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Monday, September 14, 2020

How New York City’s Police Unions Embraced Trump The unions’ leadership is mostly white, suburban and Republican, setting it apart from an increasingly diverse police force and the city itself.

How New York City’s Police Unions Embraced Trump

The unions’ leadership is mostly white, suburban and Republican, setting it apart from an increasingly diverse police force and the city itself.

Erin Schaff/The New York Times

New York City’s largest police union had not endorsed a candidate for president in decades when its leader, Patrick J. Lynch, stepped to the lectern last month at President Trump’s golf club in New Jersey.

“Mr. President, we are fighting for our lives out there,” Mr. Lynch said, in the all-caps cadence familiar to any casual viewer of the New York nightly news. “We don’t want this to spread to the rest of the country. We need your strong voice across the country.”

Mr. Lynch said his union, the Police Benevolent Association, was endorsing Mr. Trump because city and state leaders had been relentlessly scapegoating hard-working police officers and allowing chaos to reign on the streets.

But another factor that may have played into the P.B.A.’s endorsement could be seen in the imagery surrounding him: Joining Mr. Lynch before a sea of mostly white union members were three of his top colleagues, each of them a white Republican from conservative strongholds in Staten Island or Long Island.

The tableau of the four union leaders standing together with Mr. Trump reflected a larger truth about the upper ranks of the city’s police unions: Even as the Police Department has become more diverse and is now less than half white, the unions continue to be run mostly by white conservatives who live in the suburbs and increasingly echo the president’s views.

Nearly 90 percent of the police unions’ leaders — officers, trustees, financial secretaries — are white and even more are men, according to an analysis of public records by The New York Times. Close to 70 percent are registered Republicans and more than 60 percent live on Long Island or in counties north of New York City, the analysis found.

The demographic gap helps explain the political spectacle and cultural gulf on display in recent weeks as New York City police union leaders have stridently repeated the president’s mayhem messaging and attacked Black Lives Matter protests in scathing terms. 

This is occurring in a city where Mr. Trump is deeply unpopular, only a third of residents are white and the Democratic establishment has embraced the nationwide campaign against police brutality and racial bias.

While some Black and Hispanic police fraternal groups objected to Mr. Lynch’s endorsement of the president, there is no evidence of a broader backlash among rank-and-file members to the announcement of support, nor to Mr. Lynch’s speech last month praising the president at the Republican National Convention.

Still, the demographics of the police unions’ leadership set it starkly apart from a majority of the department’s 36,000 uniformed officers and from the wider population of New York.

Like President Trump, Mr. Lynch and his colleagues have chosen to characterize the current round of protests not as a moment of historical reckoning over systemic racism, but instead as one of chaos sowed by the “radical left.”

Mr. Trump has in turn amplified those views. On Sunday, he responded to a tweet from Mayor Bill de Blasio encouraging New Yorkers to enjoy the nice weather by saying, “People don’t want to get mugged, beaten up, or killed. Let New York’s Finest (who proudly endorsed me!) do their job.”

New York’s Police Officers by Race, Compared With Union Leadership

Police union leadership

As they have done for years, the union leaders have set themselves against the momentum for change. They have fought a city law that made it a misdemeanor for police officers to use chokeholds during arrests, and tried to stop a state law that makes officers’ disciplinary records public. And they have fiercely opposed a state law ending the use of cash bail for most nonviolent offenders in New York.

City and state officials said the police unions have largely given up on traditional lobbying and back-room negotiations since their main political allies, Republican lawmakers who controlled the State Senate, lost power two years ago. The police union leaders have instead leaned more heavily than ever on incendiary public attacks on liberal politicians and their allies.

In June, for instance, when the unions faced certain defeat in a long battle to keep their members’ disciplinary records secret, they conceded as much to several state lawmakers and asked for only small concessions, according to two lawmakers approached by the unions.

