On Disavowals


Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of Ordinary Times. Relapsed Lawyer, admitted to practice law (under his real name) in California and Oregon. On Twitter, to his frequent regret, at @burtlikko. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.

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118 Responses

  1. Avatar Chris says:

    I can’t help feeling like the response to the shooting (and it’s only a response to one of the two shootings he committed, which is worth noting) is indicative of the very problem protesters have been trying to highlight.Report

    • Avatar j r says:

      This is a good point about the response to shooting the cops vs. shooting his girlfriend. His girlfriend didn’t die, but would be surprised if it mattered.

      In general, I think it’s time to dismantle the cult of the public servant. It’s certainly fine to honor people for public service, but the whole idea that to criticize a cop or a soldier or a teacher or whatever is an ideological offense or to imply that their lives have value above and beyond the lives of the average person is bunk.Report

      • Avatar Barry says:

        “In general, I think it’s time to dismantle the cult of the public servant. It’s certainly fine to honor people for public service, but the whole idea that to criticize a cop or a soldier or a teacher or whatever is an ideological offense or to imply that their lives have value above and beyond the lives of the average person is bunk.”

        Please note that for teachers, this has long been done. It’s a rare politician who hesitates before criticizing teachers.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        Sure, it’s not like they’re entrepreneurs.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:


  2. Avatar Notme says:

    Instututional reform my not be about individuals but if you are an individual in that institution it may be hard not to see an attack on the institution as a personal attack. Just look at the vietnam vets, all the lefties talked about how they were just againt the war not the soldiers desipte their vitriol.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      Wow. This is a very good and insightful comment.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        I can’t tell if this is sarcastic or not.Report

      • Avatar Notme says:


        What about my post seems sarcastic? Im serious. Anyone that joins an organization and internalizes their mission might feel personally attacked when the org is criticised. Thats just human nature.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        and internalizes their mission

        Sure, you’re right about that. So the question is what mission are cops internalizing such that de Blasio saying he’s given his kid “the talk” is viewed by them as an attack?Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        I wasn’t sure if TK was sarcastic, not you, Notme.

        But my sense is that it isn’t.Report

      • Avatar Notme says:


        Blasio ran in large part on a reform the police platform, so it isnt as if his “talk” statement was the first thing he’s said on the subject. Not to mention that after all that Blasio seems a bit disingenuous when he now talks about supporting the nypd.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        …er, that he wasn’t (being sarcastic), that is.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew says:

      Further, institutional reform feels to cops like it’s about individuals because the guy is wrong: it is about individuals. It’s about changing the set of assumptions and incentives (and assumptions about incentives) that individuals in an institution have. At least, in this case it has to be.

      The aim of institutional reform here would not be for the same amount of police violence to keep happening but for more cops (any) to go to prison when it does. It would be to get less police violence to happen by changing the way individual cops (and the police force generaslly, but to be sure individual officers) do policing and (hopefully don’t) use violence, by initially sending some cops to prison, or at least coming a lot closer to it than we have in the past, thereby changing individual calculations about what might happen if I continue to set my reaction function as f(x) rather than change it to f'(x).

      So it just flatly is about individuals.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        …I guess he’s more saying 1) that it’s not about *a few* individuals – bad apples. I agree: it’s about all the actions of all the individual apples. But he’s more talking about overall community trust in police – which is an institutional issue primarily – whereas I thought the issue was the specific push to increase accountability for unjustified violence, which will be very much about changing individuals’ incentives. That could be part of a larger, multi-prong institutional reform in policing that is somewhat less about individuals. But to the extent that reform will actually change how policing is carried out, it will involve changing the incentives and assumptions of individual officers, which ultimately is significantly about individuals, though definitely not only about individual *bad apples*. It’s about all the individuals.

        And 2) that the larger question of community trust and esteem for police is not mostly about individuals, and certainly not just a few bad apples, but about the institution; and that the dynamics that determine it are often not fair to police, but that neither the institution nor the individuals have any reasonable expectation that it be fair to them. They just have to work to gain trust regardless of the unfairness of the granting or withholding of trust. And I agree with all of that.

        I thought this was quite a perceptive passage:

        In any event, obviously there is a disjuncture here, between a populace that views itself as being preyed on by those paid to protect them, and a police force that thinks the community doesn’t understand the realities of being a police officer. It’s been said before, but it should be said again: Being a police officer is hard. It’s hard for the very obvious reason that it requires the officers to put themselves in peril and to commit (in the words of a police chief I worked with back when I was practicing) “to run towards the danger.” But that undersells the difficulty considerably, because part of a police officer’s job is to do all that while still being trusted by their community. Being a cop would no doubt be easier — albeit not easy — if one could make arrests and conduct patrols without having to care about how one was perceived by the neighborhood. But that’s not the way it works. If the people don’t view the police as being on their side, then the police are doing a bad job no matter how many arrests they make or what the crime stats say. A community that feels constantly terrorized by their local police department is not being effectively policed even if the murder rate has flatlined.

