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“Ronald Reagan Doesn’t Live Here Anymore”: Why It’s High Time Liberals Stop Tiptoeing Around Race

Earlier this week, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, along with a gaggle of bored reporters and some boldfaced names in the progressive movement, unveiled a “Progressive Agenda to Combat Income Inequality.” Much like the media event that accompanied its unveiling, the agenda is supposed to be understood as a kind of 21st-century, liberal version of the storied “Contract with America,” the PR stunt that, as legend (erroneously) has it, rocketed Newt Gingrich and the Republican Party to power after the 1994 midterm elections. As my colleague Joan Walsh reported on Thursday, this backward-looking attempt to lay out a forward-looking platform for the Democratic Party did not go entirely according to plan.

Which is not to say it was a failure. In fact, for a photo-op held during a non-election year in May and headlined by a relatively unknown local politician, the unveiling of the agenda probably got more attention than it deserved. Even so, as Joan relayed from the scene, there was some tension at the event — and not only because President Obama’s hard sell of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is driving some liberals to distraction while making others defensive. Sure, the agenda does call on lawmakers to “[o]ppose trade deals that hand more power to corporations at the expense of American jobs, workers’ rights, and the environment,” which is basically how the TPP is described by its foes. But that discord was for the most part kept under the surface.

The real reason de Blasio’s stab at playing the role of Progressive Moses was a bit awkward (despite going much better for him than it did for Ed Miliband) is knottier and harder to ignore. And it didn’t only trip up Hizzoner, but also marred a same-day Roosevelt Institute event on “rewriting the rules” of the economy, which was keynoted by no less a figure than Sen. Elizabeth Warren. It’s an issue that’s long dogged the American left, and the United States more generally, and it’s one that will not go away, no matter how fervently everyone may wish. It is, of course, the issue of race; and as these D.C. left-wing confabs showed, it will dash any hope of a liberal future unless the “professional left” gets deathly serious about it — and quick.

If you haven’t read Joan’s piece (which you really should), here’s a quick summary of how race wound up exposing the fault lines of the left at two events that were supposed to be about unity of purpose. Despite American politics becoming increasingly concentrated over the past two years on issues of mass incarceration and police brutality — which both have much to do with the legacy of white supremacy and the politics of race — neither de Blasio’s agenda nor the Roosevelt Institute’s report spend much time on reforming criminal justice. To their credit, folks from both camps have agreed that this was a mistake and have promised to redress it in the future. Still, it was quite an oversight — and a shame, too, because it justifiably distracted from an agenda and a report that were both chock-full of good ideas.

I wasn’t in the room when de Blasio’s agenda or the Roosevelt Institute’s report were created, but I feel quite confident in saying that the mistake here was not a result of prejudice or thoughtlessness or even conscious timidity. I suspect instead that ingrained habits and knee-jerk reflexes — born from coming of age, at least politically, in the Reagan era — are more likely to blame. Because while the radical left has been talking about and organizing around racial injustices for decades, mainstream American liberalism, the kind of liberalism that is comfortably within the Democratic Party mainstream, is much less familiar with explicitly integrating race into its broader vision.

Let me try to put some meat on those bones with a concrete example also taken from earlier in the week. On Tuesday, President Obama joined the Washington Post’s E. J. Dionne, the American Enterprise Institute’s Arthur Brooks, and Harvard’s Robert Putnam at Georgetown University for a public conversation about poverty. And while you’d expect race to come up — what with the African-American poverty rate being nearly three times that of whites, the African-American unemployment rate being more than two times that of whites, and the African-American median household income being barely more than half that of whites — you would be incorrect. As the Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates noted in response to this strange conversation, “the word ‘racism’ does not appear in the transcript once.”

Again, it strikes me as unlikely that simple bigotry is the reason. A more probable explanation is that mainstream American liberals like Obama and Dionne (Brooks is a conservative and Putnam is not explicitly political) have become so used to tiptoeing around white Americans’ racial anxieties that they cannot stop without a conscious effort. For the past 30-plus years, mainstream liberalism has tried to address racial injustice by focusing on the related but distinct phenomenon of economic injustice. The strategy, as Coates puts it, has been to “talk about class and hope no one notices” the elephant in the room, which is race. And for much of that time, one could at least make a case that the strategy worked.