Mr. Lynch has not met with Mayor de Blasio in more than three years, city officials said. Nor, the officials added, did the P.B.A. or other police unions make any attempt to lobby the City Council before it took up a package of police oversight bills this spring or moved weeks later to shift nearly $1 billion from the Police Department’s budget.

Instead, the officials pointed out, Mr. Lynch held a news conference near City Hallwith his fellow union leaders, lashing out at local politicians. “For our legislators to demonize police officers, as if we’re the problem, as if we broke the windows, as if we caused the violence, that is absolutely outrageous,” Mr. Lynch said.

Asked about the police unions’ approach, Bill Neidhardt, a spokesman for Mr. de Blasio, said, “They have shifted out of policy and representation and into politics. And not just any politics but the politics of the far right. It’s a step to the extreme.”

The P.B.A. declined requests to interview Mr. Lynch and the other three union leaders at the Trump endorsement.  Mr. Lynch also would not respond to questions about his relationship with Mr. Trump or with the city’s communities of color.

In a statement, Mr. Lynch played down the disparity between the police union leadership and the rank and file, saying the P.B.A. was unified under his watch.

Erin Schaff/The New York Times

“The secret of our solidarity isn’t complicated,” he said. “No matter where we live or what we look like, police officers’ concerns are the same.”

But his endorsement of Mr. Trump, coming after years of opposition to police reform, has disturbed some city officials, and deepened their disillusionment with what they have described as a reactionary stance by the police unions.

“When people in my community hear Pat Lynch speak, what they hear is hatred being spewed,” said Donovan Richards Jr., a Black Democrat from Queens who chairs the public safety committee of the City Council.

Many Black and Hispanic officers said they did not feel represented by their unions, a sense of disconnection that was heightened by the P.B.A.’s endorsement.

“Who are the unions’ shot callers?” asked Detective Felicia Richards, who leads the Guardians Association, a fraternal organization for Black officers. “It’s pretty much still a good old boys’ club.”

Last month, the Guardians Association condemned the endorsement of Mr. Trump and said that while Mr. Lynch had served his members well in some ways, he reached the decision to endorse without even conferring with his union.

Charles Billups, chair of the Grand Council of Guardians, a statewide organization for Black police officers, said Mr. Lynch’s support of Mr. Trump put many active Black officers in the awkward position of opposing people who — at least in theory — were meant to represent them in contract negotiations, disciplinary proceedings and other aspects of their jobs.

“Do we speak out against it and end up being blackballed or ostracized by people we work with every day?” Mr. Billups asked. “Or do we just go along to get along?”

New York Residents by Party, Compared With Police Union Leaders

New York City residents 

Police union leadership

The police union’s embrace of Mr. Trump has been gathering steam all year, but it came to a head last month when Mr. Lynch, a registered Democrat with conservative views, spoke at the Republican convention.

During his address, Mr. Lynch offered New York as a case study backing one of Mr. Trump’s central campaign arguments: that the nation’s cities were under siege by anarchists and criminals.

“Why is this happening?” he asked. “The answer is simple: The Democrats have walked away from us.”

The speech and the endorsement were the culmination of a decades-old campaign to pressure politicians on law and order issues, at times using fear-mongering tactics or language with a clear racist subtext.

Most notoriously, the P.B.A. held a rally in 1992 against the city’s first and only Black mayor, David N. Dinkins. Hundred of union members carried signs with sayings like “Dear Mayor, have you hugged a drug dealer today” and “Dinkins, We Know Your True Color — Yellow Bellied.” Some officers were also reported to have used racial slurs.

Two weeks ago on Twitter, the P.B.A.’s sister union, the Sergeants Benevolent Association, referred to Councilman Ritchie Torres, who is Afro-Latino and gay, as a “first-class whore.” Mr. Torres, the Democratic candidate for a Congressional seat in the Bronx, had called for an investigation into a possible police slowdown during a spike in gun violence.