        Are people sometimes unfair in their appraisals? Sure they are. But “solely engaging with fair, high-minded people” isn’t really part of a cop’s job description either. The population is what it is; the burden is on the police to act in accordance with how the community wants the police to act.

        Fixing this problem isn’t about finding bad apples or folks with malign motives. When people say the problem isn’t with a few bad cops, they’re not (or at least shouldn’t be) saying “because its about a lot of bad cops.” They’re saying that the search for bad cops — in the sense of persons who deliberately and consciously abuse their authority — is a misguided one. Those people exist, but they don’t exhaust the problem, because the problem goes beyond finding some stereotypical Bull Connor types. Good people, who think they’re doing good, can still be bad cops to the extent that the system of policing doesn’t view its perception within the community as one of its metrics for success.Report

      • Avatar Citizen says:

        Whether it is an individual or institution, violations of “live and let live” come with a cost. The offenses have been unbalanced between the police and community for some time now. Rule by law always dies by the weight of its own text. There is no end to the desire of order and stability through the control of others.Report

    • Avatar James K says:


      The human brain seems a lot more interested in thinking about factions than about ideas, so there’s this tendency for any political debate to degenerate into some form of identity politics.Report

    • Avatar Doctor Jay says:

      Yes, when I’ve talked with veterans about Gulf War 2, I’m careful to highlight the many veterans I know and like, and that it’s the policy I have a problem with. They are much more receptive to discussion after I do this.

      The problem with things like Michael Brown’s or Eric Garner’s death is that in these cases an individual officer did something that other officers could easily imagine themselves doing. Probably in neither case was there any malice or forethought, though there may well have been negligence or recklessness.

      In the world of the internet, however, that distinction is often lost, and the language used about these incidents seems to portray the officers, and indeed all officers as malicious and bigoted.

      It’s going to be very uncomfortable for officers for us to begin talking about that sort of thing in public, even though in private, they might be saying the same thing. Nevertheless, I think we need to talk about this more, not less. Everyone needs to learn more about it.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater says:

      Instututional reform my not be about individuals but if you are an individual in that institution it may be hard not to see an attack on the institution as a personal attack.

      So the cops are reacting to the protestors and De Blasio just as they reacted to all those unarmed black men – out of justifiable self-defense?Report

  3. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    Giuliani and Lynch might act in a representative liberal democracy but as my brother would say, they are representative of the problems that liberal democracy have with illiberals. They don’t care about the substance and procedures of liberal democracy and are basically authoritarians.

    The subtext I get from Lynch and Giuliani is that one can never question the police and the police are somehow distinct from the civilians that they serve and protect and deserve nothing but never ending respect and deference. It is very Cartman-esque.

    A friend from high school is member of the FDNY. He has a masters in social work. He has been posting all sorts of stuff in favor of the idea of getting De Blasio to resign and that De Blasio should not attend funerals for Police officers. The kicker is that he doesn’t even live in NYC. Like many people who work for the FDNY and NYPD, he lives in the suburbs. So he is basically telling New Yorkers how to vote even though he does not live in the community and is ignoring the whole swath of issues that New Yorkers might care about.Report

    • Avatar greginak says:

      Giuliana has a bizarrely inflated reputation based on being in charge and in control after 9/11. When he was mayor, other than 9/11, he was always ready to race bait, side with cops especially with inflicting big government on poor folks and being generally dismissive of anybody who didn’t love him.

      NY cops have always had far more than their share of bullies and hair triggers. All my hockey coaches in college were NY cops. The only one who was a decent guy only taught law at the NY police academy.Report

      • Avatar dhex says:

        it must be remembered that giuliani squandered the popularity boost of being the mayor of new york during 9/11. he is monumentally and uniquely awful.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        “It must be remembered that giuliani squandered the popularity boost of being the mayor of new york during 9/11.”

        He used that popularity capital to launch his 2008 Presidential bid (which was preternaturally incompetently run) and has continued to use it to build a lucrative lecture circuit gig (10 mil the year before he ran for prez and had to put in on hold) and paid shill for assorted enterprises.

        Heck, if he were a nobody, he wouldn’t even get air time on TV to pontificate about current events.

        If that’s squandered, I wonder what banked is like?Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

        People give Giuliani credit for cleaning up Times Square and reducing crime in New York when the reality is more likely that he was simply at the right place at the right time. Crime was already going down when he was first elected mayor.

        I think Giuliani is a representative of an older New York that is rapidly disappearing if not already done. According to wikipedia, NYC was 52 percent white in 1990 and in 2010 was only 44 percent white. I have a suspicion that the demographics for the NYPD and FDNY lean much more white than the city overall because those positions often seem to have a legacy effect. Cops and Firefighter families seem like much more of a thing than families filled with lawyers and doctors especially in NYC. So there is a huge disconnect between the demographics of the NYPD and FDNY and New York overall. This is changing but slowly. The SFPD seems much more diverse than the NYPD.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

        Interestingly according to Wiki, Manhattan and Staten Island were the only two boroughs in 2010 with a majority white population. Manhattan was 57 percent white and Staten Island was a staggering 72 percent white (including White Hispanics). The Bronx was the least white borough.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        @kolohe Giuliani continues to practice law as a name-on-the-door partner at the Biglaw firm of Bracewell & Giuliani, so he’s cashing in that way, too.

