Bill de Blasio is a man walking a very thin line very badly.
On one hand, de Blasio is the most progressive mayor in New York’s history. When the protests over George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody hit the city, he was expected to strike a different tone — to throw his lot entirely with the dispossessed and to realize that, if there were (ahem) excesses, they were insurrections against injustice, not riots. After all, this was an unarmed black man who died at the hands of a white cop who kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes. That kind of horror should obviously be met with a type of horror of its own.
On the other hand, de Blasio actually runs a city and that city’s in pretty bad shape. New York is the worldwide locus of the novel coronavirus, and in addition to the human toll, the economic toll has been pretty rough, as well. There’s also the strained relationship he has with his police department, which is problematic when they are the civil servants who’re expected to maintain order in a civilized manner and to recognize what the law enforcement priorities ought to be when met with a situation like this.
And all of this is to say nothing of the fact that this comes in the middle of a pandemic during which de Blasio has come under fire for his public battles with the Orthodox Jewish community, a pitched conflict that has led to charges of anti-Semitism on Hizzoner’s part.
De Blasio has tried to balance all of these priorities — poorly.
Now, even though the situation is out of control and every stakeholder in this mess loathes him, he’s still refusing help from Immigration and Customs Enforcement because — well, they’re Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Yes, ICE is active in Gotham, and that’s probably going to make some people upset, given the fact that the agency isn’t particularly popular with the left.
However, this isn’t as part of an immigration roundup. The revelation that agents from Homeland Security Investigations were in the city came after they detained a Puerto Rican man, which led to a viral video and all kinds of panic:
‼️ ALERT ‼️ ICE is showing up at NYC protests: On Wednesday, this man was walking with protestors when 5 agents jumped out of a van with guns drawn & threw him to the ground, 1 wearing a POLICE/HSI (division of ICE) vest. This man is a US citizen of Puerto Rican descent. pic.twitter.com/aADNiQG1Co
— Immigrant Defense Project (@ImmDefense) June 5, 2020
According to a spokeswoman for HSI New York, however, this was about agents working with local law enforcement, not any kind of action against individuals based on their immigration status.
“HSI has the authority to make criminal arrests as needed,” HSI New York spokeswoman Rachel Yong Yow said, according to Time. “HSI Special Agents identified a person considered to be in possession of a weapon and a threat to the public safety. No arrests were made.”
Thankfully, we know what the mayor thinks about this:
“We do not want ICE in this city.”
— Washington Examiner (@dcexaminer) June 8, 2020
“I would not let ICE agents anywhere in the official capacity in New York City, except for what they’re allowed to do on their own,” de Blasio said Monday. “I’ve said ICE agents are not welcome in our public buildings. I have no knowledge and really don’t believe that happened. If anyone has evidence of it, I need to know it.
“But no, we do not want ICE in this city. And the times when they have come forward trying to get into a city building, for example, they’ve been told only if they have warrants and the law department approves it. So we’ve been pretty consistent about that.”
This would be great if he were adequately supporting the NYPD. The NYPD might have something to say about that, particularly after two officers were shot during the protests and de Blasio has made tentative moves toward defunding the department.
Should ICE agents be in New York right now?
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“They feel abandoned by everyone,” Paul DiGiacomo, the president of the NYPD’s detectives union, told Fox News Monday. “There is no one supporting the police, from the governor to the mayor to the DAs to the City Council.”
As for complaints that videos showed police officers using excessive force, DiGiacomo responded that it was a natural outgrowth of the ugliness of the riots.
“Listen, when there is unrest and criminality out there, it never looks pretty,” he said. “Resisting arrest never looks pretty. They never show you the whole video.
“I challenge any elected officials who think they could do a better job with urine being thrown at them, bottles, and being shot at.”
A Tuesday report from the Washington Examiner quoted several rank-and-file New York police officers as saying they were planning to leave the force over their treatment during the riots that branched off of the Floyd protests.
“At our level, it’s hard to say, but in the past, you felt like chiefs like [Joseph] Esposito had your back. Even Ray Kelly. Without Rudy [Giuliani] or even with [Michael] Bloomberg, things have changed,” one sergeant told the Examiner.
“The rumor is over 600 went to pension,” he said. “I have less uniformed cops by me.”
“There’s protests throughout the city almost every single year, like Occupy Wall Street,” Sergeants Benevolent Association Ed Mullins said of the situation under de Blasio. “But in my 16 years, this is, by far, probably the worst I’ve seen from upper management.”
Meanwhile, Black Lives Matter activists felt that the mayor was being too soft on the NYPD, and legitimate protesters were angered by the city’s curfews.
De Blasio attended a memorial for Floyd in Brooklyn over the weekend but was “drowned out by booing,” according to Fox News.
De Blasio and Chirlane McCray arrive 20 mins late. Crowd boos and chants “De Blasio, go home” when he walks across the stage pic.twitter.com/H1J62mm69o
— Rose Adams (@rose_n_adams) June 4, 2020
This is to say nothing of the Orthodox Jewish community, which was blasted and threatened by de Blasio for hosting a funeral for a beloved rabbi while the much larger memorial for Floyd went on unabated.
The situation in New York City was so bad that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a fellow Democrat, called de Blasio’s handling of the riots a “disgrace” last Tuesday and said he had the power to “displace” de Blasio, although he didn’t plan to do so.
And now we’re going after ICE.
I get that ICE isn’t a particularly popular arm of law enforcement in New York City at the moment, but the moment isn’t a particularly good one for anyone and, sans this viral video, the agency has kept a low profile. The moment to appease the people who drowned him out with boos is over.
Meanwhile, the moment to potentially avert any more economic or criminal damage to the city hardest-hit by COVID-19 still exists. Investigating how many ICE agents are in New York and what their roles are is a useless task the city would do well to avoid.
The mayor is Bill de Blasio, however.
New York won’t avoid it.
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