A few months ago, New York City Council members were doing die-ins in support of Eric Garner and Mike Brown. Now they are calling for 1,000 more cops to be added to the New York Police Department’s 35,000-strong police force – and creating political rifts among the liberal establishment, the NYPD and the movement to end Broken Windows policing in New York City.
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito – a member of the council’s Progressive Caucus and important ally of Mayor Bill de Blasio – has been pushing the proposal to add 1,000 more police officers since 2014 in an effort to implement “community policing.”
At first, both de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bratton spoke against the City Council’s proposal, but Bratton flipped his opinion on the matter at a recent City Council hearing on the NYPD budget, where he stated that after a yearlong study, “the Department will be seeking additional officers.”
By any objective measure, the argument to spend between $97 million and $120 million to hire 1,000 more cops – on top of the $4.7 billion spent on the NYPD annually – simply doesn’t add up.
Not only is there a historic trend of falling crime in New York City, but Bratton himself predicts that NYPD officers will have a “million fewer law enforcement interactions with NYC residents” in 2015 due to a significant drop in the number of petty misdemeanor arrests and stop-and-frisks.
In his City Council testimony, Bratton stated that at least 350 of the additional officers will be specifically trained to combat ISIS and other terrorist threats, and that additional numbers were needed to deal with large-scale demonstrations like the ones that broke out in December after a grand jury failed to indict the cop who killed Eric Garner.
Those protests were initially so powerful that they even swept up many City Council members, dozens of whom – including Mark-Viverito – blocked traffic while chanting “I can’t breathe” at a December 8 demonstration.
But the sentiment soon changed as the media and the political establishment in support of heavy policing went on the offensive against protesters following the killing of two NYPD police officers on December 20 by an individual with mental health problems. Police Benevolent Association Patrick Lynch led a public fight against de Blasio and the City Council for encouraging protests and criticizing the NYPD, however mildly.
During this time, Bratton played peacekeeper between the cops and the city’s liberal establishment. Meanwhile, de Blasio attempted a balancing act. The mayor publicly stated his support for Broken Windows policing and asked for protesters to hold a moratorium on demonstrations after the two cops were killed.
A few months later, it’s clear that in their unrealistic attempt to balance two diametrically opposed forces, New York City’s liberal politicians have come down on the side of the NYPD.
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De Blasio has been careful to avoid taking a clear stand on the issue.
According to New York’s main newspapers, de Blasio either isn’t playing any role in the City Council’s insistence on 1,000 additional cops or, according to the New York Post, is fighting with Bratton against his insistence on additional officers.
In February, the Wall Street Journal reported that de Blasio and Mark-Viverito could be headed toward a budget showdown over the issue. But more recently, the New York Daily News reported that de Blasio has said his position on the proposal wasn’t set in stone.
It is very likely that the mayor doesn’t want to come across as championing the proposal, thus angering his supporters who want him to rein in the power of the NYPD. But those supporters should understand that de Blasio has always had a contradictory message about policing.
He was elected in 2013 with a liberal campaign platform that included a promise to end the stop-and-frisk policy of racial profiling. But de Blasio then made his police chief Bill Bratton, the main architect behind the Broken Windows theory of policing, which gave rise to stop-and-frisk.
Given the progressive rhetoric of people like de Blasio and Mark-Viverito, how do we explain their support for the NYPD despite the rulings of federal judges against the department’s racist practices?
Gentrification – the geographical manifestation of the ruling class offensive on working people – has grown in intensity over the last couple of decades in New York City. One major beneficiary is the real estate industry, which has long had a major influence over city politics. According to Gotham Gazette, a political action committee representing real estate interests spent almost $7 million on City Council races in 2013.
Gentrification is connected to greater policing, following the logic that low crime rates equals high property values. The result is politicians criminalizing communities to justify policies that gentrify working-class neighborhoods.
This connection was openly stated by Bratton at a major fundraiser organized by the Police Foundation – the same foundation that originated the theory of Broken Windows – as described in an article written by longtime anti-police brutality activist Josmar Trujillo:
Speaking at the gala, Bratton presented the crowd, which included notables like billionaire Wall Street investor Carl Icahn, with a slideshow comparing crime rates with local real estate values. The audience was shown a map of geographical drops in crime alongside a map showcasing an accompanying rise in property value in the same neighborhoods.