        Way back in 2008, less familiar with the nuts and bolts of how he administered NYC, I figured Rudy! had the best experience and skill set of the available candidates for President, and you may recall he was considered a front-runner, if not the front-runner, at many points before actual votes began to be counted. (I began then to refer to him with the exclamation mark used as the trademark for his campaign and it amuses me to continue to do so.)

        The astonishing failure of his campaign to collect appreciably any votes whatsoever suggested to me that Rudy! might not have the ability to pick and lead good people, at least for the task at hand. Particularly I was disappointed with the campaign’s decision to withdraw from contention in New Hampshire for fear of seeming to take second place behind McCain. That told me that Rudy! was not the sort of guy who could take a punch (politically speaking, of course).

        You know what kinds of people like to throw punches without risk of being punched back? Bullies.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Saul, is it a residency issue or a chain of command issue?

        On the former, I’m pretty sure the national unions were involved. I’d also argue that while they can’t vote, people who work in a place are indeed stakeholders.

        On the latter, residency doesn’t matter and we’re left with the Wisconsin argument.

        On the content of their speech, what they’re actually saying, I am inclined to agree that they’re wrong, but I think they have every moral right to speak their mind.Report

      • Avatar j r says:

        …the reality is more likely that he was simply at the right place at the right time. Crime was already going down when he was first elected mayor.

        This is half true. A lot of the reforms that contributed to bringing down crime in New York began under Dinkins, but Dinkins supported those reforms, in part, because he knew that he was going to have to face Guliani for re-election in 1993.Report

      • Avatar dhex says:

        “If that’s squandered, I wonder what banked is like?”

        president rudolph william louis giuliani.Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain says:

        Maybe it’s just me, but being from another part of the country, Guiliani always seemed to come across as a looking-down-his-nose-at-the-hicks New York City guy. That was a really big handicap in the Republican Party well before 2008. I think something similar was a contributing factor in Romney running away from his time in Massachusetts. I think that, when things get closer to the actual nominating process, being an abrasive guy from New Jersey does in Chris Christie.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


        Why does Chris Christe’s abrasiveness do him in? Do you think it will be a turn off even in the primaries? Why won’t it go over well with partisan Republicans from Colorado? A lot of people claims that Christie’s bullying nature is a tough sell out of New Jersey but it seems to me to be no different than any other act of partisanship.

        As someone from the Northeast, I could be immune to the bluster and bullying though. I know the type.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        Iowa likes nice. Midwesterners in general do. They don’t like attack dogs running for president. And they get to vote first. (New Hampshire isn’t terribly “attackdog friendly” either)Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain says:

        To win the Republican nomination, you have to play reasonably well across the South, parts of the Midwest, the Great Plains, and the West. When Gov. Christie has to do retail politics in those states, up close and personal, the locals are going to find him grating. One part of it will be speech patterns — not accent per se, but pace, word choice, differences in pronunciation, etc. I grew up in the part of the country where the accent is closest to General American, but I had to learn a whole different pace to lecture in Texas, then learn another one to lecture in NJ, because talking at the wrong speed annoys the locals. When I went to Texas, I interrupted people a lot — not to be intentionally rude, but everyone knew what the rest of the question was going to be and I started answering too soon. When I went to NJ, I got interrupted a lot for the same reason.Report

      • Avatar Notme says:


        So you wont give rudy any credit for cleaning up nyc? Rudy was just the lucky beneficiary of the enlightened policies of his dem predecessors? Sounds like liberal sour grapes to me.Report

      • Avatar Alan Scott says:

        Man, I wish I lived in a place where 72% white counted as “staggering” whiteness.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:


        My sister works for Bracewell. She’s met Rudy on a handful of occasions, but I think just when he’s glad-handing at major events.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Will is not saying that at all. You’d have to read more between his lines than on them to think he is.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Ugh, misthreaded. That was to nevermoor.Report

      • Avatar Don Zeko says:

        @j-r But the thing is that crime also went down everywhere else at about the same time and by similar amounts, regardless of broken windows, comp-stat, etc. So something made crime go down, but it probably had little to do with Guiliani’s policies (or Dinkins’s) and could have been the result of policies that weren’t perceived to be crime-related at all.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      You don’t have preferred candidates and policies outside San Francisco and California?Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

        I do but I don’t argue or agitate for the resignation of politicians in areas where I don’t live. Nor do I campaign hard for politicians in areas where I don’t live.

        There is something about law-enforcement officers campaigning hard for De Blasio’s repeal that strikes me as being very close to insubordination if not an outright coup d’etat.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Did you feel that way about the (non-police) public sector unions who tried to unseat Walker? Insubordination, I mean?Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


        Walker is a governor of an entire state and presumably the union members also lived in Wisconsin. Wisconsin also has a recall procedure for better or for worse (note I am generally against recall procedures).

