Activists Push Back at New York Mayor's Call to End Protests Against Police Violence
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's request for a pause in protests against police violence while two slain officers are laid to rest on Tuesday may have won him plaudits in some quarters, but it did not do much to ease tensions between the black community and the NYPD. Some activists said de Blasio's request fueled the erroneous link between the protestors demanding reform and the lone shooter who killed two police officers in a patrol car in Brooklyn on Saturday.
"It's a time for everyone to put aside political debates, put aside protests," de Blasio said during a speech to a charity with close ties to the NYPD on Monday, "put aside all of the things we will talk about in due time."
The plea was met with sharp pushback from some activists who accused the mayor of caving to accusations that the protests are what motivated 28-year-old Ismaaiyl Brinsley to travel from Baltimore, Md., to shoot and kill officers Rafael Ramos and his partner Wenjian Liu in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
"By asking the protesters to stop," said Kevin Powell, president of BK Nation, a national grassroots organization based in Brooklyn, "de Blasio is unwittingly linking the protests to the murders of these police officers, which is not the case at all."
Eugene Peryear, a spokesperson and activist for the ANSWER Coalition, a national anti-racism organization, had sharper criticism for de Blasio. "This is the mayor capitulating to a campaign that has been waged by the police and their supporters who aren't interested in healing or respect," he told AlterNet. "What they are interested in is putting the genie back in the bottle. This major conversation that's arisen about racism and the impunity of police and killing young black males and women has been something that the NYPD has wanted to avoid....It's not about a pause. It's about forces trying to make sure this movement slows down so that they can sweep the issues back under the rug."
Still, while they may be somewhat disappointed in de Blasio's latest move, most activists recognize that Patrick Lynch, the incendiary head of the police union, who demonized both the mayor and the protesters after the murders of Liu and Ramos, is by far the bigger problem.
"Mayor de Blasio is being treated like any other politician in a leadership position would be treated right now unfortunately," said Cherrell Brown, an activist who has been organizing protests in Ferguson and in New York. "I do understand that he is in a very hard position. And I understand that his calls to suspend protests were really a political manuever to show solidarity with the NYPD, but I find that Pat Lynch is the quintessential problem in all of this."
As AlterNet previously reported, Lynch's angry tone was taken as a threat by many in the black community. "There's blood on many hands tonight," Lynch said, after the murder of the two police officers. "Those that incited violence on the street under the guise of protests that tried to tear down what New York City police officers did every day. We tried to warn, 'It must not go on. It cannot be tolerated.' That blood on the hands starts on the steps of City Hall in the office of the mayor. When these funerals are over, those responsible will be called on the carpet and held accountable."
Aja Monet, a poet and activist from Brooklyn, felt Lynch's words both threatened and dehumanized the protesters. "As a poet, my issue is with how they use language," Monet told AlterNet. "I don't think this is so much de Blasio, but very much Pat Lynch insinuating that somehow, protesters are not people. It's like they're stigmatizing the word protest. They're trying to stigmatize the word and drain it of any significance. We have to be very clear that these are people. We're the people of New York City."
Though he disagreed with the mayor's call for a pause in protesting, Kevin Powell of BK Nation hastened to add that de Blasio is more in tune with the issues of the black community than any other head of the city in recent history, and that the issues with the NYPD do not rest solely on the steps of the mayor's office.
"He has a biracial son who he has admitted he has talked to about how he should handle himself if he is confronted by the police," Powell said. "Bill de Blasio may be a white brotha but he has a very deep connection to the black community, just by virtue of his love for his family, so there's no denying that. I think he brings to the office a certain kind of humanity that we haven't seen in 20 years. We certainly didn't see it with Mr. Giuliani when he was was mayor and we certainly didn't see it in Mr. Bloomberg when he was mayor."
Mayor de Blasio's relationship with the NYPD, especially its union head Patrick Lynch, has been tense from the time he decided to campaign for the top position in City Hall. Those relations further deteriorated after several high-profile case of police brutality, including the aftermath of Eric Garner's chokehold death, which induced the mayor to make public statements many in the NYPD took as being anti-cop. When de Blasio aired an ad during his campaign featuring his son stating that his father would end stop-and-frisk, the Democratic candidate's poll numbers skyrocketed and may have been a key factor in helping him win the mayor's office. It also put him in the crosshairs of the NYPD's traditional power structure that has grown comfortable with two previous mayors who encouraged hyper-aggressive policing.
When de Blasio used the phrase, a "tale of two cities" during his campaign for mayor, he knew what he was talking about. A recent survey by Quinnipiac University reports that just 49 percent of New Yorkers approve of his job performance. However, 71 percent of black voters approve of the mayor's performance, an increase from 65 percent since the last survey was conducted three months ago; 56 percent of Hispanic voters also approve of his leadership at City Hall. His lowest level of support, 36 percent, comes from white voters. It was a 2 percent dip from the August survey which listed white support at 36 percent.
Despite those numbers, Powell doesn't believe the problem is about black voters or the ill-advised words of a first-term mayor.
"This is really a fight for who is the future of New York City and who has power and who doesn't have power," he said. "It's not just about black people and white people. It's about all people in this city. Do we have the ability to come together and have civil conversations that's really about solutions or are we going to continue to be at each other's throats? Whether de Blasio gets re-elected to office four years from now because black folks don't vote for him is besides the point. He's got three more years to deal with the reality of where we're at right now, which is this ugly situation that people from all over the world are watching."
Monet is one of many activists who intends to ignore the mayor's call to end protests. She plans to participate in a march this Saturday in honor of Akai Gurley. The unarmed 28-year-old was shot and killed in a Brooklyn housing project on November 28 by 27-year-old patrolman Peter Liang.
"In regards to de Blasio, I don't think it's my concern what he feels because as a citizen of New York, my concern right now is with justice," Monet said.