On Sunday, a relatively large group of New York police officers, sworn to protect and serve the public, turned their back on the public's elected executive, Mayor Bill de Blasio:
The show of disrespect came outside the funeral home where Officer Wenjian Liu was remembered as an incarnation of the American dream: a man who had immigrated at age 12 and devoted himself to helping others in his adopted country. The gesture, among officers watching the mayor's speech on a screen, added to tensions between the mayor and rank-and-file police even as he sought to quiet them.
This particular protest came after Commissioner William Bratton asked them not to stage a repeat of Officer Rafael Ramos's funeral. This request included the telling caveat, "I issue no mandates, and I make no threats of discipline, but I remind you that when you don the uniform of this department, you are bound by the tradition, honor and decency that go with it."
It's not clear that Bratton could (or should) do much of anything to stop his officers from protesting. But whatever Bratton's sense of honor and decency, it clearly isn't shared by the officers working under him, and it's unlikely that his appeal swayed anyone.
Those who are demoralized by these protests would do well to read James Fallows's cover story on the American military this month. The same cloak of puffed grandeur and bombast that surrounds our army can be detected in our police. Jim is describing a society that has taken its hands off the wheel. Give us safety now (real or imagined), goes the agreement, and we won't ask about what comes later. Until some critical mass of Americans decides that police cannot, all at once, wield the lethal power of gods and the meager responsibilities of mortals, change is unlikely.