        NYC does not have a recall procedure that I know of. Not all unions or government employees have insubordination issues. The police seem to be acting in a way of “How dare you criticize us at all for anything……”Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        I’m pretty sure when the Gov. ordered the capital police to break up the protests, they joined the protests.

        Personally, I think it’s grand if they don’t want mayors at their funerals. It’s a WHOLE DIFFERENT thing though, if they deliberately turn their back on a mayor in a crisis. And that’s what happened.

        That’s just a dick move. If you want to make friends and influence people, you say, “Look, we may not like you, but you’re the elected representative, and we would like the opportunity to explain some of the reality on the streets.”

        Ya don’t need to lay down your arms (either side!), but you do need to not be giant dicks about “this mayor has blood on his hands”Report

      • Avatar nevermoor says:


        I don’t speak for Saul, but there’s a bright line between force-users and non-force-users. If the department of labor gets into a spat with Obama, I’m a lot less worried than if it’s the department of defense (or justice).Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

        “Walker is a governor of an entire state and presumably the union members also lived in Wisconsin. Wisconsin also has a recall procedure for better or for worse (note I am generally against recall procedures).

        NYC does not have a recall procedure that I know of.”

        Call me overly cynical, but I have absolutely no faith that these are the actual reasons why those who championed Walker’s recall won’t be championing DeBlasio’s.

        That all just sounds like excuses make up after the fact to justify railing for one and against the other without looking partisan.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        The last time the DoD got into a spat with a sitting president was when Cheney wanted to invade Iran.

        Still feeling so upset about that spat?Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog says:

        I don’t know about that. The role of a union is to stand up to the employer – even on behalf of employees who didn’t vote for the employer. And when the employer is elected, standing up for the employees’ interests can legitimately include drawing those issues to the attention of voters.

        If a nurses’ union calls for a health minister to resign, or releases ads encouraging voters to defeat that minster in an election, I think that’s a legitimate thing for the union to do – even if many of the nurses represented commute from outside the relevant jurisdiction.

        Not that this excuses specific awfulness by police unions – it’s been a while since I read any public pronouncement by a police union that wasn’t awful in some way. That’s another useful function of a police union: it provides a mechanism for a police force full of awful people to speak collectively without being smothered in bland bureaucratese, and bring to light their own awfulness.Report

      • Avatar nevermoor says:


        I for one have no concern about looking partisan personally. I am one.

        I’m curious, though: what’s your view of Reagan’s battle with the air traffic controllers? Also, does it matter to you whether these were uniformed on-duty cops or police officers on their own time turning their backs?

        I always wonder in situations like this why the GOP can’t (at least) hold police to Army standards.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        air traffic controllers deserved the reduced hours. they’re creative people who do things with their off hours (really kewl stuff!), and it is REALLY stressful work.

        I think it doesn’t matter if they were on duty or off duty — they shouldn’t have done that during a crisis. Now, protesting outside the Press Conference, calling for /something-anything-concrete/ — like bulletproof windows, that’s fair game.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly says:


        I was not a big fan of Reagan’s ATC stuff. Even if they were “essential personnel,” my own belief is that you only pull that card if you’re willing to sit down and give an honest hearing (with the intention of negotiating) with the party you are forcing to go to work. What Reagan did felt to me like more political scapegoating for a group of badly over worked and underpaid people that no one seemed to give s**t about (except, for some, as a foil for Reagan).

        As to you other question, I think it comes from the Right having put so many eggs into the narrative basket that divides the world into White Hats and Black Hats, with cops being Good Guys and “perps” being bad guys the liberals want to allow to murder you and your family.

        And, me being me, I also think it touches on a kind of primal racial fear. I’m writing a post about the cops shooting today, and one of the things I am touching upon is how as the stories of unarmed blacks being killed by police is being reported more, the trust in police by white Americans is increasing. Not necessarily a 1-1 causal relationship, I know, but I don’t think it’s unrelated.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        “I always wonder in situations like this why the GOP can’t (at least) hold police to Army standards.”

        They like military people well enough when they “stand up” to a Dem President and/or the System. Look how the careers of Lt Col North and LTC West turned out. There’s been a few jackalope holes over the last few years that have become minor right wing media darlings for saying stupid stuff that concerns matters above their pay grade and being called on the carpet for it. There was also this Congressman urging mass resignations, something some radio hosts (e.g. Levin) have also beat the drum about from time to time.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        I’m struck by the difference between these NYPD officers’ attitude towards their mayor and the attitude of some very conservative military folk I know towards the President (and the attitude they had towards President Clinton).