But as I’ve been hammering on lately in pieces about Hillary Clinton, the ’90s are over. What made political sense in 1996 doesn’t make nearly as much sense today. Like the Democratic Party coalition, the country is not as white as it used to be. And the young Americans whose backing liberals will need to push the Democrats and the country to the left are the primary reason. If it was always true that the progressive movement could not afford to take the support of non-white Americans for granted, it’s exponentially more true now, when the energy and vitality of the progressive movement is so overwhelmingly the product of social movements — like the Fight for $15 or #BlackLivesMatter — driven by people of color.

As Hillary Clinton seems to understand, a key component of smart politics is to meet your voters and your activists where they are, rather than where history or the conventional wisdom tells you they should be. For the broader progressive movement, that means shaking off the learned habits of the recent past — and, more specifically, overcoming the fear that talking forthrightly about unavoidably racial problems, like mass incarceration, will scare away too many white voters to win. Economic and racial injustice have always been seamlessly interconnected in America; but as leading progressives learned this week, the time when liberals could talk about class but whisper about race is coming to an end.

 

By: Elias Isquith, Salon, May 16, 2015

May 18, 2015 Posted by | Bill de Blasio, Democrats, Racism | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Die Is Cast”: The NYPD Is Running An Unethical Experiment On New Yorkers; Let’s See What Happens

Scientific knowledge sometimes isn’t worth the ethical cost. For example, when it was first suspected that smoking causes lung cancer, a strong way to test the theory would have been to take a bunch of babies, expose half to lots of cigarette smoke for decades, and see what happened. That would have resulted in valuable evidence but obviously would have come at too high an ethical cost.

The New York Police Department is apparently not moved by these sorts of considerations. Enraged by the murder of two police officers, which has been ludicrously blamed on Mayor Bill de Blasio, the city’s finest have been conducting a work slowdown in protest. (The official line is that there is no coordinated slowdown, but the numbers don’t lie.)

It’s unclear what the motivation is behind the slowdown. There are three possibilities. First, the NYPD hopes that reduced policing will spark a crime spree, leading the public to turn on de Blasio. Second, the force is cutting back on ticketing to hit the city government in the wallet. Or third, it is a visceral lashing out at a city that isn’t providing the unquestioning, worshipful deference the cops apparently think they deserve at all times.

None of these are mutually exclusive, of course. I’d put some weight on all three, with the bulk of it on the last one. In any case, it’s a seriously unethical experiment on the citizens of New York. How much policing does the city really need? We’re about to get an answer, whether we like it or not.

The New York Times has compiled some interesting data on the reduction in policing activity. Just about every category of law enforcement is down from this time last year. Subway policing has basically stopped altogether. Arrests and citations for minor offenses (parking tickets and the like) have fallen by 90 percent or more. Arrests for violent crime are down by a small amount and appear to be returning to normal. But only detective bureau arrests have returned to their previous level, after a sharp reduction last week.

It’s probably fair to say that after a week of genuinely risking public safety, the NYPD is beginning to think better of its rash behavior and is scaling back the slowdown on violent crime.

Still, crime of any kind barely budged, either last week or this week. This suggests that the NYPD is not the only thing standing between New York and a blighted dystopian hellscape.

It casts more serious doubt on the “Broken Windows” theory, beloved of police departments and city governments in New York and across the nation. This idea holds that the way to reduce serious crime is to crack down on minor offenses. For two weeks running, minor offenses have gone essentially unpunished. The result? Bupkis.

This is not dispositive proof, of course. There are dozens of potential confounding factors, and the situation is changing daily. In particular, two weeks may just be too short a time for crime to take root. But when it comes to policing, experiments of any kind are rare. Undoubtedly, experts will be sifting the resulting data in the ensuing months, and whatever conclusions they draw should get wide attention.

Finally, there’s the issue of government funding. New York City took in $890 million from fines and tickets in fiscal year 2014, out of an overall budget of $70 billion. That’s a fairly small fraction of the total, especially compared with the brutally oppressive little municipalities surrounding St. Louis that run mostly on fines. However, it’s still true that unnecessary fines are perhaps the worst of all possible sources of government revenue, since they tend to disproportionately come from heavily policed poor and minority communities. If these tickets aren’t actually necessary for public safety, or are just a way to extract money from those least able to defend themselves, then New York ought to be finding that money elsewhere.

No ethicist could have signed off on this experiment. But the die is cast. We might as well glean what lessons we can.

