By MARTY GOODMAN
Tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, have been in the streets across New York State – despite the Covid-19 pandemic – to protest the murder of George Floyd and innumerable other victims of racist police. Thus far, a few victories have been won but what has been gained can also be lost as long as the monster of racist capitalism remains.
In New York City, a cynical game was played out on anti-racist forces – and in particular the African American, Hispanic and oppressed communities – by the administration of the “progressive” Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Democratic Party City Council.
Late on June 30, the overwhelmingly Democratic City Council passed an $88.1 billion budget for fiscal 2021, which included a purported $1 billion cut to the $6 billion NY Police Department budget, “supported” by Mayor Bill de Blasio. The NYPD employs 36,000 uniformed officers and is by far the largest in the U.S. But the “cut” merely included shifting school policing to the Board of Education’s budget and blocking a new officers class in October. What was touted as police “reform” was, in reality, merely moving spending from one budget column to another, with no impact on the racist behavior of cops.
“To everyone who is disappointed we did not go farther, I am disappointed as well,” said City Council Leader Cory Johnson, who added the mayor, “is not budging.” In 2015, Johnson and de Blasio, both Democrats, supported expanding the NYPD by 1,300 officers, despite years of declining street “crime.”
What the Democrats and the capitalist media did not mention was: Who controls the cops? Did that change – at all? No, the class remaining in control is the capitalist class, not working people and oppressed communities. In the self-interest of the ruling class, limited concessions were granted because the anti-racist protests are huge, militant and diverse. Without concessions the system might fall.
When the rich were under attack and expensive stores were being “looted,” de Blasio imposed a curfew, criticized for its racist enforcement. Democratic Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo, like Republican President Trump, threatened to send in the National Guard in defense of property.
Socialist Action says, “Disarm, disband, and dismantle the police!” Black community control of the police!
As the budget sham unfolded inside City Hall, hundreds of mostly young anti-racist protesters of Occupy City Hall (OCH) began camping out for several days in City Hall Park. OCH was subject to two frontal attacks by de Blasio’s NYPD (as of July 2) as protesters chanted, “I don’t see no riot here! Why are you in riot gear?” Linking arms, OCH managed to force the cops to retreat – for now.
After the vote OCH protesters and even a few politicians slammed the final budget deal as a sellout. Said Tatiana Hill, a 32-year-old activist, “It’s trickery. It’s pretending to answer our demands. It sounds like they’re defunding the NYPD but they’re literally just moving things around,” Hill said. Eliel Cruz, a protester, said the Black Lives Matter movement will not be fooled by “smoke and mirrors.”
Occupy City Hall is organized by an ad hoc coalition and Hill is part of that collective, and also an organizer with VOCAL-NY, a statewide organization working with low-income members. Hill insists, “We need black voices in the forefront. Because privilege exists even in these spaces that are supposed to be for us.”
2011’s Occupy Wall Street was located not far from City Hall in Zuccotti Park until billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg teamed-up with the Obama administration in a nationally orchestrated plan to smash the anti-corporate movement by force.
On June 25, a New York City cop was arrested and charged with illegally using a chokehold to a man on a Rockaway Beach boardwalk in Queens, NY. A chokehold caused the 2014 death of Eric Garner, a Staten Island father who was being arrested on suspicion of selling loose cigarettes. Five years later, the NYPD officer, Daniel Pantaleo, was found guilty – in a cop’s court! – and finally fired but never spent a day in jail under de Blasio’s watch!
On June 29, Robert Cuffy, an African American anti-racist activist, was attacked while leading a march to “Defund the NYPD & Abolish the Police” from Washington Square to Foley Square in lower Manhattan. As Cuffy was filming the march he was tackled by an unidentified man who slammed Robert into another car, dislocating his shoulder.
