To hear its public relations team tell it, the New York City Police Department is downright scandalized by the behavior of former officer Michael Reynolds, who quit the force on Thursday after learning he’d have to undergo an intradepartmental disciplinary process for breaking into a black woman’s house and unleashing a racist diatribe. Rather than face punishment, “[Reynolds] has quit the New York City Police Department effective immediately,” read a statement from the department, according to WPIX. “He will receive no pension or health benefits, nor will he be allowed to carry a firearm. His actions are wholly inconsistent with the values and standards the New York City Police Department expects and demands of its officers.”
In July 2018, Reynolds, who is white, kicked in the door of a home near an Airbnb in Nashville where he was staying for a bachelor party. The profanity- and epithet-laced tirade he directed at the black family that lived there was captured by a nearby security camera. “Try to shoot me, and I’ll break every f- - - ing bone in your f- - - ing neck,” Reynolds yelled at Conese Halliburton and her four sons, whom he addressed as “f- - - ing n- - - ers.” The officer later claimed to have been drunk at the time and did not remember the incident, but pleaded no contest in September to charges of aggravated criminal trespassing and assault. He was sentenced to 15 days in jail and three years probation. Halliburton, whose youngest sons were 8 and 11 at the time, testified that she was in bed sleeping when Reynolds broke into her home.
The irony of the NYPD’s rebuke is how sharply it decries behavior that, were Reynolds on duty and in New York at the time it occurred, would’ve been standard. Racial slurs aimed at civilians — like during the department’s bigoted “stop and frisk” campaign, which disproportionately singled out black and Latino residents — are sanctioned institutionally by departmental standards that do not consider racist or anti-LGBTQ remarks to be evidence of bias, and therefore have not yielded a single official substantiation of a bias complaint from a civilian, according to the New York Times. Officers directing harassment and threats toward the city’s black and brown denizens — from “stop and frisk” to its demonstrably racist crackdowns on subway-fare evasion — are bolstered further by its ballooning gang database, which has grown 70 percent under Mayor Bill de Blasio’s tenure. Ninety-nine percent of the database’s new additions were people of color, many between the ages of 13 and 16, and by virtue of transgressions as minor as wearing the wrong color on the wrong street corner or sending a social media message to the wrong person, can now be denied the safety of public housing or targeted for one of the NYPD’s gang raids.
While some of the department’s most egregious employers of racist language have been disciplined of late, the culture of defensiveness around misconduct continues — as with the department’s long-running support for the since-fired Daniel Pantaleo, whose legal defense for killing Eric Garner with a chokehold in 2014 hinged on the argument that the black 43-year-old effectively killed himself by being too fat and sick. In this light, the prospect of an NYPD officer invading a black person’s home or person and lobbing threats or slurs against them is unremarkable. Nor was the length of time required for the department to finally initiate a disciplinary process against Reynolds, who broke into Halliburton’s home more than a year before the NYPD announced its intentions and remained employed as an officer the whole time. If the question with Reynolds truly is one of departmental standards and values — and his failure to live up to them — he seems to have diverged most sharply from the conduct of many of the NYPD’s other officers in that he was in a different city at the time, uniform-less, and couldn’t devise a compelling law enforcement rationale for breaking into Halliburton’s home. But on most matters of substance, he’s far from an aberration. And rather than an opportunity to wash its hands, the department would do well to use his departure as a reckoning opportunity.