 

By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, January 8, 2015

January 12, 2015 Posted by | Bill de Blasio, NYPD, Public Safety | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Enough”: The NYPD’s Dangerous, Disgraceful Game

Over two weeks of foot-stomping is enough, don’t you think?

On second thought, maybe that was already far too much.

Of course, I’m talking about the overwrought indignation roiling the New York Police Department since the horrific murder of Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu by a deranged psychopath on Dec. 20.

But first, a concession.

It’s been a tough several months for the police. Their work is often dangerous — sometimes intensely so, requiring heroic acts of valor that go far beyond what the rest of us will ever be called to do in our jobs. They deserve our respect and gratitude for risking their lives and well-being to ensure public safety. Police officers usually receive a decent wage and pension, but they aren’t rich. A significant part of their compensation comes from the honor, deference, and respect they are shown by elected officials and the public at large. It feels good to wear a uniform and carry a weapon, especially when unarmed civilians respond with admiration to both.

That’s the main reason why things have been so tense in the months since the unarmed Michael Brown was gunned down by Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. For the first time in decades, the police have come in for widespread, sometimes harsh public criticism. That criticism got harsher after the non-indictment of Wilson — and it got exponentially worse after a grand jury in Staten Island failed to indict the cop who strangled the unarmed Eric Garner to death in a separate incident.

After weeks of loud and angry protests, with large numbers of law-abiding citizens (including some politicians, and myself) raising tough questions about whether cops are shown too much deference in our culture and legal system, tension were running high. Which is why the cold-blooded murder of officers Ramos and Liu was especially shocking. When news of the shooting first broke, it was perfectly understandable for cops to wonder in their grief and fear if it had now become open season on the police.

What is not understandable — or justifiable — is for officers days later to show outright and repeated disrespect to New York Mayor Bill de Blasio by turning their backs on him at public events. Or for them to engage in a dramatic two-weeks-and-running work slowdown that has led to a 50 percent drop in arrests, and a 90 percent decline in parking and traffic tickets, from the same period a year ago.

Such actions are unjustifiable for several reasons.

First, because Ismaaiyl Brinsley, who gunned down Ramos and Liu after shooting his girlfriend and before killing himself, was a lunatic. His crime was not an act of politics; it was an act of madness, however he may have rationalized it to himself in the midst of his homicidal-suicidal rage. In case there is any doubt of this, we have the additional fact that no one in the protest movement views Brinsley as a hero advancing its aims. Far from it. The expressions of anguish, outrage, and disgust at the shooting have been nearly universal and entirely sincere.

That much is obvious to anyone who’s paying attention.

Which means that the cops who are acting out in counter-protest are either behaving like children throwing an irrational temper tantrum or cynically using a tragedy to forestall public criticism and browbeat protesters into silence.

Either way, their actions are disgraceful.

They’re also dangerous.

Liberal democratic government depends on several norms and institutions, including rights to free speech, worship, and assembly, free and fair elections, private property rights, an independent judiciary — and civilian control of the military. Make no mistake about it: the NYPD — with roughly 35,000 uniformed officers, as well as a well-funded and well-armed counterterrorism bureau — is a modestly sized military force deployed on the streets of the city.

It is absolutely essential, in New York City but also in communities around the country, that citizens and public officials make it at all times unambiguously clear that the police work for us. In repeatedly turning their backs on the man elected mayor by the citizens of New York, in refusing to abide by the police commissioner’s requests to cease their protests, in engaging in a work slowdown that could lead to a breakdown in the public order they are sworn to uphold — with all of these acts, the NYPD has demonstrated that it does not understand that the residents of New York City, and not the members of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association or its demagogic leader Patrick Lynch, are the ones in charge.

When police officers engage in acts of insubordination against civilian leadership, they should expect to be punished. Just like insubordinate soldiers.

The principle of civilian control of the military and police depends on it.

It also depends on cops who kill unarmed citizens being tried in a court of law. And on cops respecting the right of citizens to protest anything they wish, including the failure of the judicial system to hold police officers accountable for their use of deadly force in ambiguous situations.

All of this should be a no-brainer. That it apparently isn’t for many police officers and their apologists in the media is a troubling sign of decay in our civic institutions.

The mourning is over. Respect has been paid to the victims of a senseless act of violence. Now it’s time for the NYPD to go back to acting responsibly — and for the rest of us to continue expressing our justified outrage at the recklessness of bad cops and the prosecutors and jurors who enable them.