Socialist Action spoke with Cuffy, who explained, “I was dragged against a car and saved by other protesters who intervened. The police were alerted and very criminally let the person go. They escorted him away.” Cuffy added, “The cops said there was no title registered for the attacker’s car, highly unlikely,” feeding speculation that the attacker was a cop. Cuffy described him as weighing 250-300 pounds and 6 feet tall. The attacker was not arrested. The struggle now, Cuffy says, is to identify the assailant.
To sign the petition to demand justice for Cuffy and view powerful videos go to Facebook: NYC Fight for Our Lives Coalition.
In June, State Attorney General Letitia James held an investigation into the police conduct at demonstrations. One witness, Dounya Zayer, recalled being forcefully shoved to the ground by a cop, Vincent D’Andraia, at a peaceful protest and hit her head on the pavement, as seen in a video that went viral. Zayer experienced a seizure and concussion. Almost three weeks later, “I’m nauseous, my back hurts, I’ve had consistent migraines and I can’t hold down food. I can’t sleep,” said Zayer. The cop was arrested and charged with misdemeanor assault and suspended without pay.
Said Zayer, “Vincent D’Andraia being suspended so that, you know, the publicity can go away, and then they can bring him back to do the same thing over and over again. Where the hell is the humanity in watching these officers assault a human for no reason?”
MOBILIZATIONS SCORE SOME REFORMS
In Albany, the New York State legislature passed a set of laws backed by “91 members of families of New Yorkers Killed by Police” and dozens of organizations urging Albany to prioritize police accountability and transparency.
On June 12, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed laws limiting police abuse, including strengthening a special prosecutor to investigate cases where police kill people, and the Repeal50a Bill, which struck from the books the country’s most secretive law on police misconduct. On June 15, they passed the vital reporting legislation, the Police STAT Act, which requires reporting of demographic and geographic data on law enforcement activity. These three bills together are known as the Safer NY Act, all signed by Cuomo.
At a press conference, Gov. Cuomo said after signing the bills, “To the protesters, you can go home, you’ve achieved what you wanted.” In response, an angry State Assemblyman Charles Baron told a June 19 Black-led protest on Wall Street, “Tell Governor Cuomo to go to hell!” to a cheering crowd.
On June 18, a set of police reforms were approved by the New York City Council: requiring that officer badge numbers be visible, a ban on chokeholds, “oversight” of the NYPD surveillance technology, a penalty system for police officers with disciplinary issues, and a bill that puts into law the right to record police interactions.
Also, Police Commissioner Dermot Shea announced June 15 he’s disbanding the department’s plainclothes anti-crime unit of 600 cops, which had been involved in several controversial shootings and spying on Black Lives Matter. The 600 cops will be reassigned.
In his 2014 mayoral run De Blasio gathered the support of liberal Democrats and virtually the entire so-called Left in NYC (except Socialist Action). Promoting a demagogic “Tale of Two Cities” campaign theme, de Blasio billed himself as an anti-racist reformer by feigning opposition to the racist “Stop and Frisk” program, which overwhelmingly targeted African Americans for arrest and harassment and was ruled “unconstitutional” by a Federal Court. De Blasio maintained that he is in agreement with the “broken windows” philosophy of policing that targets low level crime in poor communities, i.e., that is, the oppressed communities. To the shock and betrayal of many of his supporters in the Black community, de Blasio, upon taking office, appointed Bill Bratton as police Chief, who was seen as Stop and Frisk’s creator when he was chief of police in Los Angeles.
Under de Blasio, prior to the pandemic, racist police enforcement has been rife. In 2019, reported stops increased by 22% – and 59% of stops were of Black people and 29% Latinx people in New York City.
Today, Black Americans are at least four times as likely to be shot by police as white Americans and six times as likely to be thrown in prison. Black drivers are three times more likely to be searched and twice as likely to be arrested during traffic stops. On June 25, the New York Times ran an article titled, “The Black White Wage Gap is as Big as it was in 1950.” Its findings and conclusions were devastating, given it has been more than 50 years since the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Simply put, racism and capitalism were twins at birth. There is no “progressive” Democrat that can change that reality.