By MARTY GOODMAN
Shock and outrage greeted the appointment of New York City’s former Chief of Police Bill Bratton as top cop under newly elected Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat. Bratton was the city’s police chief in 1994-1996, during the conservative administration of Rudy Guiliani, which was notorious for police murders of Blacks and Hispanics.
The new administration took office on Jan. 1, replacing the three-term billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a fervent stop-and-frisk supporter. Bratton replaces outgoing police commissioner Ray Kelly, another stop-and-frisk supporter. The racist police practice of “stop and frisk,” which studies have shown is based on racial profiling, is at the heart of the controversy. De Blasio had campaigned for mayor as a critic of the policy—seeking to reform but not abolish it.
According to the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, the policy is “military-style occupation” and “above the law.” Based on 2012 NYPD data compiled by the American Civil Liberties Union, New Yorkers were stopped by cops 533,042 times; 55% of the people were Black, 32% Hispanic, and 10% white. About 89% were found totally innocent
The May 6 Labor Press asked de Blasio how he would reform stop and frisk, short of abolishing it. De Blasio answered, “I think you can’t eliminate the basic police tactic of stop and frisk because it’s a valid policing tactic—pursuing a suspect description, for example, but doing it in a constitutional and appropriate manner. But the notion that we can fundamentally reform the approach; we can make it fair. So I disagree with anyone who says abolish a tactic we need.”
Jose LaSalle, of the Stop Stop and Frisk Freedom Fighters, told Socialist Action, “On Dec. 5, Bill De Blasio decided to appoint Bill Bratton as police commissioner. He will continue the regime of stop and frisk. Bratton is 10 times worse than [Ray] Kelly because he left the template behind.”
Under Guiliani, Bratton’s elite “Street Crime Unit” was formed to supposedly remove guns from the street. But it found a weapon in only 2.5% of all stops, according to a study cited in “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander. Under Bratton the notorious unit tripled in size.
Moreover, Bratton applied the “broken windows” theory against minor “quality-of-life offenses” in sync with the war on the poor waged by Mayor Guiliani. These included arrests for “offenses” such as public drunkenness, loitering, vandalism, littering, public urination, panhandling, turnstile jumping, prostitution, and so-called “squeegee men” who were targeted cleaning car windows at traffic lights. Arrests on minor charges left African American and Hispanic youth with police records that caught many in a police web they could not escape.
A 1996 Amnesty International report on Bratton’s NYPD found “a serious problem of police brutality and excessive force. Racial disparities appear to be most marked in cases involving deaths in custody and questionable shootings.”
A Dec. 5 New Yorker article noted that in an interview with Bratton in 2013, “Bratton emphatically endorsed stop-and-frisk as a police tactic.” Bratton told the reporter, “Stop-and-frisk is such a basic tool of policing. If cops are not doing stop-and-frisk, they are not doing their jobs. If you do away with stop-and-frisk, this city will go down the chute as fast as anything you can imagine.”
Bratton was also chief of police in Los Angeles from 2002 to 2009. A Harvard study of police tactics commissioned by Bratton himself found that “over 70 percent of 2008 LAPD stops in inner-city precincts were of African Americans and Latinos, a ration similar to New York’s,” according to The Nation of Dec. 6.
In August 2013, Federal Court Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled on a suit submitted by the Center for Constitutional Rights and the ACLU. The court found the NYPD liable for unconstitutional practices. In addition, Scheindlin ordered a court-appointed monitor to oversee reforms and a joint remedial process. On Nov. 22, the U.S. Court of appeals, Second Circuit, denied Bloomberg’s motion to vacate the Sheindlin ruling, and the new mayor has promised to drop the city’s appeal. It remains to be seen how this process will impact communities of color.
Both Bratton and stop and frisk are despised in communities of color. A June 2012 protest against stop and frisk, sponsored by the NAACP and several unions, marched to Mayor Bloomberg’s home on the exclusive Upper East Side. It attracted a diverse crowd of over 5000.
On Dec. 27 a protest against the Bratton appointment was held on 125th Street in Harlem, sponsored by Parents Against Police Brutality and the October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation (NY Committee). One protester was Nicholas Heywood Sr., whose son Nicholas (13) was shot by a NYPD cop when Bratton was chief of police. Said Heywood, “For Bill de Blasio to make Bill Bratton the chief again was a slap in the face for me. It’s a painful feeling for me, personally. It just shows the type of person Bill de Blasio is.”
“Blasio said he read Bratton’s record. What about the record when police killed all of these innocent people? … We need to keep the pressure on. [For the inauguration] we all need to be at [the protest] at City Hall on Jan. 1. We do not need Bratton as police commissioner of New York City!”
Socialist Action spoke with Harlem Tenant Council activist Nellie Bailey about the new mayor and his selection of Bratton. Said Bailey, “This is a confirmation of the neoliberal pact that Mayor De Blasio will pursue. This reassures the plutocrats that he has matters firmly in hand with the Black community and people of color. Even though the election got a small turnout, 25% overall, 97% of Blacks voted for De Blasio. But, the Blacks that voted for him are not fooled. Bratton was the architect of stop and frisk in New York. De Blasio has fired the first Obama-style bullet. This will be a law-and-order administration.”
Bailey commented on the high profile role of the Rev. Al Sharpton, particularly after he had welcomed Bratton to the Harlem headquarters of Sharpton’s National Action Network. Said Bailey, “Al Sharpton is being used to placate the rising anger that is building in the Black community with the appointment of Bratton. Sharpton’s role is crucial for the De Blasio administration, as it is for the Democratic Party. That is, to placate the inevitable anger in the Black community.”
Opponents of racist police tactics need a mass united front of community and labor forces to mobilize effectively against NYPD racism. The Democratic Party and capitalism are part of the problem, not the solution. Socialists demand that stop and frisk end now! Jail killer cops! NYPD out of the Black and Hispanic communities!
A ‘fiscal conservative’
Bratton’s appointment was not the only shock for those seeking meaningful change after Bloomberg. The appointment of Goldman Sachs executive Alicia Glen as the Deputy Mayor of Housing and Economic Development perplexed supporters. Goldman Sachs’s image as Wall Street super-crooks didn’t faze De Blasio, who said, “I don’t care about any stereotypes or assumptions.”
As budget director, De Blasio chose Dean Fulsein, budget “guru” to long-time New York State House Democratic Party leader Sheldon Silver. Silver and Fulsein negotiated many cutbacks in public services for Democratic and Republican governors. Fulsein will begin negotiations with city unions, which are seeking $7 billion in retroactive pay on long-expired contracts. While playing soft cop at the moment, De Blasio has demanded union concessions in any deal, as did Bloomberg. De Blasio proclaimed himself “a fiscal conservative” at a meeting of business leaders. — M.G.
Photo: Tony Savino / Socialist Action