 

By: Damon Linker, The Week, January 7, 2015

January 10, 2015 Posted by | Bill de Blasio, NYPD, Public Safety | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Support Your Local Police, Or Else”: A Lot Of Cops Don’t Understand That They Owe Respect To The Citizens They Are Sworn To Protect

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chief of Police William Bratton should do the one thing they would never dare do to fix the attitude of their police force. They should fire a thousand cops.

In the midst of their hissy fit over the mayor’s lack of adoration for the men and women in blue, the cops are refusing to enforce the law. Arrests in New York City are down 66 percent and citations for petty offenses and traffic violations are down 94 percent from the same week a year ago.

In short, the reaction of the New York cops to being told they sometimes do a bad job is to do the job worse.

De Blasio’s sin is failing to fully back the police who killed Eric Garner, an unarmed black man selling cigarettes on a street corner. He had the effrontery to suggest that the people peacefully demonstrating against killing an unarmed man committing a minor crime might have a point. He even said he had to train his own mixed-race son how to deal with police officers so he wouldn’t get killed. He knows his city and his cops.

Even before the assassination of two officers in their car, the police circulated a self-righteous petition saying de Blasio has not given cops the “respect they deserve,” and disinviting the mayor from future police funerals. It says in part that the mayor’s “attendance at the funeral of a fallen New York City police officer is an insult to that officer’s memory and sacrifice.”

The mayor got off wrong with the cops by campaigning for office against the unconstitutional “stop and frisk” policy that had the police bracing an inordinate number of young, black, poor and Latino men randomly on the street. Then came the Eric Garner mess.

Now some police officers actually blame de Blasio for creating an anti-police atmosphere in which two officers were randomly assassinated. At least three times now, New York police officers in uniform have engaged in a political demonstration by turning their backs on the mayor; once in person and twice at the funerals of fellow officers. Chief Bratton, revered as the cop who has turned around policing in America, weakly said it was “inappropriate.” Since when is it merely “inappropriate” to conduct politics in uniform?

The people who carry guns and wear uniforms in the name of public service have to respect and obey civilians and civilian authority or else they are an occupying army. And that’s what everyone demonstrating in the streets of America is complaining about. Too often, the cops act like an occupying army.

Cops demand reverence and special treatment because they claim they “lay their lives on the line” every day protecting the public. They do not. Most police work, like any other job, is routine and boring. No doubt, police officers encounter terrible and dangerous situations that most of us never do, but they aren’t laying their lives on the line every day.

And in some places in America, the cops are the biggest danger innocent civilians face.

Several dozen police officers are killed on the job every year. It’s true and it’s terrible. But the most deadly profession in America is being a lumberjack. More fishermen, aircraft pilots and roofers die on the job every year than cops. Police work is not even among the top ten most dangerous professions.

As a journalist, I’ve seen cops on the job for 35 years. I’ve seen them do great and brave things. I’ve also seen them being mean, arrogant and stupid. I’ve seen cops in Boston beat up demonstrators. I saw the Los Angeles police abandon their city in a riot to prove how necessary they are. I’ve seen cops bully black kids and beat up reporters. More than once I’ve had a cop say to me, “I don’t care what the law says.”

Police officers do not “deserve” respect. Like anyone else in this world, they have to earn it. What a lot of cops don’t understand is that they owe respect… to the citizens they are sworn to protect, and to the civilian leaders they work for.

I’d like to see Bill de Blasio and Chief Bratton walk down a row of New York cops refusing to do their job and poke them in the chest saying, “Yo .. turn in your badge; You, you’re a disgrace. Get out.” Then the cops would have every right to turn their backs on the mayor. And get the hell out of the station house.

 

By: Brian Rooney, The Blog, The Huffington Post, January 5, 2015

January 6, 2015 Posted by | Bill de Blasio, NYPD, Police Abuse | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“No One Here Should Be Turning His Back”: Facing Each Other, Those On Each Side Might Be Surprised By What They See

