Events of recent weeks show that we New Yorkers have reason to be proud of our city, and of ourselves. That does not mean we don’t also have cause for concern.
A tragedy occurred July 17 on Staten Island when Eric Garner died, apparently of a heart attack, while resisting arrest for an alleged petty crime. Police and emergency service personnel stood idly by and let him die, when there was a chance he could have been saved.
But the result was not rioting, as Ferguson, Mo. suffered when another black man, 18-year-old Michael Brown, died at the hands of a cop. While the two incidents are vastly different, they do have the common thread of reinforcing the widespread belief that police do not treat minorities fairly, and both drew immediate calls for reform.
In Ferguson, protests also quickly turned into rioting, looting and arson, with police turning out in military gear and making dozens of arrests — even detaining some journalists — and the authorities eventually imposing a curfew.
In New York, by contrast, we saw a peaceful protest weeks later, with not a single arrest. And not only is the Police Department investigating and a grand jury hearing the case (as in Ferguson) but the City Council will also hold a hearing, at which Commissioner Bill Bratton will appear.
How the investigations play out, and what changes if any Bratton makes in policing of relatively minor offenses — as well as departmental policy when suspects resist arrest — could have an effect on public opinion in a few areas. Among those is the public’s view of Mayor de Blasio, but also its view of Bratton, which is not nearly as good as the one enjoyed by his predecessor, according to a new survey released by Quinnipiac University Tuesday. Bratton’s approval rating has fallen from 57 percent in June to 48 percent now, according to the poll. His predecessor, Commissioner Ray Kelly, had a 75 percent approval rating in the last year of his tenure, up from 52 percent six years earlier.
Race relations in the city also are very likely to be affected by the outcome of the Garner case.
According to Quinnipiac, only 50 percent of the public believes race relations are generally good, while 41 percent believe they are not and 9 percent either don’t know or didn’t answer. And Queens, which is constantly touted as the vibrant and diverse home of all ethnicities, has an even less favorable view, with 43 percent saying things are generally good and 48 percent saying they’re generally bad. Those numbers are the worst for any of the five boroughs.
There’s also a divide in how people believe de Blasio is doing his job, according to the survey. While 65 percent of black people approve of how he is handling it and 15 percent disapprove, only 36 percent of white people approve and 45 percent disapprove.
One reason for that is likely to be the apparent crowning of the Rev. Al Sharpton as a major player in City Hall, following the Garner incident. While 80 percent of blacks believe Sharpton is a mostly positive force in the city and 12 percent say he is a mostly negative force, only 29 percent of whites say he is positive and 63 percent say he is negative. All ethnic groups agree, however, that he is the city’s most important black leader. The African-American community deserves a more honest spokesman who more people can agree makes a positive contribution to the city.
As a melting pot or a gorgeous mosaic, whichever metaphor you prefer for the city’s ethnic mix, New York seems to not be doing too bad, but there’s a lot of room for improvement. We hope that truth and justice prevail in the Garner case, and also that the next Quinnipiac poll shows more agreement and less division among our residents.