        The military guys (and they were all guys, FWIW) were all, “I’m not voting for him and I’m against his politics. And when he comes to tour our base, no one is going to have a more respectful salute than me. Because he’s the President and for no other reason.” To turn one’s back on the mayor at a brother cop’s funeral seems to exhibit rather a different attitude than “I may not like the man or his policies very much, but that which is honorable about my job compels me to respect the office he holds notwithstanding.”Report

      • Avatar j r says:

        Maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to ask that cops act more like the military. Police departments have become paramilitary enough.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        The police is not the military of a city. The police is not the military of a city. The police is not the military of a city. The police is not a military of a city. The police is not a military of a city. The police is not a military of a city.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        Let me repeat my point, with a bit of emphasis: To turn one’s back on the mayor at a brother cop’s funeral seems to exhibit rather a different attitude than “I may not like the man or his policies very much, but that which is honorable about my job compels me to respect the office he holds notwithstanding.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        I am actually a fan of “respecting the office” to a degree, but there is a reason that we demand soldiers respect the hierarchy, which includes the president at the top. It has to do with the imminent danger of combat and the Need to coordinate large numbers of people to defeat a common and similarly organized opponent. It all revolves around the reasons we *don’t* want the police to emulate the military (other than that they do so poorly).

        I really don’t think this notion would be attractive but for the fact that we agree with the mayor and disagree with the police on these issues.Report

      • Avatar nevermoor says:

        1. Police are not soldiers, and don’t need weapons of war like tanks.
        2. Police and soldiers are agents of force legitimized by their government position.
        3. The military respects this role, and recognizes how crucial its deference to civilian authority is.
        4. NYPD comes off like an out-of-control militia accountable only to itself, which ought to scare everyone.
        5. Police should be AT LEAST as respectful of its role as the Army, because unlike the Army its primary responsibility is to work with the people it comes into contact with. That means not acting against civilian authority while in uniform, not pointing your guns at people you don’t intend to shoot, and everything else.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        1-4. Agreed! Pretty much, anyway.
        5. Agree with just about everything except the part about being duty bound not to speak out against civilian authority.Report

      • Avatar nevermoor says:

        When on duty and in uniform, that isn’t speech. That’s a bigger problem. The union guy is totally in-bounds (though crazy), and I wouldn’t have a problem with off-duty cops saying exactly the same stuff. But that isn’t what we are talking about here.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        I was mostly talking about the [excrement] coming from the unions. There are some expressions of views that I would consider inappropriate, though. So it depends in part on what we’re talking about. But the “respect the office” that we expect of the military doesn’t have a police equivalent, and even if there are obvious limitations to what they can be expected to do while on duty specifically, they have every right to advocate (loudly) for a change in civilian leadership.Report

      • Avatar nevermoor says:

        Why doesn’t “respect the office” apply? That seems to be the core of our disagreement.Report

      • Avatar Notme says:


        I think are mixing insubordination with disrespect. Under the ucmj each one is a separate offense.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        If by “respect the office” we mean anything more than “follow legally administered orders” then I don’t know why that should apply any more to police officers than to employees of South Pittsburg. Which is to say it shouldn’t.

        If all you mean is to follow orders (when legal, etc) , then that’s not particularly what I have in mind.Report

      • Avatar nevermoor says:

        What is wrong with Mayor : Police :: President : Army?

        I’m seeing disagreement, but not explanation. My view is that the police are answerable to the city’s civil authority.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        I get that police don’t take orders directly from the mayor the way soldiers take orders from the President. But at the same time, @nevermoor is precisely correct that “the police are answerable to the city’s civil authority.” In most cities, the mayor does control and direct the municipal government, which means the mayor can set policy and priorities and has pretty substantial authority to direct the police’s activities generally. So maybe the mayor can’t tell an individual cop “Hey you, go do this,” but a mayor typically can tell the Chief of Police, “Get this done.” (Is that not the case in NYC?) That puts the mayor on the hierarchy and above the beat cop, and therefore a degree of respect is warranted for that reason alone.

        Just because the military does something doesn’t mean the police should do it, too — but that also doesn’t mean that just because the military does something, the police should do the opposite. Police and the civilian authorities that govern them need to understand what the military does, understand what they do, and make intelligent decisions about what will translate effectively from one hierarchy to another.

        Furthermore, and probably most importantly, the mayor is the visible personification of the city, and to that extent when a cop turns her back on the mayor, she symbolically turns her back on the city itself. By that gesture, she is saying that to her, NYPD is more important than NYC itself. That’s a substantial part of why I think the “respect the office” norm should translate from the military to the police.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Mayors are usually not commanders-in-chief, or the police equivalent. The mayor/executive to cop relationship is just different, because there is no direct chain of command from cop to mayor. To the extent that there is such a command structure at all — and in most large cities there isn’t really — it’s usually to the city council or an appointed board or something like that.

        For the most part, this is a good thing. There’s a long history of local officials using cops for personal or political gain, so some separation between the two is a good thing. Unfortunately, many cops have taken this to mean that they are completely unaccountable to city government or the people who elect it.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        I’m pretty sure when the Gov. ordered the capital police to break up the protests, they joined the protests.

        This is false, but there was considerable dispute about whether/when he could issue that order, or when it could be enforced, that the police had to pay attention to. Broadly, they did what the governor ordered them to do, when and to the extent that the courts affirmed that he could order them to do it.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        A mayor is not a president, police officers are not soldiers, and crime fighting isn’t war. A good chunk of the problems we have are failures to make these distinctions.

