Today, for the second time, some officers of the NYPD turned their backs on Mayor de Blasio when he spoke at the funeral of a fallen comrade. They were protesting what they perceived as the Mayor’s failure to support rank-and-file police officers during a turbulent fall.
This strikes me as an especially delicate matter on which to comment, and one that is particularly complex. Was this a rightful protest by people with a legitimate grievance? Did it show disrespect to the fallen? Did it dishonor the uniform? All of the above?
I don’t have any settled view on this, but there’s one aspect of the situation worth paying attention to: it’s as much or more a matter of the relationship among offices as it is a relationship among people.
I take “office” in a broad sense as a particular position or role within a political order, one that may have special privileges or special responsibilities connected to it.
On this definition, Voter is an office, as is Jury Member.
As Aristotle defines it, a Citizen is simply one who is eligible to hold an office under a particular constitution.
In the situation at hand, the relevant offices are Police Officer, Police Commissioner, and Mayor.
So, the question is, what obligations does the office of Police Officer entail toward the office of Mayor, just by the structural relationship between those offices? Could it be that, if one wears the uniform of a Police Officer and has taken the oaths of that office, should one at least show outward respect toward the Mayor – especially in a ceremonial setting – regardless of what one thinks of the individual who currently holds that office?
Should the office-to-office relationship trump the person-to-person relationship?
Of course, part of the back-story of the situation has to do with how police officers carry out the duties of their office, to whom that office is open, and whether those who hold that office in fact treat those in the roles of ordinary citizens equally and according to their rights.
UPDATE: The New York Times ran an editorial last week, after the first funeral protest, that gestured toward the issue of the role responsibility of those in uniform, though it’s mainly couched in terms of reputation and public relations. This was followed by a post on the Editorial Page blog looking at the divided views of NYT readers.