Jeff Mays | December 12, 2014
MANHATTAN — Mayor Bill de Blasio stood in Mt. Sinai United Christian Church on Staten Island in the recent wake of the Eric Garner grand jury decision and described how he had feared his son, Dante, could become a victim of police violence.
He also uttered the phrase that has become the rallying cry of protests against deadly police cases across the country — “Black Lives Matter.”
The mayor’s words struck the right tone at the right time, some said, with a city brimming with anger and the nation watching to see if New Yorkers would repeat the violent protests that plagued Ferguson, Mo.
But while they approve of the rhetoric, some of de Blasio’s supporters are looking for him to do more to improve relations between police and communities of color.
“It’s important to hear the mayor say ‘Black Lives Matter’ and see him be disappointed with the grand jury verdict, but it’s also about what he’s going to do about it,” said Alyssa Aguilera, political director for VOCAL-NY, one of the groups that helped get de Blasio elected.
Some critics blame NYPD Comissioner Bill Bratton’s “Broken Windows” theory of policing, where officers focus on quality of life crimes to prevent more serious ones, as a reason Garner was being arrested for the relatively minor offense of selling loose cigarettes. De Blasio has stood by Bratton and described Broken Windows as “very sound” policing that just “has to be applied fairly and equally.”
“There’s a real difference between visionary speeches and public policy,” said Rashad Robinson, executive director of ColorOfChange, which uses technology to advocate for social justice.
“This mayor has said a lot of the right things, but through his Broken Windows policy we have seen a rise in misdemeanor arrests and we have seen tragedies,” he continued. “And he is standing by a police chief who essentially invented Broken Windows.”
In the weeks ahead of the Garner decision, de Blasio took several opportunities to highlight the ways in which he believes he is reducing crime while eliminating discriminatory policing.
At a press conference about police body cameras just hours before the Garner grand jury decision, the mayor boasted of efforts to reduce the “broken policy” of stop-and-frisk, retrain the police force and reduce marijuana arrests.
There is a concern that blacks and Latinos will now be targeted for marijuana summonses instead of arrests, exchanging one racially biased problem for another. Another worry is that the marijuana summonses issued in lieu of arrest won’t collect data on ethnicity, disallowing for the discovery of racially biased patterns.
“My ideological critique is that some of these proposals fail to resolve the underlying problem of racial disparity and unlawful searches,” said Bronx City Councilman Ritchie Torres one of the sponsors of the recently introduced “Right to Know Act.”
The legislation would require police to identify themselves, explain why they are stopping an individual and inform people of their right to refuse a search where there is no warrant or probable cause.
Torres said the bill would help to hold police accountable for their interactions with civilians. De Blasio has made no comment on the proposal, which has upset some of the police reform groups that pushed him into office.
“The Eric Garner case is an indictment of Broken Windows,” Torres said. “There has to be an acknowledgement that Broken Windows invites aggressive policing.”