Web Video: New York police killings raise questions of cause and effect after weeks of protests

Dec. 23, 2014 AT 11:03 a.m. EST

The murder of two New York City police officers has ignited a volley of blame and exposes the deep rifts dividing a city in mourning. Gwen Ifill gets two perspectives from Patrick Colligan of the New Jersey State Policemen's Benevolent Association and Mark Levine of the New York City Council.

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Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

The New York police killings touched a nerve that was already aflame in the wake of weeks of protests, raising questions about cause and effect.

Here with two views on that debate are Patrick Colligan, president of the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association, and Mark Levine, a member of the New York City Council.

Mark Levine, do you see a connection, a through line between Ferguson, Staten Island, and now what happened in Brooklyn at all?

MARK LEVINE, New York City Councilman: I think that’s a very dangerous conclusion to draw.

This was a man who was mentally and emotionally ill, documented history of such problems. And he didn’t appear to have a strong ideology or history of movement activism. So we should be careful ascribing logic to his actions.

And I think we should be careful to inflame this moment by blaming protesters, blaming the mayor. I think we all need to unite and grieve at the loss of two of our own and pause for a moment to reflect and remind each other that we have a responsibility to care for citizens and police united.

And that vision, I hope, will put us on a path towards the kind of police reform which serves communities and police both.

GWEN IFILL: Patrick Colligan, you are in New Jersey, but you heard what your counterpart said on the streets of New York this weekend. Do you see a connection?

PATRICK COLLIGAN, New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association: It’s tough to ignore what happened, you know, despite — you know, despite the mental capacities. It’s tough to ignore what happened since August the 9th, since the shooting occurred.

And, you know, it was impossible for police officers. We’re human. It’s impossible to watch the new reports, watch people wishing for our death, watching the violence against the officers, and then unfortunately watching two officers literally slaughtered in a patrol car doing nothing, and just let it go away and just make it a time for healing. It’s just — it’s a time for vigilance for us. We have to be extra careful.

GWEN IFILL: Do you — I want to stay with you for a moment, Mr. Colligan. Do you believe that any — that this tragedy has been used by anybody as a political opportunity?

PATRICK COLLIGAN: It hasn’t been used by the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association. We just put a warning out to our members, our 33,000 members throughout the state, just to be extra vigilant, not to get into the routines that we find ourselves in.

It’s been a tough time. I have been a police officer for 23 years. And I got to be honest with you. This has been the toughest — toughest couple of months that I have had to deal with, with just the feeling and the pervasive actions of people, even in New Jersey, people putting their hands up when we pull up, things like that.

It’s just — it’s been a difficult few months for us.

GWEN IFILL: Mark Levine, what do you think about that? Is there a political opportunity being grabbed here?

MARK LEVINE: There have been plenty of political opportunities from the likes of George Pataki, Bernard Kerik, Rudy Giuliani, all of whom have attempted to blame Mayor de Blasio for this horrific incident, an incident by a mentally ill person, as I mentioned.

I will say that today I think we have perhaps taken a step back from the precipice. In New York City, my sense is that police union leadership has pulled back from some of the heated rhetoric and that there will be a pause on this kind of language, at least through the date of the funerals of the officers, four or five days hence.

And a number of prominent protest leaders in New York City have also called for the temperature to be lowered and for a period of respect.

GWEN IFILL: But officer Colligan just said he believes that it has been a very difficult time for police officers in the last few months. Do you believe that police officers have been at greater risk?

MARK LEVINE: Because of the protests?


MARK LEVINE: No, absolutely not.

Policing is an incredibly dangerous job. And it deserves our respect, for people who are willing to put their life on the line to protect us. But the facts are that the number of police killings are down dramatically if you take the perspective of several decades.

In 1971, there were 12 officers killed in the line of duty in New York City. This year, there were two. One death is one too many. And we need to do everything in our power to prevent it. But the city does remain safer today for the general population and for police, arguably, than at any point in its history.

GWEN IFILL: Officer Colligan, do you think that this was about one deeply troubled individual or was it a symptom of something larger?

PATRICK COLLIGAN: Look, the problem is, we have one individual come up on Saturday, and, again, murder two police officers. But what the media doesn’t have access to and what the general public doesn’t have access to are the law enforcement reports, the credible threats against us. We get those. We have gotten a lot in the last 48 hours, not only credible threats, but arrests have been made.

I think there was an arrest in New York made today, arrest by Secret Service in Tennessee and other arrests. So to say that it’s one individual coming up, that is pretty disingenuous, to be honest with you.

GWEN IFILL: Do you think there are — I’m going to stay with you, officer Colligan. Do you believe that our nation’s leaders or mayors like Mayor de Blasio or in other public settings are weakened by these debates? Or is it a debate that we need to have?

PATRICK COLLIGAN: I think the debate that needs to be had, you know, the vast majority of police officers throughout this country — I will speak throughout the country — are hardworking, dedicated police officers.

And to watch — to watch the protests in New York and wish for the death of cops, I am all about a peaceful protest. You watch — I see the die-ins in Grand Central Station. That’s a peaceful protest. And the people are getting their point across.

But when you are throwing garbage cans off the level of a bridge and you’re punching police officers in the face and, of course, murdering two in a police car, it’s tough not to — I don’t know what they are missing here. If you let it continue and let a protest get out of hand, then I don’t know what else you are going to expect. You’re going to have to expect violence.

GWEN IFILL: Mark Levine, as you mentioned, the mayor has called for a pause until after the funerals in any kind of public protest. Some activists have said, this is muzzling their right to continue to speak. Where do you come on that?

MARK LEVINE: Look, the work of reforming how we police in New York City is still under way.

And we have a long way to go. There are real policy debates that we need to continue to play out. But I think we need to do them understanding that we have a chance to make policing safer for communities and for cops themselves.

When we install cameras as part of standard gear for police officers, we’re not only protecting communities, helping to build trust, but we’re giving officers a defense against unwarranted accusations. When we provide officers with handheld devices like tablets and smartphones, as New York City now will be doing, thanks to funding from the Manhattan DA, we give them new tools, a tool that incidentally might have avoided bloodshed on Saturday if we had gotten a picture of the attacker out to all cops on the beat.

So we need to continue this debate on how to make New York City ever safer and ever fairer, safer both for police and for citizens, and these questions will remain controversial. But it’s essential that we have this debate in a civilized way, not only without violence, but without violent language.

And that goes for both sides. I am optimistic that more and more people are coming to this conclusion and that perhaps, perhaps, out of this tragedy, we will get to a better place where we can have passion, but civil discourse on these issues.

GWEN IFILL: Mark Levine, a member of the New York City Council, and Patrick Colligan of the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association, thank you both very much.

MARK LEVINE: Thank you.



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