Protests at the Council testimony of NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton today grew so intense that police and building security ejected more than a dozen members of the public from the chambers—but the city’s top cop acknowledged the “great divide” between communities and law enforcement is “the challenge of our time” even as he blasted the demonstrators as “selfish.”
Objectors interrupted Mr. Bratton five times as he attempted to begin his testimony on the budget and challenges of the police department, shouting out “no new cops”—a commentary on Mr. Bratton and the Council’s call for 1,000 additional officers—calling the liberal Council members “sellouts” and even labeling Mr. Bratton a “racist” and “son of a bitch.” Queens Councilwoman Julissa Ferraras, chairwoman of the finance committee, finally ordered the police present for the event to escort anyone not affiliated with the Council, the NYPD or the press from the room, a move Mr. Bratton called “rather regrettable” but necessary.
“The civic disrespect displayed by a few results in the need to eject the many members of the public here part of the civil discourse,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that the few, a selfish few, choose to interrupt the public process.”
Demonstrations continued outdoors, under the oversight of several dozen cops.
In the chambers, the commissioner noted that 95 percent of shooting victims and 96 percent of shooters are black or Hispanic, hailing “from our poorest neighborhoods.” However, he argued that ultimately racism and inequitable distribution of resources was to blame for what he called “the great divide” between nonwhite communities and police.
“It is a national crisis of confidence in the criminal justice system, centered on America’s original sin: racial injustice,” he testified. “It is as much about poverty, disenfranchisement, unemployment.”
He called the massive street demonstrations that broke out last year in the aftermath of grand juries deciding not to indict white cops for the deaths of Michael Brown of Ferguson, Mo. and Eric Garner of Staten Island “the most emotionally charged in my 50-year career,” and alluded to the killings of Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos in December at the hands of a man who said he sought to avenge the Brown and Garner deaths.
“It took the assassination of two of our officers to bring a measure of calm to the turmoil,” he said, adding that the department anticipated future disturbances. “The need for disorder control is not going to go away. New York City is an epicenter for protests.”
He still pledged to use specifically trained units of the NYPD’s Strategic Response Group to protect all citizens in the midst of demonstrations.
“Accordingly, we must be prepared to protect the constitutional rights of protesters while ensuring the safety of their fellow New Yorkers in the operation of this city,” he said.
Mr. Bratton said his department was working to address the protesters’ concerns through new engagement strategies such as surveys, online interaction and having volunteer citizens meet with new cops and introduce them to the community at large. He argued that police cannot be effective without public trust, and committed himself and the NYPD to building that trust.
“I truly believe that much of the current atmosphere of mistrust comes from the fact that the cops and some parts of the community still don’t see each other for who we all are,” he said. “They don’t see how much common ground we already have. The great divide is real.”
He concluded by asserting that he and his department would seek to lead the nation in improving racial relations.
“The year 2015 will be a seminal one for the NYPD and our city. Facing the great divide between police and community is the challenge of our time, not just for New York but for the country,” he said. “It’s one that I accept, it’s an opportunity I embrace along with the mayor. This is our chance to show that we the police and public do not exist apart from each other.”
“Because when we see what we represent and not who we are, we ultimately do not see anything,” he continued.
Many of the same protesters at today’s hearing also disrupted one of Mr. Bratton’s appearances before the Council in March.
Updated to include reference to March protest.