Two weeks ago, the men and women of the NYPD were being hailed as heroes. As first responders in the war on the coronavirus, they and their FDNY brothers, the EMTs, doctors, nurses, bus drivers, subway workers and essential personnel who kept the city open were applauded for their courage in helping to keep New York running during the lockdown.
This was done at no small risk to themselves and their families. Six NYPD members contracted the virus and died; thousands more became sick.
New York City is the epicenter of the disease, leading the nation by far in COVID-19 infections and deaths. Each encounter with a civilian or even another co-worker could expose a cop to the disease.
Yet the cops reported to work each day, climbed into their radio cars and patrolled the streets of this city, as they do every day. They did their job.
And it’s a job that cannot be done from home, as so many others were able to do. There is no way to telecommute to a person in need, a lost child or a robbery in progress.
Police work has always, and will always, be hands-on, up close and personal. Cops cannot social-distance from a person they are helping or a perp they’re arresting.
It was nice to see this dedication by first responders acknowledged by the public. Alas, I knew it would not last.
After 9/11, there was an outpouring of support and appreciation for the NYPD and FDNY. The sacrifice made by those who rushed into the burning towers, never to return, would not be forgotten. Or so it seemed.
Even as hundreds of first responders die each year from ailments acquired from working on “The Pile,” the memories of their service, for many, have faded.
The events taking place in the city over the last few nights signal that the sacrifices made by the NYPD in the COVID-19 war have also been suddenly forgotten.
Last June, I wrote in these pages of my apprehension as the new criminal-justice reforms were to take effect. The closing of Rikers Island, no bail even for serious felonies and the non-prosecution of “quality of life” crimes, I warned, could return New York to the crime-ridden days of the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s.
Yet I had no idea that flip would come so soon — practically overnight, with the emergence of the troubling George Floyd video.
The looting, arson and attacks on cops displayed over the past nights remind me of reading about the Civil War Draft Riots of 1863, riots so bad President Abraham Lincoln had to order Union troops, fresh from the Gettysburg battlefield, to New York, to put them down.
Our NYPD is now waging a two-pronged war: one against the coronavirus and a second against those looking to destroy the city and creating nights of terror for many New Yorkers.
On Wednesday, Commissioner Dermot Shea tweeted, “This is what our cops are up against: Organized looters, strategically placing caches of bricks & rocks at locations throughout NYC.” It’s the urban version of war.