So far, Mr. Lynch has been the only police union leader in New York to endorse Mr. Trump, but Edward D. Mullins, who runs the sergeants’ union, and Paul DiGiacomo, the head of the Detectives’ Endowment Association, have both come close.

Echoing the president, the three men and their aides have gone on television and social media to blame the rise of shootings in New York on what they have described as failed liberal policies. Some have called on Mr. Trump to send federal officers to the city. Others have launched Trump-like cultural attacks comparing protests around the country to Nazi rallies.

Union leaders have also complained about a “progressive violence plague” in New York and praised Mr. Trump as the only politician with the strength and courage to stand up for the police.

Mr. Mullins has even appeared on Fox News with a mug in view emblazoned with a logo for QAnon, a conspiracy theory that holds that a cabal of satanic pedophiles is intent on defeating Mr. Trump.

As early as February, Mr. Mullins visited the White House to talk about the “plight of police officers in NYC,” as he wrote on Twitter:

“@realDonaldTrump has our backs!” he said.

In the months that followed, Mr. Mullins went to war with Mr. de Blasio, blaming him for a litany of local crimes and launching personal attacks that culminated one day late last month when he demanded the mayor resign by “sundown.”

Employing similar themes, Mr. DiGiacomo gave a recent interview on YouTube in which he displayed framed photos of himself with Mr. Trump and of his father, a onetime city transit officer.

Mr. DiGiacomo said he had never seen New York at such a low point and blamed the city’s problems on police reform laws, feckless district attorneys and Democrats like Mr. de Blasio and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo who, he said, had given up on supporting New York officers.

While he acknowledged he was not yet formally backing Mr. Trump, Mr. DiGiacomo added: “The way we see it right now, there’s only one person out there standing up for the police.”

Not quite half — or 47 percent — of the city’s uniformed officers are white, police officials say. Twenty-nine percent are Hispanic and 15 percent are Black. Asian officers make up 9 percent of the force.

The union leadership, however, is 88 percent white, according to listings posted on their websites and in tax reports. Hispanic officials account for 7 percent of the upper ranks. Black officials make up only 5 percent.

There is a similar divide in where officers and union leaders live. In 2016, the last year that detailed data was available, 58 percent of all New York officers lived in one of the city’s five boroughs. Long Island was home to 26 percent and about 13 percent lived in one of four northern counties.

Where New York City’s Police Officers Live, Compared With Leadership

Number of


Police union leadership

Number of 


But according to public records, only 36 percent of union leaders live within the city. Most — 44 percent — live on Long Island. Another 19 percent make their homes in the nearby northern suburbs. Twenty percent live on Staten Island or in largely white neighborhoods in Queens.

As for politics, voting records indicate that a majority of union leaders — 68 percent — are registered Republicans. Twenty-six percent identify as Democrats, the records show, and 5 percent have no party or another affiliation.

Asked if union leaders reflect their members, Mr. Lynch noted in his statement that his administration, which has been in power for more than 20 years, had appointed both the first Black and first Hispanic officials to the union’s top three slots.

He also pointed out that he had been elected to a fifth term in 2015 with 70 percent of the vote and a sixth term last year after running unopposed.

In an interview, Mr. Mullins said his own membership was well served by its leaders “regardless of their color or ethnic background.” If they were not, he added, “I would expect them to say something about it.”

The son of an Irish longshoreman and a Latina homemaker, Mr. Mullins said that officers of color had not yet had a chance to rise through the union’s ranks.

“People have to go through the process of getting elected and putting in time to get to the top,” said Mr. Mullins, who has run the union since 2002. “The mechanism is there. We just have to allow time to take its course.”

Some former high-ranking officers, however, said the union leadership was less diverse than the department because an old guard of leaders has had a lock on power.

“It’s a network,” said Robert Gonzalez, a former president of the Latino Officers Association who is now a professor of criminal justice at St. John’s University. “They mentor each other. They steer people to vote a certain way. They navigate them and endorse certain people. And it just so happens that those people are white men.”

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