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A letter to the American public: Why the New York water attacks matter

Civilians need to understand that these are thinly veiled attacks on law and order, not playful fun

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We watched NYPD officers get ridiculed, threatened, assaulted and endangered as they performed their public safety duties.


On July 22, two videos made the rounds of New York City police officers getting doused with water by unruly crowds in Harlem and Brownsville, Brooklyn. In one of the events, a member of the crowd even threw an empty bucket at one of the officers, striking him in the head as he was trying to take a suspect into custody.

The officers in these videos simply ignored the water, thrown buckets, jeers and threats from the crowd, and walked away, without trying to apprehend ‒ or even simply confront ‒ the people who were committing these acts. It’s clear the officers were trying to avoid an escalation of the situation.

Green Light

Unfortunately, it backfired.

The reluctance of these officers to confront the individuals who were committing these simple assaults and issuing threats merely emboldened others to do the same. By the end of that week, there were five different videos in circulation that showed members of the public throwing water on NYPD officers and mocking them as they walked away without confronting their attackers.

Even the NYPD announcement that several individuals had been arrested and charged for their roles in the Harlem and Brownsville events failed to put a damper on the water attacks. The genie had been let out of the bottle, so to speak, and there was no putting it away.

What’s the Big Deal?

When police supporters (including the Police Benevolent Association, NYPD officials, members of the public and ‒ by the end of the week ‒ the President of the United States) decried the activity, there were some in the community who indicated the police were making a big deal out of nothing.

Various residents were quoted in news stories pooh-poohing the seriousness of the issue, and a representative from the Legal Aid Society said the NYPD’s reminder that these activities constitute grounds for a disorderly conduct charge was “disproportionate.”

These citizens conveniently ignored the fact that hitting an officer with a thrown object (like that bucket) is a simple assault, and interfering with an officer while he or she is in the process of trying to apprehend a suspect is both a crime and a significant safety issue ‒ for the officer, the suspect and the public.

Additionally, these apologists ignored the risks associated with the water itself, which they seem to view as merely a harmless and good-natured irritant. While most of us would welcome a splash of water to cool down on a hot day, the situation changes when the target is an on-duty officer. A deluge of water could damage an expensive radio or TASER, and make these life-saving tools unavailable for emergency use. It could also create a dangerous situation for an officer who is trying to arrest a suspect ‒ if the contact develops into a physical struggle, the water could cause an officer to lose his grip on a suspect, or the officer could slip on the water. In either case, the officer might get injured in a fall, or be injured by a dangerous suspect after losing control of him. The public would, in turn, be endangered by the probable escape of the violent suspect.

There’s also the hidden danger associated with taking that officer off the street for an extended period. A water-soaked officer will have to return to the station to change into a dry uniform, inspect their equipment for damage, perform necessary maintenance and perhaps exchange their patrol vehicle. While the officer is out of service performing these functions, the public has one less officer available to assist them for emergencies, and the rest of the shift has one less officer available for backup. How many of the apologists stopped to think about how this kind of behavior could endanger the lives of an innocent person ‒ perhaps even a friend or family member ‒ who was unable to have their emergency call answered quickly, due to a temporary shortfall in manning?

A Greater Danger

There’s a greater danger lurking in the background, though. It’s one that many New York politicians and citizens are hoping is ignored, because they’d rather not have anyone notice their involvement in it.

The water attacks are symbolic of an increasing lack of respect for police officers and the laws they enforce. These are thinly veiled attacks on law and order, not playful fun. While the apologists would have us believe that these were merely good-natured pranks, those of us who are paying attention see them for what they actually are ‒ an escalation in the War on Cops.

The process of “othering”

If you want to motivate a large population of people to attack another group of people, there are certain hurdles you have to overcome.

One of the most fundamental is the requirement to cast the opposing group as something worthy of destruction, and that begins with creating the impression that the other group is different, inferior and bad. A good way to accomplish this is to build a negative stereotype and assign it to the group through a series of false accusations and calculated attacks on their character and worth.

If you can get your group to believe the negative stereotype, it’s not hard to obtain their permission to attack the “others” with ridicule and scorn. Once the ridicule and scorn become normalized, it’s not a stretch to move into more forceful tactics, like political assaults, bullying, “pranks” and low-level physical attacks. Again, as the public’s appetite for, and acceptance of, these abuses increases, the thermostat gets turned up and the physical violence increases in both frequency and magnitude.

The water attacks on the NYPD officers are significant because many of us recognize this as another step in the “othering” of our police officers.

Over the last decade, we’ve seen a concentrated effort by some public officials and groups of citizens to attack our legal system and the people who enforce our laws – with the help of a complicit media – by pushing a false narrative that our legal system must be changed because it’s fundamentally corrupt. Furthermore, they have demeaned, ridiculed and insulted our nation’s police officers as “racists,” “brutal thugs,” and “murderers” who operate outside the law, without restraint, as a justification to weaken their authority and ability to enforce the law.

Officers who have lawfully and ethically used force in the performance of their duties have been run out of the profession by angry mobs, subjected to unwarranted administrative punishments and have been charged with crimes, as police leaders, politicians and community members have abetted the injustice.

So, we watched NYPD officers get ridiculed, threatened, assaulted and endangered as they performed their public safety duties, and we watched the community cheer the perpetrators on and laugh as it happened.

What’s Next?

We’re told that it’s “no big deal,” and that our objections are “disproportionate.” We’re expected to ignore this symbolic and physical attack on law enforcement officers, because it’s all just “good-natured fun,” not a veiled assault on the very foundations of law and order in this country.

Law enforcement has a hard time doing that though, because of questions like:

What happens when the mob feels like they have the public’s tacit permission to attack police officers who are performing their duty?

What happens when the mob gets bolder, and the next bucket isn’t full of water, but urine or bleach, instead?

What happens when a felony suspect escapes detention and arrest because an unruly mob interferes with the officer?

What happens when an officer gets hurt because his TASER doesn’t work, or he can’t call for help on his water-damaged radio?

What happens when a woman is slowly beaten to death by her mate, because the cop assigned to that beat was at the station, changing his uniform, and couldn’t get there in time to stop it?

What happens when good men and women leave the profession, or choose not to enter it, because they don’t want to be the target of “othering” any longer?

What happens when your police department decides not to police anymore, as a matter of political survival? What happens when they walk away from your call for help, the same way they walked away from the mob with the water buckets?

What happens when respect for the law, and all respect for authority, disappears?

Is it all “just good fun” then, too?

This is about more than water, people.

The cops get it. Do you?

Mike Wood is the son of a 30-year California Highway Patrolman and the author of “Newhall Shooting: A Tactical Analysis,” the highly-acclaimed study of the 1970 California Highway Patrol gunfight in Newhall, California. Mike is an Honor Graduate of the United States Air Force Academy, a graduate of the US Army Airborne School, and a retired US Air Force Lieutenant Colonel with over 26 years of service. He’s a National Rifle Association (NRA) Law Enforcement Division-certified firearms instructor, senior editor at, and has been a featured guest on the Excellence In Training Academy and American Warrior Society podcasts, as well as several radio and television programs. He’s grateful for the opportunity to serve and learn from the men and women of law enforcement.