Playing the 'Thug' Card

By: 
The Chief Leader

A relatively civil hearing on a City Council bill that would sharply limit the use of solitary confinement in the city jail system took a sudden turn into nastiness after Correction Officers' Benevolent Association President Benny Boscio made a reasonable suggestion to the bill's sponsor, Danny Dromm, that he take an "unannounced" tour of Rikers Island.

Mr. Dromm's inexplicable response was, "I don't listen to thugs." As if to emphasize his feeling, he repeated that slur.

Mr. Boscio's initial response was polite: "I'm not trying to be a thug, sir." He then repeated statistics on rising violence in the jails that he had cited as resulting from previous restrictions on solitary, also known as punitive segregation.

 

Five days after the Dec. 11 hearing, however, he and other union officials were angry enough that they ran a full-page ad in the New York Post demanding Mr. Dromm's resignation (the same ad will be running in this newspaper's Dec. 25 issue).

That anger was justified. On the same day that the ad ran in The Post, Mr. Boscio, who's been a Correction Officer for 21 years and became union president six months ago, told us he'd been stunned at Mr. Dromm's name-calling, saying, "I've never been called a thug in my life."

There's little chance that Mr. Dromm mistook the invitation to visit Rikers unannounced as a threat. As Mr. Boscio explained it, he thought that if the Councilman gave Correction Department brass a heads-up that he was coming, he was concerned that they would steer him to a quiet area of the jails "where they don't have problematic inmates," giving him a sanitized view of conditions at Rikers.

But there's an unfortunate tendency among some of those who profess to want to reform the jail system to describe correction officers and their union leaders in the kind of dehumanizing terms that they would decry if applied to detainees there. Several years ago, a New York Times editorial writer referred to city COs as "thugs." We wondered at the time whether the anonymous author had a clue that he or she was talking about a workforce that was 85 percent people of color before strutting that piece of galloping stupidity.

 

We'd never thought of Mr. Dromm as an idiot before he felt free to slime the leader of that workforce. He also during the hearing indicated he was predisposed not to take seriously any objections to the bill from COBA based on embezzlement of union funds by a former president who's been out of office for more than four years. That's not exactly a sound basis for tuning out what the union has to say, and gives fuel to Mr. Boscio's claim that the Councilman had made a "predetermination" about the need for the bill that reflected his bias.

Too many city officials, most of them politically left of center, have been so intent on the need for jail reform at the expense of the people who actually work in the system that they have ignored rising inmate violence. That has occurred even as the jail population was declining in recent years. The situation figures to get worse with the recent influx of more than 700 detainees that corresponds with the jump in violent crime in the city.

There is nothing progressive or reform-minded about making changes that are likely to have a negative impact on the safety of officers and the large majority of detainees who could be victimized by what Mr. Boscio calls the "small percentage of the inmate population that's wreaking havoc in the jails."

At the least, Mr. Dromm owes Mr. Boscio a public apology. And if he's too dug in to realize how far out of line he was, Council Speaker Corey Johnson should tell him.