As an NYPD lieutenant, I policed too many protests to count.
As an education activist, I have organized, led and participated in protests, rallies and demonstrations to demand better education for New York City kids.
I know how important protests are, and I know what can go wrong.
That is why I am outraged by the recent settlement agreement between the NYPD and the American Civil Liberties Union that will severely limit how the police can handle protests in the city.
This agreement is a betrayal of the public interest, a threat to public safety and a slap in the face to the brave men and women who risk their lives daily to protect New Yorkers from crime and violence.
The agreement, announced this month, results from lawsuits the ACLU and other groups filed over the NYPD’s response to the racial-justice protests that erupted in summer 2020 following the Minneapolis death of George Floyd.
The plaintiffs accused the NYPD of using excessive force, making wrongful arrests and violating the rights of protesters and journalists.
The settlement requires the NYPD to adopt a new four-tiered response system to minimize police presence at protests, bans “kettling” (a crowd-control tactic involving encircling and containing a group of protesters) and establishes an oversight committee with a $3 million price tag and representatives from the plaintiffs and the city, as well as independent experts.
While the agreement claims to protect protesters’ rights, it undermines the rights of law-abiding citizens who expect their police to maintain order and safety in their communities.
And it will have disastrous consequences for our city.
The agreement will undermine the authority and effectiveness of the police, who will be second-guessed and micromanaged by those who never bear the consequences of limited policing.
It will handcuff the police and prevent them from doing their job effectively. It will encourage criminals and anarchists who will exploit the reduced police presence and response to wreak havoc on our streets.
It will endanger the lives of innocent bystanders who may get caught in the crossfire of violent clashes between protesters and police.
It will erode public trust and confidence in the NYPD, whose members already suffer from low morale and high attrition.
Since retiring in 2017, I have protested and rallied in front of City Hall, the Department of Education headquarters known as “Tweed” and schools around the city.
Not once did any of my fellow education-activist parents think of bringing Molotov cocktails to make their point.
Nor did they throw rocks, yell or spit at the officers working the event.
And it goes without saying there was no property damage or theft.
Unsurprisingly, the police were cordial and professional, assisting us by directing both vehicular and pedestrian traffic and merely watching as our protests went on unimpeded.
This agreement is based on a false narrative portraying the NYPD as a brutal and oppressive force that targets minorities and violates civil rights.
In reality, the vast majority of police already respond appropriately and proportionally based on the participants’ behavior.
The ACLU settlement ignores the fact the NYPD is one of the most diverse and professional police departments in the world, with officers who reflect the communities they serve.
It also ignores that the NYPD has made significant reforms to improve its training, policies and accountability in recent years.
The agreement results from political pressure from radical activists and politicians with an anti-police agenda.
They have used George Floyd’s tragic death as an excuse to demonize and defund the police.
They have ignored or downplayed the violence and destruction caused by protesters who looted, burned, attacked our officers and brought parts of the city to a near standstill.
It also ignores the reality that the police have a duty to protect life and property, maintain order and enforce the law.
By agreeing to this settlement, the city has sided with criminals over victims, chaos over order and ideology over reality.
As a former NYPD officer who dedicated 32 years of my life to serving this city, I urge New Yorkers to speak out against this agreement and stand with our police.
The NYPD is not the enemy of the people; it is the guardian of our city.
We need to support our police, not undermine them.
We need to restore law and order, not surrender to lawlessness.
We must defend our city, not allowing the far left to destroy it further.
Vito LaBella is a candidate for City Council in the 43rd District.
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