one immune from discipline.

The senseless murders of two police officers followed the (highly avoidable and equally senseless) death of citizen Eric Garner in a confrontation with police over the (under-taxed) sale of cigarettes on a street corner in Staten Island. None of these killings of course made any sense whatsoever. None are even remotely justifiable.    I mean, someone was killed here for something that started out as aiding and abetting tax evasion?   That’s what accountants do for a living,

Commentators, across the board, from Sharpton and Maddow at one end, to Krauthammer (“grand jury’s failure to indict was totally incomprehensible”) and Glen Beck (“how this cop didn’t go to jail is beyond me”), at the other – were appalled by the Garner killing.

Did Lynch ever apologize or admit there was something deeply wrong and disturbing about Garner’s death?  Or ask how such outcomes might be avoided in the future?  Of course not. Don’t tell me his only job is to “defend his members,  right or wrong,” not to be a social worker, or healer or, g-d forbid, an enlightened public sector union leader.

The militant and divisive actions of public sector unions, like the Police in New York, and Teachers in Los Angeles (and Teachers in NYC for decades), have created fissures and cross cutting pressures among Democrats that is making it a lot harder for them to unite around paramount issues, like worker wage stagnation and income inequality. The private economy desperately needs effective worker representation. For that to happen, Unions need to repair their image; learn to communicate less toxically with management and the public. Lynch’s rhetoric, or even the more refined Randi Weingarten feminine version, poison the atmosphere for a revival of effective labor unions,  with broad public support.

What really was the NYC Mayor’s sin that caused Lynch to lose it?  DiBlasio tried walking a fine line between keeping a lid on community rage and supporting his police department in the wake of the Eric Garner police choke-hold death. Apparently there was a small group of protesters who said some vile things about police, which Lynch says DeBlasio (in effect) condoned by his silence. I don’t know whether or not the Mayor denounced those protestors; but I didn’t hear about the offensive language till Lynch went out of his way to point it out. It was a very small part of a very large protest.

I do know that NYC has so far thankfully averted a civil meltdown, like ones that followed the Martin Luther King assassination and other racially incendiary situations. The police union leader has taken us back to the 1960s when the same PBA demolished another new NYC mayor, John Lindsay, trying to keep peace in his city after some questionable police behavior. Lindsay’s crime?  He proposed a civilian police review board to adjudicate complaints against police officers. Gasp!

Linsday’s career was ruined by the confrontation; the same will likely happen to DeBlasio. Lynch will be overwhelmingly re-elected as head of the PBA and likely advance to a national position of union leadership. And we’ll be back here again in another fifty years, or sooner, doing the same pathetic dance.  So, DeBlasio has blood on his hands for the murders of those two fine officers, but nobody even mentions Wayne LaPierre. 

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4 thoughts on “NYC Police Union Activism Aggravates Race Divisions; Thwarts Needed Revival of Unions in Private Economy

  1. Norm Olson

    Irv: Your comments are insightful as always. I am generally a supporter of unions but the police have gone too far this time. It is regrettable that two innocent police officers were killed but I have not heard any regrets from the police for the death of Garner. DeBlasio has been walking a fine line. The police have chastised DeBlasio for comments he made about his biracial son. His son looks black. He has a great 70’s Afro. If he were my son I would also caution him about staying away from the police. In NYC, particularly, profiling and stop and frisk has been the standard procedure. The police in many cities have made themselves the enemy of the people. The police have much work to do to change that back to “serve and protect”. The head of the police union in NYC is not doing that.

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  2. Irv Lefberg Post author

    Thanks for good comments Norm. There has always been a difference between public and private unions. Even one of the founders and great supporters of the 20th century labor movement , Franklin Roosevelt, famously resisted granting same rights to public as to private sector unions. One of his main concerns was that, if too powerful, public sector unions can effectively override or dictate public policy. That’s clearly happened with public school teacher unions.

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