Mayor de Blasio booed at police academy graduation: Can rift be bridged?

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has called for reforms to improve relations between police and racial minorities. However, many NYPD officers say the mayor's public views are making their jobs more dangerous.

Carlo Allegri/Reuters
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks from the podium to the New York City Police Academy graduating class in New York. Mayor de Blasio drew heckles and boos along with applause when he addressed graduating police cadets on Monday, two days after thousands of uniformed officers turned their backs on him at a slain policeman's funeral.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio faced new criticism from rank-and-file police officers and their families Monday, as he spoke at a graduation ceremony for new officers.

Sometimes the audience applauded politely. But news reports also recounted some boos, heckles, and a few people standing with their backs turned toward the mayor.

Mr. de Blasio has called for reforms to improve relations between the police and racial minorities in the metropolis. 

That goal is now overshadowed by an open rift, as many in the force say the mayor’s public views are partly to blame for the recent killings of two NYPD officers by a man claiming the act was retaliation against cases of black civilians dying at the hands of police.

Can the divide be bridged?

It doesn’t look like an easy or quick task. The mayor and city police are at odds over whether de Blasio’s call for a focus on race relations is making beat cops’ dangerous job even riskier, but they’re also in conflict over other issues, including union contract bargaining.

The cool reception at the Monday graduation event comes just days after hundreds of officers turned their backs to a video monitor outside a Queens church as de Blasio spoke at the funeral of slain officer Rafael Ramos.

Yet repairing relations isn’t impossible either. And one encouraging sign is simply that both the mayor and New York Police Commissioner William Bratton both seem focused on the task. De Blasio has been visiting the families of the slain officers and speaking at events such as the funeral and the graduation. And Bratton has been trying to dampen the tone of animosity from within police ranks.

“Mayor de Blasio is totally supportive of his personnel, this department,” Commissioner Bratton said Sunday on the CBS show "Face the Nation."

De Blasio has drawn the ire of cops by seeming at times to be more aligned with protesters, they say, than with officers in blue.

After a grand jury decided not to indict an officer in the “chokehold” death of Eric Garner, a black man being arrested for illegal cigarette sales, the mayor said it was a decision that “many in our city did not want.”

De Blasio linked the news to his larger quest for reforms, saying that “The problem of police-community relations and civil rights is not just an issue for people of color – or young people – or people who get stopped by police. This is a fundamental issue for every American who cares about justice."

And the mayor has talked about his personal experience cautioning his own son, who is half-black, about contact with police.

When the two NYPD officers were shot dead Dec. 20 by a man who cited Garner as one of his motivations, the leader of one police union talked of "blood on the hands" of the mayor for fostering an atmosphere of anger toward police.

Now de Blasio is trying to mend fences while still nurturing the reform goals that he brought Bratton back to New York to implement.

He recently praised Bratton and the force for dramatically scaling back controversial “stop-and-frisk” methods and low-level marijuana arrests, and for launching new training designed to improve community relations.

At the same time, the mayor on Monday praised the NYPD for bringing crime rates down dramatically – a trend that is continuing with a 5 percent drop this year. He called it the “finest police department in the world” and said “it’s our job to protect you” such as by investing in training.

As Bratton works with de Blasio works on the difficult task of building trust, the police chief walks a fine line in showing both support for his boss and understanding of his patrol officers’ concerns.

Bratton acknowledged in his CBS appearance that “morale in the department at this time is low…. There`s a lot going on that is particular to New York City, that is separate and apart from the national discussions around issues of race and police.”

But the commissioner also called it inappropriate for officers to bring politics to the Ramos funeral by turning their backs.

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.