The two police ambulances had barely cleared the Woodhull Medical Center ramp, carrying the bodies of officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos. Then down the slope came Pat Lynch, the president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, taking up a position in front of the TV cameras and making this tragic night in Brooklyn even worse. “There’s blood on many hands tonight,” Lynch roared. “Those that incited violence on the street under the guise of protest, that tried to tear down what New York City police officers did every day — we tried to warn it must not go on, it cannot be tolerated. That blood on the hands starts on the steps of City Hall, in the office of the mayor.”
It was a stunning and awful moment. An hour earlier, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, his eyes brimming with tears throughout a short press conference, haltingly said it was “hard to get your arms around” a tragedy this big. Mayor Bill de Blasio had visibly reddened as he described praying with the families of the murdered officers.
De Blasio was subdued, which seemed to make sense given the gravity of the situation. But then video quickly began circulating showing the scene in the hallway as de Blasio walked into the auditorium: Cops, including Lynch, had turned their backs on the mayor. Even after last Friday, when Lynch issued a call for cops to ban de Blasio from future funerals, this was an ugly escalation of hostilities. That entrance helped explain the mayor’s off-balance demeanor.
The mayor and the police commissioner now have choices to make that could determine de Blasio’s relationship with the NYPD for the next three years. Do they respond in kind, denouncing Lynch? Or do they try to take the high road and attribute his actions to the pain of the moment? Either way, the anger at de Blasio in the department is understandable and real — even among cops who know he had nothing to do with the evil of Ismaaiyl Brinsley. Whether de Blasio can defuse it will depend a great deal on Bratton’s credibility with his cops. The commissioner appealed to their pride tonight, when he was asked about how they’ll approach demonstrations in the next few days. “It’s going to be tough for the men and women of this department,” Bratton said. “But they’ll do what we expect of them, protect the city. It’s what cops do.” On a night of raw emotion and rhetoric, those might have been the truest and most moving words.