Mayor Bloomberg’s army

The mayor of New York and his police commissioner reveal just how comfortable they are with autocracy

Topics: Michael Bloomberg, New York, New York City, NYPD, Police,

Mayor Bloomberg's army Michael Bloomberg (Credit: AP/Richard Drew)

Billionaire New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has his own army! No, it’s not a private security firm, like Blackwater. It’s actually, according to the mayor, the New York City Police Department.

Bloomberg, again threatening vaguely to make that presidential run that the American people are decidedly not calling for, told MIT last night that he doesn’t even need to be president, because all of his autocratic desires are fulfilled by running America’s most populous city as his private fiefdom.

“I have my own army in the NYPD, which is the seventh biggest army in the world. I have my own State Department, much to Foggy Bottom’s annoyance. We have the United Nations in New York, and so we have an entree into the diplomatic world that Washington does not have,” Mayor Bloomberg said.

I’m not entirely sure what he means by having his own “State Department.” The city’s independent nonprofit tourism agency, maybe? But he didn’t mention that his army also comes with its own international (and questionably legal) intelligence-gathering apparatus, just like the CIA and FBI, except without any sort of oversight, congressional or otherwise.

Bloomberg, of course, is being a touch ironic, but he’s also not wrong. The NYPD has a 1,000-man army within its increasingly militarized ranks. It has tanks, combat rifles, anti-aircraft weaponry, non-lethal anti-terror sound cannons, and, supposedly, a submarine. And it’s all under the command of one guy, Ray Kelly, who answers solely to one other guy: Mike Bloomberg.

Bloomberg’s conception of the NYPD as “his army” explains a lot. Like why he thought it’d be OK to deploy them to Bermuda to help police his weekend home. (That plan was scuttled … once it leaked to the press.) Or why he thought it appropriate to use the NYPD to prevent demonstrators from … drumming on his block, one night.

If you want a sense of precisely how distanced from accountability NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly is, his response to being interrupted by a protester while addressing a Columbia class is illuminating. Faced with footage of police brutality, Kelly grinned and joked around.

A few minutes later, another student asked Kelly why most people who are arrested are incarcerated for “drug crimes.” Dinkins said he didn’t understand the question, and things got confrontational between the student, Kelly, and Dinkins pretty quickly. The student’s SIPA colleagues were not pleased—a few students and a TA asked if she was registered for the class. “No,” she said, “but I do have a question.”

Commissioner Kelly, still grinning, leaned over to another guest for today’s class, New York District Attorney Cy Vance, and loudly whispered, “Says something about the security of this school, doesn’t it?”

(Yes, that’s former Mayor David Dinkins, who himself once faced a revolt of entitled police officers chafing at the prospect of being held accountable for law-breaking and corruption.)

In case Kelly is unfamiliar with the easily available data regarding what his massive army actually does most days, the NYPD makes more arrests for possession of marijuana than for any other crime. Marijuana possession is used as a pretext to sweep up and arrest tens of thousands of black men every year. And the commissioner pretends he’s totally unaware of that fact, even as his department defends the practice as necessary for our safety.

Powerful (and popular) commissioner Kelly has basically escaped every NYPD scandal with his reputation unsullied. Mayor Bloomberg is generally treated by most of the local press as though the fact that he surely means well excuses all manner of illegal activities, lax oversight, and contempt for civil liberties and the law.

Harry Siegel, in a good recent piece on how the recent scandals of the NYPD are actually generating some negative ink for once, actually undersells the recent revelations:

The overly-aggressive response to the Wall Street “occupation”—which began with arresting dozens on the Brooklyn Bridge, proceeded to involve the pepper spraying of protesters, and concluded with a forced media blackout and the arrest of several reporters during the final, middle-of-the-night militarized “clean up” and Thursday’s “day of action”—may yet tip the scales toward a more normalized relationship between the city and the NYPD. It is the culmination of a scandal-ridden year. A partial list of the past year’s troubles includes the trial of two cops accused of rape; a leak-hindered internal affairs investigation into a ticket fixing conspiracy that some rank-and-file officers responded to by spitting on lawyers in the courthouse; a belated outcry over the frequently intrusive stop-and-frisk policy focused on poor and minority neighborhoods; revelations of the department’s secret intelligence program to collect information on Muslims; and the rough arrest of a black City Council member at a parade.

This leaves out, to name one major recent scandal, the 14-year NYPD veteran recently found guilty of planting drugs on an innocent subject. (It also leaves out a third cop credibly accused of rape.) (And the eight officers recently charged with smuggling guns — and cigarettes! — into the city.)

At the crooked narcotics detective’s trial, a retired cop claimed the practice of planting drugs to inflate arrest numbers was widespread, yet another unintended consequence of our data-driven mayor’s insistence on an NYPD that measures success by the number of people — predominantly young black people — subjected to the criminal justice system. The mayor has, in the past, dismissed serious criticisms of his “CompStat” system with ad hominem attacks on police unions.

In New York City, of course, each bad cop, or ring of bad cops, or unruly mob of bad cops is treated as an outlier. This is a press — especially the tabloid papers — that has long simply not cared that the NYPD routinely lies to journalists as a matter of departmental policy. It is widely known, for example, that arrest and ticket quotas exist, NYPD denials being approximately as worthless as a summons mistakenly issued to someone with Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association connections. Police statements on violent incidents are routinely contradicted by video evidence. Kelly feigns ignorance of his department’s methods of maximizing marijuana arrests.

But an army thinks differently than a simple civilian police force. They’re accountable only to their commanders, and not to the citizenry.

Alex Pareene

Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of "The Rude Guide to Mitt." Email him at and follow him on Twitter @pareene

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>