NYPD police officers are seething after the recent decision announced by Commissioner James O’Neill to fire officer Daniel Pantaleo, the cop who fatally choked Eric Garner in Staten Island over five years ago.
The commissioner made it clear that he expected backlash after this decision, saying, “Had I been in Officer Pantaleo’s situation I may have made similar mistakes. If I was still a cop, I’d probably be mad at me.”
As he anticipated, many cops are very angry. The city’s top three police unions, which together represent roughly 35,000 active duty officers, seem to be treating the news as an outright betrayal. Police Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch has been pushing for a work slowdown, visiting precincts and telling officers that the Patrol Guide is now meaningless and that “no one has our backs.”
Many officers also said that Pantaleo had been a convenient scapegoat for police brass.
“They believe that Pantaleo was given a raw deal,” a veteran Bronx patrol officer, who asked for anonymity, told Gothamist. “In essence it shouldn’t just be Pantaleo getting fired, it should be the person who ordered them to make the arrest. The only reason Pantaleo went out there was because he was ordered to do so.”
The city’s police are voicing their disgust with the decision on social media and other online forums. Some have changed their profile images to an inverted NYPD flag which is a symbol of distress. Others have changed to photos that say “I’m with Pantaleo”.
The level of outrage is extremely high on a popular forum for NYPD officers called Law Enforcement Rant where hundreds of posts reacting to the news can be found. While the identity of the users on this forum can be hidden, racism in some posts is overt.
Members in the group have circulated wanted posters of O’Neill for “effectively killing the NYPD,” accompanied by vague threats that he “better be prepared for the consequences.” They describe Mayor Bill de Blasio as a “fucking communist who HATES COPS.” The Garner family has been labeled “savages” and “ghetto dwellers.”
They have also shared ideas on how to organize a work slowdown. “If the average response time goes up by 3 minutes, city officials will shit themselves,” wrote one member.
On the other side of the coin, some officers are acknowledging that Pantaleo used an illegal chokehold and that they agree with the commissioner’s decision. A veteran officer who chose to remain anonymous, told the Gothamist:
“As police officer I understand how they see it, but they’re not seeing how the racist ways of the police department led them to this,” the officer said. “Broken windows makes stuff like this happen against black people.” Garner was initially stopped for allegedly selling loose cigarettes, a “quality-of-life” offense that the mayor has said should continue to be enforced.
The officer also suggested that Pantaleo’s race may have factored into the outpouring of support he received from the department. He noted that such full-throated solidarity was largely absent after the department fired Peter Liang, an immigrant officer who fatally shot an unarmed black man in 2014. The officer speculated that “if a minority had [killed Garner], they would have fired him immediately.”
“There’s a thin blue line,” he added, “but it has a white streak on it.”