A funeral for a New York police officer, a changed Bill de Blasio

Mayor Bill de Blasio's rough relations with New York police appear to have changed him. He's gone from an unapologetic critic to a vocal NYPD defender.

Mary Altaffer/AP
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (c.) and his wife, Chirlane McCray, arrive for the funeral mass for police officer Brian Moore Friday at the St. James Roman Catholic Church in Seaford, N.Y.

The funeral of New York Police Department Officer Brian Moore on Friday points to how dramatically Mayor Bill de Blasio’s attitude toward the police has changed since taking office.  

Nearly two years ago, as a little-known, second-tier candidate, he railed against the abuses of aggressive policing and its skewed emphasis on black and Latino men, a campaign issue that helped propel him to a record landslide win.

With the recent deaths of numerous black men in connection with police, including Freddie Gray in Baltimore, the issue has become one of the most pressing concerns nationwide. It should, in many ways, be Mayor de Blasio’s moment.

But when protesters took to the streets of New York last week, rallying against the deaths of Mr. Gray in Baltimore, Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and others, more than 140 were arrested. Protesters complained that the NYPD had taken a heavy-handed approach, brandishing billy clubs and throwing protesters roughly to the ground as some tried to block traffic, chanting, “Freddie Gray, Michael Brown. Shut it down, shut it down.”

De Blasio’s response?

“One thing’s clear, when the police give you an instruction, you follow the instruction. It’s not debatable,” de Blasio said during a testy press conference afterward. “And I’m saying this as someone who has been at these protests and recognize when the police say stay to the sidewalk, it means stay to the sidewalk, and that has to be respected.”

Five months ago, many New York police officers were turning their backs on the mayor as he eulogized two NYPD detectives, Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, who were killed in cold blood by a man angry over the deaths of Brown and another black man killed by police, Eric Garner. They believed de Blasio had taken sides with the protesters, fueling unrest.

On Friday, de Blasio eulogized Officer Moore – a promising and decorated young cop who was shot and killed on the job last Saturday – as “the best of New York City. He was brave for sure, but his bravery was matched by his compassion.” Moore’s father and uncle and cousin also served the force.

There was no talk of police protests this time.

In the past, the mayor’s relationship with the Rev. Al Sharpton – a persona non grata among New York police – has outraged the rank and file. And after Mr. Garner’s death, the mayor angered officers even more when he said that he and his wife, who is black, had to train their biracial son Dante, “how to take special care in any encounter he may have with police officers who are there to protect him.”

Then, in December, when Detectives Liu and Ramos were killed, the president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association said the mayor had “blood on his hands.” Not long after, officers were turning their backs on de Blasio at the funerals.

But those moments proved to be a turning point, and since then, the mayor’s tone has changed dramatically. “I think it was understandable in a moment of tremendous pain, people felt deep, deep emotion,” de Blasio said of officer’s reactions during that time on the MSNBC show "Morning Joe."

Indeed, even as scrutiny of police behavior reaches perhaps its highest point since the Rodney King video in 1991, de Blasio has in some ways gone against the current and become the NYPD’s vocal defender.

While the troubled relationships between police departments and black communities remain at the top of his list of priorities – including a police retraining program and efforts to bolster community policing – the shift in attitude has been noted.

“We are gratified by Mayor de Blasio’s strong support for his police officers in these troubled times,” said Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, in a statement this week after the shooting of Officer Moore. “And we hope his remarks signal the beginning of a new era of unanimity between our officers, who serve and protect, and the mayor.”

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