        Law enforcement officers, whether they answer to a mayor or an elected sheriff or a governor, are civilians and public servants and not military personnel.

        The differences in their status and roles are manifest and we shouldn’t forget those differences because they carry guns.

        We do not want them serving their mayor or sheriff the same way the military serves the president. We want them serving the law and the people. As civilians.Report

      • Avatar nevermoor says:


        Ok. I don’t disagree that war is different. But you seem to be suggesting that cops aren’t really accountable to anyone. (if “the public” complains, do you think that will achieve anything?)

        I find that chilling.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        Furthermore, and probably most importantly, the mayor is the visible personification of the city, and to that extent when a cop turns her back on the mayor, she symbolically turns her back on the city itself. By that gesture, she is saying that to her, NYPD is more important than NYC itself. That’s a substantial part of why I think the “respect the office” norm should translate from the military to the police.

        I broadly agree with this, but a couple of questions arise. First is that the whole premise of the gesture is that the cop is saying by it, “The mayor has lost sight of the interest of NYC; for NYPD to serve NYC, we must deny the validity of this mayor’s role as symbol of the city at this time.” So it’s not enough just to say that the cop is choosing NYPD over NYC there, because he’ll deny that; you have to ay that the cop lacks the moral/civic standing to make the assessment of a ruptured symbolic relationship between mayor and city for himself, and therefore to allow that assessment to define the (public) meaning of his action.

        Second, is @will-truman’s objection, or in any case challenge: does the “mayor/governor-as-sympol-of-the-polity” argument hold for all government employees? If the mayor is the visible personification of the city, then he just is that; the question is what that means in different contexts for different people. For example, are we as concerned with it in the case of employees who aren’t engaged as people the state has empowered to use violence against the population in the interest of maintaining order? If employees in NYC’s EEOC had shown similar disregard for, say, Rudy!, would that be a problem of a similar kind? How much does the fact that police are the armed wing of the state change how important respect and deference to the civilian & political authority are to us? I’m not sure it’s clear what the truly animating concerns really are here.

        Just to address the Wisconsin question myself, first, I would say it does raise greater concerns when the police trend toward insubordination than when the rest of the civil service does. And the police broadly didn’t do that in Wisconsin, though there were absolutely some off-duty police among the protesters (showing solidarity even though their unions were exempted).

        But secondly (and to speak to those off-duty officers’ presence), the context matters. The funeral of a slain officer is about as official a function as a city can hold. Officers there are pretty clearly on duty, and symbolically so. This heightens the symbolic power of any insubordinate behavior they may show toward the mayor at that function. Public employees marching on the capitol protesting radical changes to the terms of their employment on their own time can’t be said to be acting in their official capacity as state employees. Unless police officers assigned to the protests, as Kimmi wrongly suggested, joined them and then showed symbolic contempt for the governor, I don’t really see where a good parallel to the cations of these officers existed in Wisconsin in 2011. Though I am willing to listen to further argument on the point.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        I agree that police aren’t soldiers. For one, you’re supposed to survive your contact with the police even if they are taking hostile action against you. The soldier’s mission is to destroy the enemy. The police’s mission is to enforce the law.

        But I disagree that police are civilians. They’re not. Police are armed, and authorized to make autonomous decisions about when to use force in the execution of their duties. They’re invested with the power, authority, prestige, and resources of the state in a unique way.

        I don’t see a response to the point that a cop turning her back on the mayor is symbolically declaring that the force is more important than the city that created the force. That is not an attitude that I would find acceptable on the part of a police officer. I want that police officer to respect the law above all, then the public whom she serves (even if she doesn’t feel that public respects her back), and then the force of which she is a member. In that order.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:


        Law enforcement officers, whether they answer to a mayor or an elected sheriff or a governor, are civilians and public servants and not military personnel.

        The differences in their status and roles are manifest and we shouldn’t forget those differences because they carry guns.

        We do not want them serving their mayor or sheriff the same way the military serves the president. We want them serving the law and the people. As civilians.

        @burt-likko has it right on this. Just because the relationship is not identical, and so all operating aspects of that relationship are not identical, doesn’t mean there won’t be significant operating aspects of the relationship that we don’t want to preserve and replicate, because the relationships, while not identical, are also not entirely without similarity or analogy to each other.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Nevermoor, they should be accountable to the hierarchy (which may be headed by a mayor, a city manager, a governor, or an independently elected sheriff or constable), the District Attorney, the law and possibly the separate state and federal governments. There is not a lack of accountability written into our system. The lack of accountability is a failure on the part of elected officials (elected just like mayors are elected) and the rest of us to actually exercise it.

        Burt, police officers may be civil authorities, but ultimately by virtue of not being in the military they are civilians. As such, they reserve the rights that civilians have when they are not on duty. They can resign (more or less) when they choose. If arrested, they are tried in civilian courts (or not indicted, as often turns out to be the case). According to the United States Code, they are civilians.

