Who Said It: Jack Nicholson or an NYC Police Union President?

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

You might remember that last week, James Blake, the former tennis star, was tackled to the ground and mistakenly detained by police while waiting for a car to take him to the U.S. Open. The NYPD later explained that a witness had misidentified Blake as a suspect in an ID-theft case. The episode inspired renewed condemnations of NYPD tactics as well as some charges of racism. The eventual release of surveillance footage of the forceful encounter didn’t help matters much.

On Tuesday, Patrick Lynch, head of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, which is New York City’s largest police union, fired back against criticism of the NYPD in the aftermath of the incident. Here’s his statement in full:

To all arm-chair judges:

If you have never struggled with someone who is resisting arrest or who pulled a gun or knife on you when you approached them for breaking a law, then you are not qualified to judge the actions of police officers putting themselves in harm's way for the public good.

It is mystifying to all police officers to see pundits and editorial writers whose only expertise is writing fast-breaking, personal opinion, and who have never faced the dangers that police officers routinely do, come to instant conclusions that an officer's actions were wrong based upon nothing but a silent video. That is irresponsible, unjust and un-American. Worse than that, your uninformed rhetoric is inflammatory and only serves to worsen police/community relations.

In the unfortunate case of former tennis pro, James Blake, -- who was clearly but mistakenly identified by a complainant -- there certainly can be mitigating circumstances which caused the officer to handle the situation in the manner he did. Do they exist? Frankly, no one will know for sure until there is a full and complete investigation. That is why no one should ever jump to an uninformed conclusion based upon a few seconds of video. Let all of the facts lead where they will, but police officers have earned the benefit of the doubt because of the dangers we routinely face.

The men and women of the NYPD are once again disheartened to read another the knee-jerk reaction from ivory tower pundits who enjoy the safety provided by our police department without understanding the very real risks that we take to provide that safety. Due process is the American way of obtaining justice, not summary professional execution called for by editorial writers.

There’s a lot to unpack here. Particularly that Lynch’s no-remorse tack goes against the response by NYPD Chief Bill Bratton, who offered an apology to Blake, criticized the tactics of the officer involved, and announced that the officer would be shifted to desk duty.

Lynch’s penchant for closing-of-the-ranks speeches earned him some notoriety after he insinuated that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was partially responsible for an attack in which two police officers were ambushed and shot to death in Brooklyn last year because of de Blasio’s criticism of police. Lynch doubled down on that idea in his response today.

What also stood out was the last paragraph of Lynch’s statement, which he seemingly cribbed from Jack Nicholson’s character in A Few Good Men. It’s pretty eerie.