The new “progressive” mayor marveled at the apparent correlation: “It’s actually incredibly inspiring to see what the work of the NYPD has achieved…Let’s thank them for all they’ve done. I will also note, as a homeowner in Brooklyn, I was struck by the real-estate value map. There’s good news all around tonight.”
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As the liberal mayor and City Council fell in line behind the NYPD, it had an impact on the balance of forces outside the political establishment in the struggle against Broken Windows policing.
Although a majority of the movement in New York City is against calls by the mainstream press and most politicians for more cops to implement “community policing,” some major nonprofit organizations have offered only weak criticisms of the proposal.
Nonprofit organizations inherently depend on funding from corporate-controlled philanthropic and charitable foundations, compelling them toward collaboration with established politicians and reform-oriented campaigns that don’t challenge the structural causes of issues that affect working class people.
In regards to police reform, most nonprofit organizations across the country have focused their reformist strategy on reforms around police oversight and transparency. When Barack Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder organized a Task Force on 21st Century Policing last year, leaders from coalitions like New York City’s Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) were appointed.
In one of the Task Force’s first “listening sessions,” most nonprofit organizations put forward suggestions such as an Inspector General and special prosecutors to investigate police brutality cases independently of state prosecutors, plus data collecting efforts and mandated reporting by police departments to determine police-community relationships.
CPR, a broad coalition that includes most of the nonprofit organizations tackling police reform in New York City, has been pushing for two years the Community Safety Act and the Right to Know Act. Both pieces of legislation would force the NYPD to be more transparent about its patrols and interactions with the community by forcing cops to tell residents why they are being stopped and provide them with their name, badge number and precinct.
CPR has welcomed and worked alongside Democrats of the City Council’s Progressive Caucus who supported these two acts. The press release on the Progressive Caucus’ website indicates that these elected officials see these reforms under the framework ofimproving relationships between the NYPD and communities they patrol.
The Community Safety Act and the Right to Know Act are thus seen as reforms that would put into motion the “community policing” model that the national political establishment has been putting forward as a supposed alternative to the Broken Windows model of “zero tolerance” policing practiced by many police departments across the country.
To its credit, CPR recently came out against the proposal for an additional 1,000 cops, but its connections with City Council Democrats and support for their reforms has largely blunted its rhetoric and willingness to openly challenge the “community policing” framework that the city council is backing, not to mention the structural reasons for the brutality and state-sanctioned impunity of the NYPD.
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Although CPR makes up a large section of the movement against police misconduct, a smaller section that doesn’t depend on relationships with elected officials continues to boldly challenge Bratton, the City Council and de Blasio for their support for Broken Windows policing.
Some of these largely grassroots organizations have grouped together and launched a divestment campaign called the Safety Beyond Policing campaign to demand that the money proposed for hiring more police officers be spent instead on public education, jobs creation, mental health services and other services and reforms that would raise the living standards of the majority of New York City residents.
The Safety Beyond Policing campaign represents a coming together of the Black Lives Matter movement and longstanding forces protesting police brutality in New York City. Actions organized by members of the campaign have continued to keep this issue alive to coordinate pressure on the New York City Council.
It was in the same City Council hearings on the NYPD budget where Bratton asked for more cops that about 15 members of the Safety Beyond Policing campaign disrupted the hearings. City Council member Vanessa Gibson, head of the Public Safety Committee, responded by throwing out everybody from the hearings.
Another section of the movement in New York City is organizing to free from jail Ramsey Orta – the person who shot the video of Eric Garner’s murder. Incredibly, Orta – who has been targeted by the NYPD since shooting the video – is the only person related to Garner’s death to be indicted.
Staten Island prosecutors are seeking charges that would jail Orta for more than 25 years. Following the mistreatment and targeting of the Orta family by police, supporters have put together a Go-Fund-Me account to collect donations to help Orta post bail.
While activists continue to build these campaigns, they should also put the spotlight on Bill de Blasio and demand that the mayor live up to his campaign promises that working class people of color would no longer be over-policed.
In the short term, our movements need to put forward reforms that address the structural causes of police violence or face being co-opted by politicians who want to divert our energies into toothless slogans like “community policing.”
In the long run, if we want to fundamentally end police brutality, we’ll have to break the dependence of our movements on Democratic politicians who don’t have our interests at heart and create a new political alternative rooted in social movements and the working class that can open up space for greater social change in the streets.