Although discussions about police brutality began in Ferguson, New York City quickly became a focal point of the movement. That shift was due to the murder of Staten Island’s Eric Garner and the subsequent murder of two Brooklyn NYPD officers, as well as the back-and-forth disagreements between Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Chief Bill Bratton. Protesters around the country have been closely monitoring the NYPD’s reaction to the anti-police demonstrations there.
In the weeks following the murder of NYPD Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, many of the NYPD staff protested by turning their backs whenever Mayor De Blasio spoke in public. They also protested by launching a work slowdown, in which arrest rates for minor offenses dropped significantly compared to past years. The actions of the NYPD represented a planned push back against the protests and demonstrations taking place throughout the city, as well as an obvious statement against the leadership in city hall.
The police department of the nation’s largest city has just announced another symbolic step forward in their fight against protesters. According to the New York Post, the NYPD will be launching a new “counterterrorism” unit of 350 officers in the coming months. The unit, referred to as the Strategic Response Group, was created to deal with “advanced disorder control and counterterrorism protection.” The plan is to do exactly the opposite of what protesters have been demanding in recent months — arming officers with military-grade weaponry to fight against all those who oppose them.
“It will be equipped and trained in ways that our normal patrol officers are not,” Commissioner Bratton said. “It will be equipped with all the extra heavy protective gear, with the long rifles and the machine guns that are unfortunately sometimes necessary in these instances.”
Despite the misleading characterization of the unit as being used for “counterterrorism” purposes, the “instances” to which Bratton refers undoubtedly mean anti-police and social justice protests. Bratton even acknowledged that fact directly in a statement to CBS New York: “It is designed for dealing with events like our recent protests, or incidents like Mumbai or what just happened in Paris.”
Conflating the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris with the protests in New York is yet another example of how misguided New York’s police department has become. The new unit inches the city another step closer to a police state, a truth that's unfortunately far from hyperbole. It also shows how they’ve learned nothing from their failed stop-and-frisk policy, another “counterterrorism” decision that led only to discrimination against New York’s innocent minorities. In 2013, for instance, 88 percent of those stopped by the police were totally innocent. Of those who were stopped, 56 percent were black, 29 percent were Latino and 11 percent were white. The statistics for the rest of the years (dating back to 2002), are strikingly similar.
In this case, things are even worse because a portion of the funds will come from federal Homeland Security grants. If the unit is truly used as intended, then it could be a helpful force against any potential terrorist attacks in the city. Yet the NYPD's past failed policies make it difficult to believe that that's what will occur. Commissioner Bratton has, at least, also asked the city for additional funding to provide more Tasers for his staff. Any alternative use of force should be applauded. The Strategic Response Group, however, is a step backwards for a police department that needs to be leading the country in its protest-driven reforms.