        The similarities between police and military are far less relevant than the differences, in my view.Report

      • Avatar nevermoor says:

        @will-truman Glad to hear it, so if the Mayor is in the chain of command, you would view those actions as demonstrating a problematic lack of accountability?

        I couldn’t disagree more with your last line. If you ask me, the two categories of public servants with the highest requirements are police (most) and army (next most). Whoever is next is a distant third. And that’s because both are allowed to employ deadly force and given broad latitude in doing so. Sure soldiers are subject to military courts, but police seem generally not subject to any courts, so I’m not sure that distinction matters much. At this point I have a lot more faith in JAG officers and MPs to enforce rules than I do in county prosecutors (when it comes to cops).

        What that leads me to believe is that any restraint the military takes on should be the MINIMUM level of restraint for on-duty or uniformed cops (I do agree that an off-duty cop is just a civilian). What blows my mind is that cops routinely display MUCH LESS restraint than soldiers, and people seem to think this is ok.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Depends on which actions we are referring to. If he tells them to stop targeting black people, and they continue to do so, then there is an accountability problem. If he says “Make your union stop saying negative things about me,” there is no accountability problem.

        Everything else is in between. None of which hinges on respecting the office of the mayor above and beyond the orders that said office has the authority to give.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        I gotta agree with Burt. This is disrespect and insubordination — what they did during the Press Conference. I am very, very willing to grant people time and space to air their first amendment right to speech.

        But, dude! Time and Place!

        I’d totally be okay with off-duty cops protesting outside the Press Conference (so long as they weren’t being code pink assholes). I’m actually okay with cops signing “no mayor at my funeral” requests (Please, I’m dead here, it’s not a PR thing, go away and leave my family in peace), even as I find them totally dickish.Report

      • Avatar Notme says:

        PATCO got what they deserved under the law for illegally striking.Report

    • Avatar Pinky says:

      “The subtext I get…”

      That’s the problem. We’ve all become masters at picking up the subtext of what the other guy says, and we’re indignant when people misunderstand the subtext of what we say. I have the
      feeling that this is what societies look like a generation before a slaughter.

      When both sides hear idiots on their own side talking, they dismiss them because they know that they’re not representative of their side. When both sides hear smart people on their side talking, they interpret them in the best possible way, understanding the subtleties of arguments that the speaker maybe doesn’t fully flesh out but which refer to articles and positions that all of that side is familiar with.

      When both sides hear idiots on the other side talking, they remember it, and treat it as if that’s the entire content of the other side. When both sides hear smart people on the other side talking, they miss the nuances and read in the context that they expect.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        Good News! the military agrees with you.
        Bad News! For other reasons…
        (mostly resource wars…)Report

      • Avatar Pinky says:

        A great illustration of the problem is in this sentence from Burt:

        Simply put, someone needed to point out that #BlackLivesMatter, but no sober person ever questioned that #NYPDLivesMatter.

        No, Burt, nobody needed to point out that black lives matter, because only a miniscule number of sober, sane people would have argued the opposite. You may hold the position that we needed to focus on restructuring the interaction between police and minorities, but that’s different from saying “black lives matter”, and it’s different from saying that we needed for someone to say that black lives matter. Likewise, very few people would disagree that “NYPD lives matter”, but it’s perfectly reasonable to hold the position that the current rhetoric has put a strain in the other direction on relations between police and minorities. Each hashtag represents a possible legitimate point of view, but the words of each hashtag are so obvious that to say they need to be said is to make an accusation against the morality of others.

        The frustrating thing is, I think that Burt would agree with that. It may have even been one of the points of his posting. But we are as oblivious to our own use of slogans as we are sensitive to our opponents’.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        No, Burt, nobody needed to point out that black lives matter, because only a miniscule number of sober, sane people would have argued the opposite.

        Have you been paying attention, dude? I have a hard time believing you actually believe this, except on some really trivial level of analysis, one which no one is arguing or has even been advanced.

        Also, your upthread comment seems a bit too cavalier for me. In it you attempt to reduce the political disputes over cop behavior to a communication problem rather than a dispute about what is the case. All you’ve done is push the dispute up one level higher (second order meta!) which won’t resolve or clarify any of the issues being disputed nor change anyone’s mind.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        I sort of agree with you, @pinky and I sort of don’t, about “Black Lives Matter.”

        When directly challenged with “Black Lives Matter,” any one sober will say, “Of course they do.” But in actual legal practice, this seems to be less obvious. Miami in 1980. Los Angeles in 1992. St. Petersburg in 1995. Oakland in 2009. Sanford in 2012. Ferguson, Staten Island, and now Milwaukee in 2014. For a generation, prominent incidents of fatal violence against black people have seemed to result in no prosecutions or acquittals.

        Intellectually, sure, everyone agrees that “Black Lives Matter.” When the rubber hits the road and it comes time to conduct investigations and hand down indictments and pronounce verdicts, the slogan seems incomplete. The reality appears to be “Black Lives Matter Less.” And that’s not a state of affairs consistent with either that statement everyone claims to agree upon or basic notions of fairness.Report

      • Avatar LWA says:

        It doesn’t matter if a person can trot out a bunch of statistics to demonstrate that racism doesn’t exist or is a motivating factor in policing.

