An unknown number of Atlanta police called in sick Wednesday evening in apparent protest of the felony murder charges against the officer who shot Rayshard Brooks in the back, then kicked him as he lay on the ground “fighting for his life.” One of their own potentially facing justice, and not the murder, are what many Atlanta police object to, apparently.
The Atlanta Police Department isn’t saying how many officers called out sick, and is trying to downplay the absences, tweeting “Earlier suggestions that multiple officers from each zone had walked off the job were inaccurate. The department is experiencing a higher than usual number of call outs with the incoming shift. We have enough resources to maintain operations & remain able to respond to incidents.”
A police union spokesman told NBC News that the absences were a protest, but “This is not an organized thing, it's not a blue flu, it's not a strike, it's nothing like that. What it actually is is officers protesting that they've had enough and they don't want to deal with it any longer.”
Except the basic definition of “blue flu” is when a large number of police officers call out sick to make a point, so maybe that’s what this was after all, at least a small one.
Atlanta officials were at pains to tell the world that the lack of police would not pose a danger. “We do have enough officers to cover us through the night,” Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms told CNN. “Our streets won’t be any less safe because of the number of officers who called out.”
It’s entirely possible, though, that the streets would be more safe with less officers. After all, the whole issue here is that police shot an unarmed man in the back. And there’s precedent.
In late 2014 and early 2015, New York City police held a "slowdown" in which they didn’t go out seeking minor crimes (or, alternatively, they didn’t go out looking to harass Black and brown people as much). The slowdown was a response to protests over the killing of Eric Garner and the failure to charge his killer, then-officer Daniel Pantaleo, with police feeling butt-hurt by the public response and by Mayor Bill de Blasio not adequately supporting them in their violence (a lesson de Blasio has learned from). But whatever point the police were trying to make, they may have made the opposite one: major crime reports actually dropped slightly.
Either way, the Atlanta blue flu shows yet again how much police put their own interests—where their interests are defined as being allowed to kill unarmed people without ever facing consequences—above all. It’s not even the only recent example of police going to the mat for their right to brutality. In Buffalo, 57 officers quit a special team after two were suspended for knocking a 75-year-old protester down, leaving him with a fractured skull and unable to walk.