Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, addressing a predominately African-American audience at a Black History Month breakfast this morning, said some of the worst moments in black history would not have happened without the regrettable actions of police officers.
“Many of the worst parts of black history would have been impossible without police, too,” Mr. Bratton said at the Greater Allen AME Church in Southeast Queens. “Slavery, our country’s original sin, sat on a foundation codified by laws enforced by police, by slave-catchers. ”
Mr. Bratton explained that Peter Stuyvesant, one of the original Dutch colonists of Manhattan, created a police force and encouraged a system of slavery. “Since then, the stories of police and black citizens have been intertwined again and again,” he said.
The police commissioner, who has been trying to mend a rift between City Hall and rank-and-file officers after anti-police brutality protests roiled the city last year, pointed to the police shooting of a Manhattan black teen in the 1960s as another example of law enforcement’s occasionally corrosive role in American race relations.
“An NYPD lieutenant shot and killed a 15-year-old African-American boy in Yorkville. The killing ignited six nights of riots in Harlem and Bedford-Stuyvesant and half a decade of urban unrest in cities across the country,” Mr. Bratton said.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Mr. Bratton have made it a top priority to strengthen the NYPD’s relationship with minority communities. But the death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man, in police custody last year and a Staten Island grand jury’s decision to not indict the NYPD officer in that death threatened to derail their efforts. The murder of two NYPD officers last December angered police who felt the de Blasio administration was denigrating their work by siding with the tens of thousands of protesters.
Mr. de Blasio has leaned heavily on Mr. Bratton, a former cop, to bridge the divide. Some progressives resent Mr. Bratton for the time he spent as police commissioner under Republican Rudolph Giuliani and his belief in “Broken Windows” policing, a tactic that critics say unfairly targets communities of color.
But today, in the basement of one of Queens’ preeminent churches, there was no mention of Broken Windows. Mr. Bratton extolled the NYPD for turning the tide on crime in the 1990s and 2000s, drawing applause, and said everyone must acknowledge most shooting victims–and people who commit gun crimes in New York City–are minorities.
Despite their resentment of the NYPD, Mr. Bratton asserted that it is the struggling, predominately nonwhite neighborhoods that need police most.
“In our city, there are intractable racial disparities in who commits and who is victimized by crime,” he said.