New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton is resigning suddenly under pressure from protesters.
The announcement Tuesday marks the end of Bratton’s second stint atop the NYPD. He will stay on into September to aid his successor James O’Neill, the Wall Street Journal reports.
His abrupt resignation Tuesday gives a win to Black Lives Matter protesters who had amassed in a park across from City Hall and defied police to evict them. The #ShutDownCityHallNYC protest makes three demands, with Bratton’s scalp the first. The other two — a full defunding of the NYPD and reparations payments from the city to the families of people of color brutalizes by police — are tougher sells.
Bratton is a complicated figure, simultaneously responsible for ushering in and defending a quota-driven policing strategy that breeds oppressive and aggressive practices, and for offering a rare public acknowledgment of the racist history of American policing.
Bratton called out that history in clear language in a 2015 speech at a black church in Queens.
“Slavery, our country’s original sin, sat on a foundation codified by laws enforced by police, by slave-catchers,” Bratton said, noting that the Dutch explorer who established New York made slave-catching cops his first priority. “Since then, the stories of police and black citizens have intertwined again and again. …The unequal nature of that relationship cannot and must not be denied.”
The Birth Of Broken Windows
Bratton’s latter-day honesty about police racism is about as far away from Rudy Giuliani’s race-baiting convention speech and television appearances as a white establishment figure in law enforcement can get. But Bratton made his reputation by serving as Giuliani’s right-hand man in instituting so-called “broken windows” law enforcement policies that fueled mass incarceration and kept an NYPD boot on the neck of the city’s black communities.
His signature contribution to the policing business, now adopted almost everywhere in America, is a data system that allows municipal leaders to distance themselves from allegations of racism by cloaking police actions in quantitative language.
Compstat — made infamous among civilians by HBO’s The Wire — was Bratton’s way of condensing the complex human work of law enforcement into measurable, discrete figures. The system signals to commanders that numbers matter as much or more than practical community relationships. That helps promote ideas like arrest quotas and stop-and-frisk policies and encourages officers to fudge the numbers to make their bosses happy.
Together with then-Mayor Giuliani’s vehemence about cleaning up the city, Bratton’s numbers-driven focus on so-called “lifestyle offenses” effectively made the NYPD an occupying force in the city’s poorest pockets. Officers were directed to aggressively patrol and make arrests for the most minor offenses. The era bred policies that the department is struggling to shake to this day, such as the stairwell patrols that led officer Peter Liang to shoot and kill Akai Gurley last year.
Cleaning Up His Mess
Nonetheless, Bratton’s return to New York under Mayor Bill de Blasio was initially hailed as a potential breath of fresh air for the city’s long-suffering minority population. Bratton’s predecessor Ray Kelly played the same role for then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg as Bratton had for Giuliani, as the guy who got his hands dirty to make white New Yorkers feel safe at the expense of everyone else. It seemed possible that Bratton under de Blasio would serve to reform the NYPD.
But those reform efforts have been uneven at best. Even as scandals exposed both individual corruption and systemic quota-driven abuses, Bratton ensured that bad cops were reinstated before they resigned so their paths out of the department would be smoother. In public statements that sounded like time capsules from decades before, he blamed marijuana for crime and rappers for real-world violence.
And the choking death of Eric Garner at the hands of Officer Daniel Pantaleo in July 2014 illustrated just how deep-rooted the ideas Bratton promoted in his first stint atop the department have become. Garner’s ostensible crime — selling loose cigarettes on the street — is exactly the sort of thing Giuliani and Bratton targeted in their 1990s crackdown.
Bratton acknowledged at the time that the chokehold Pantaleo used to kill Garner is now banned by the department handbook, but the department never charged him. And the physical violence and escalation-oriented interactions that Garner’s killing demonstrated are straight out of the playbook Bratton helped Giuliani write.