Sunday, January 4, 2015

Norm in The Wave - Teachers And Police: The Unions

Taken from the front of my house looking towards Manhattan
Published Jan. 2, 2015

“Mommy, are they going to shoot you too?” I overheard this heartbreaking comment as two female NYPD moms, one current and one former, were discussing events. They have five children between them. Not enough attention is given to the impact on NYPD families, especially when mothers are involved.
It’s hard to find good feelings surrounding the recent tragedy, but one way was seeing every tree on my block festooned with large blue ribbons on the day of slain policeman Rafael Ramos’ funeral. By all accounts, he was a remarkable man. He had been a school safety officer for many years before becoming a cop and probably had a sense of the similarities and differences that exist in the school environment in the roles played by teachers and cops.
I began exploring these relationships in my last column. The political backdrop of recent weeks requires a bit of a detour. But where to begin? I’ll start with the unions, the PBA and the UFT, and their leaders, Patrick Lynch and Michael Mulgrew.
While teachers are evaluated based on student performance, teaching as a profession and teachers unions have been under assault from all directions. The public, politicians and the press vilify teachers while bowing at the feet of police. I would be laughed at if I were to suggest that cops in the relatively low-crime west end of Rockaway were clearly better than those in the higher crime east end. Or that the public in high crime areas should have a choice of police forces by setting up privatized charter police forces to compete. Yet that is exactly the way teachers are being portrayed.

When the news broke recently that over 95 percent of the teachers in the city were highly rated, the response from slug politicians like Cuomo, who declared public schools were a monopoly he was going to break, was “teachers couldn’t be that good, given the low performance of the students.” And the public seems to buy that the major problem facing education is bad teachers.

Lynch’s absolute, no questioning support for cops and their actions on the job has led some teachers to jump on a bandwagon of comparing him to Mulgrew. A teacher admiring Lynch wrote, “NYPD union leader Pat Lynch is doing what my union leader has never done, speaking up and defending his rank and file…. compare this to our union. The mayor and governor stick an evaluation down our throats, we say thank you. In fact we ask for more. We demand 22 components and test based evaluations, even when our parents don't want it. Common core standards, created without one actual teacher, and the UFT president says he'll punch anyone who tries to take it away from us, even though teacher after teacher hates it….they close down schools and the profiteers come in to take up space - our Union leader says no problem. He even decides that we're going to get in the business of running charters. Contracts canceled in Philadelphia, unions destroyed in Wisconsin, schools closed en masse in Chicago, no one in the UFT cares.”

A 52-year-old Brooklyn high school teacher under assault by her administration died recently of a heart attack. She had serious physical issues, even having to use a walker at times. Because they wanted to be rid of her and her high salary, the school administrators gave her difficult assignments in multiple classrooms while constantly harassing her. Some of her colleagues attributed her sudden death as being brought on by the enormous stress the admins put her under. Was this a case of there really being blood on someone’s hands? Should Michael Mulgrew have made such a declaration, even blaming the mayor who is in charge of the school system?

A teacher blogger commented, “The UFT has been systematically attacked and disenfranchised. Cops are seen as heroes, while teachers are seen as incompetent bunglers who probably aren't qualified to be in the classroom.”

I do not admire Lynch’s absolutist approach, which in the long run will result in a public backlash. The mayor has taken a big hit for giving counsel to his son where he most likely told him to be respectful in any encounter with police because not doing so could lead to unfortunate escalations. It may have not been the smartest idea to say this publicly but he had the kind of conversation with his child that parents should be having.

New York Times columnist and regular teacher union basher David Brooks recently set his sights on police unions in his Dec. 22, 2014 column:
“GETTING RID OF BAD COPS - A small percentage of cops commits most of the abuses. A study by WNYC News in New York found that, since 2009, 40 percent of the “resisting arrest” charges were filed by just five percent of New York Police Department officers. … Most officers rarely get in a confrontation that leads to that charge, but a few officers often get in violent confrontations. But it’s very hard to remove the bad apples from the force. Trying to protect their members, unions have weakened accountability. The investigation process is softer on police than it would be on anyone else.”
In future columns I’ll delve further into the intersection of teaching and policing with some commentary on why police turning their backs to make a political statement during the funeral was the wrong thing to do.

Norm Scott is a retired educator. He lives in Rockaway, and blogs at


Anonymous said...

"The mayor has taken a big hit for giving counsel to his son where he most likely told him to be respectful in any encounter with police because not doing so could lead to unfortunate escalations."

No, the mayor emphasized that because his son was biracial, and thereby implied the police were racist, he needed to be extra careful in dealing with cops. Not surprisingly, the police union reacted strongly to cops being accused of being racists. The mayor's comments neatly fit the description of race-baiting.

The cops also believe his son has much more to fear from criminals than cops and also believe all parents should teach all children to respect the law and the police. That is not what the Mayor said.

Finally, the left-leaning (to be fair) mayor has an ingrained narrative of young male blacks as innocent victims of white oppression and this sort of slips out now and again. He never speaks of the disproportionate criminality of young black males and the disproportionate byproducts (arrests, findings of guilt, jailing) resulting from such conduct. Nor does he assess responsibility as other and braver leaders have.

ed notes online said...

Let me get this straight. You mean a black kid is treated the same as a white kid when stopped by cops - if even white kids are stopped at all? have you checked the difference in marijuana arrests/fines based on race? I can't imagine a white kid who doesn't smoke grass. But the numbers are astoundingly different. What de Blasio counseled his son as any father would - it may be unfair that you are stopped for nothing more than your race but be KOOL! I guess you think it OK for ANY black kid to be stopped just because there is a high proportion of crime amongst black kids. Do you think there are any white people - ala the mafia/gangster types around in certain neighborhoods and therefor stop all white kids because of that? Reminds me of Japanese internment during the war - hey they bombed Pearl harbor -- treat them all the same. I think you show extreme insensitivity on the race issue.