        What matters is whether people have faith in government and the justice system. If they don’t, that’s a problem that needs to be addressed, urgently.

        If it were only a tiny minority of criminals who felt unjustly peyed upon by the police, we could shrug it off.

        But it isn’t- its vast swaths of America, black mostly, but also people of every color and class are believing that the police are out of control and overly brutal and trigger happy.

        And it doesn’t matter if you personally don’t believe it- many other people do, and that’s a danger for a society.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        A white man can be convicted of killing a black man if his claim of self-defense is a transparent falsehood.


      • Avatar Pinky says:

        There’s no doubt that impressions matter. We should try to conform those impressions to reality. We had the experience in this country of an era when black lives were not perceived to matter, and it looked nothing like our current era.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        During Jim Crow, we had a rather organized “throw the black dudes in jail for spurious reasons” (often vagrancy — which meant if a white guy didnt like where you were, off to jail). The men’s labor was subsequently sold for profit.

        This seems somewhat similar to the current day.Report

      • Avatar kenB says:

        For the benefit of the few dozen people who don’t know the Right Answer already, Scott Alexander has a post from last month where he went through a bunch of studies and stats to see if he could tease out the differential treatment due specifically to race, trying to factor out all the confounding variables. Of course there’s no way to have a truly definitive answer to this question (actually just coherently laying out the question itself can be rather difficult, since any event has multiple causes), but it’s worth a read.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        that article makes me want to rip my hair out.
        Lack of methods that use actual controls, aligned with “assume this Just Because”.

        “Although they don’t say so, the most logical explanation to me would be that black neighborhoods are poorer and therefore higher crime, and so the police are more watchful and/or paranoid.”

        Fuck that shit. Either show the studies, and show that harshness is related to poor therefore higher crime (who makes that inference without proof??), REGARDLESS of race. Because I’m dilly certain it’s not. (granted, most of the extreme poor white neighborhoods live way out in the country. But, frontier justice and lynch mobs are WAY more common out there than in the city.)

        b) is even worse. White college students are MUCH more likely to try to shoplift liquor than a middleaged black man… But you do see disproportionate targetting of black college professors (what? they’re going to keep track).

        c) I’d like to see his breakouts on blacks not reporting drug use (re:age). If so, I’m going to take this up with a few people, because reporting statistics when there are methodological issues like that is sloppy.Report

  4. Avatar LWA says:

    I keep disavowing Stalin, yet somehow when I advocate socialized medicine, I am asked about the mountains of corpses.Report

  5. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    We need to find a way to issue disavowals consonant with our beliefs.Report

  6. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    @will-truman @burt-likko @nevermoor

    It is important to note that the NYPD has been involved in a war with seemingly every Mayor in the past two to four decades:


    They even did the please don’t attend our funeral thing against Giuliani and Lynch said that the PBA could not support Giuliani’s run for President in 2007….

    So the NYPD goes completely against anyone that occupies the Mayoral seat.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew says:

      The commish today also pointed out that it’s SOP for the police units to be in conflict with the mayor, I.e. that nothing is really so different about this mayor. Which I thought was pretty constructive, even if Bratton’s pull with rank & file right now isn’t what maybe you’d hope.Report

  7. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Here’s an anecdote:


    If this is accurate, then it’s indicative of a problem in Buffalo.
    If it’s accurate, then I also wonder if it’s representative of police stations across the country.

    If it’s representative, then our problems go very deep indeed and cannot be resolved without… well, I’d have to think long and hard about what *WOULD* resolve them.Report

  8. Avatar Stillwater says:

    This isn’t specifically related to the politics of disavowals, but interesting nevertheless:

    Off duty, black cops in New York feel threat from fellow police.

    Reuters interviewed 25 African American male officers on the NYPD, 15 of whom are retired and 10 of whom are still serving. All but one said that, when off duty and out of uniform, they had been victims of racial profiling [including] being pulled over for no reason, having their heads slammed against their cars, getting guns brandished in their faces, being thrown into prison vans and experiencing stop and frisks while shopping. The majority of the officers said they had been pulled over multiple times while driving. Five had had guns pulled on them.

    Maybe not me is right: when de Blasio was talking about ending “stop and frisk” really he really *was* advocating major police reform. You know, ending a culture of discrimination and excessive force.Report

  9. Avatar Frank Assisi says:

    I can only hope that the next time the fergie mob squad wastrels riot, the liquor store proprietors will at least give them a decent selection of good fine liquor to steal. I mean ‘Burnetts’? You’ve got to be kidding.

    Heaven’s to Betsy, try Grey Goose, Absolut or Stoli. It’s a disgrace what what these ‘traumatized’ looters are forced to endure for their acts of selfless heroism.

    Did anyone else happen to notice that the bellowing guy with the bullhorn trying stir up the rabid miscreants in NYC was none other than Baghdad Bob. “What do we want? Dead cops!”Report