Whom are police officers turning their backs on when they refuse to face Mayor Bill de Blasio, and whom are they protecting? On the night of Saturday, December 20th, after a man named Ismaaiyl Brinsley shot the officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, execution style, outside of a Bedford-Stuyvesant housing project, a line of officers who’d gathered at the Woodhull Medical Center faced away from the Mayor as he walked passed them. They were mourning and distraught; one might wish that they realized more fully that the city and its mayor were mourning with them, but it was the sort of act of shocked grief that can be forgiven the next day. That was more than a week ago, though. Since then, Patrick Lynch, the head of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, a police union, all but called de Blasio the officers’ killer—he had “blood on his hands.” At Ramos’s funeral, held two days after Christmas, the officers in an overflow crowd outside the church turned their backs on the screen showing de Blasio giving his eulogy. Then, on Monday, at the graduation ceremony for the city’s police academy, members of the audience shouted “Traitor!” when de Blasio spoke, and there was scattered back-turning, though not, apparently, among the newest officers. De Blasio, in a speech that was almost abject, said, “You will confront all the problems that plague our society—problems that you didn’t create.” According to the Times, “a heckler yelled out ‘You did!’ and drew applause.”

But what, exactly, did de Blasio do? What was his “betrayal,” to borrow another of Lynch’s bitter phrases? After a grand jury failed to indict anyone in the death of Eric Garner, even though a video showed an officer putting him in what, by the N.Y.P.D.’s own rules, was an impermissible chokehold, de Blasio said that many in the city “did not want” that outcome. But he was less than explicit about what he wished, other than for any protests to be peaceful and, more generally, to not have to worry about how the police might deal with a child like his son Dante. Perhaps a fantasy mayor would have come out smiling following the news of the grand jury and presented it as a vindication. But what or whom would have been defended with a gesture like that? How would the city have been served by what whole communities would have experienced as scorn? (The Mayor may be the target here, but the message that members of the police will turn their backs on those who criticize them, excluding them from a circle of protection, is broad and unhelpful.) De Blasio promised, in his campaign, to do away with the N.Y.P.D.’s stop-and-frisk policies. A court case had already given him and the city good reason. Voters agreed, a source of tense confrontations was removed, and, in the year since, crime has fallen. He reacted defensively to criticism of his wife’s chief of staff, who, among other problems, had a boyfriend with a criminal record. Yet, at the same time, he brought in Bill Bratton, hardly a flaming radical, as his police commissioner.

Creating a space for peaceful, lawful protests is not what killed Ramos and Liu. The murderer was Brinsley, a lifetime petty criminal who didn’t even live in New York. Hours before the killings, he was in an apartment in Baltimore, pointing a gun at his girlfriend, Shaneka Thompson. He shot her in the abdomen; she survived, and he fled to Brooklyn. He posted an Instagram message saying “I’m putting wings on pigs today. They take 1 of ours … let’s take 2 of theirs.” At that point, he had already come close to putting “wings on” Shaneka Thompson, and any police officer in the country would have had good reason to arrest him in defense of a young, black woman. Brinsley added a “shootthepolice” hashtag and ones about Garner and Michael Brown; after news of the shooting, those words, his would-be excuses, were seen as explosive. They only are, though, if someone like Brinsley gets to decide what is “ours” and what is “theirs”—and who the us in “let’s” is. And he doesn’t. Ramos and Liu were ours; claiming them has nothing to do with race. Brinsley was nobody’s.

There is clearly anger toward de Blasio within the police force, as well as heartfelt dislike. It may be the legitimate result of a thousand acts of clumsiness and cultural blindness on the Mayor’s part. No matter the statistics, officers like Ramos and Liu, or Russel Timoshenko and Herman Yan, put their lives on the line. De Blasio is the mayor, and it is his job to form connections with people who have one of the hardest, most dangerous jobs in the city. Clearly he can do better, but it is also clear that he is trying. The police may feel left out, or that people don’t understand the hard work they have done—that new residents born in distant, safer places think they are the ones who’ve transformed Bushwick or Bed-Stuy, as if a peaceful city requires only artful curators, not custodians. For members of the police, suddenly places they didn’t want to patrol are places they can hardly afford to live on an officer’s salary. Their dismay may be understandable. But it should not be enraging. New York is a much safer city than it used to be, and that requires an adjustment by police officers, too. This may be where the N.Y.P.D.’s own leadership has failed. The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association recently put a message on its Web site saying “Don’t let them insult your sacrifice!” It linked to a document that officers could sign asking de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito not to come to their funerals if they are killed in the line of duty, saying that it would be an “insult” due to their “consistent refusal to show police officers the support and respect they deserve.” The statement is not a request to remove politics from funerals, but rather an effort to politicize them.

De Blasio did go to Ramos’s funeral—the insult would have been if he hadn’t. He spoke about Ramos’s love for his wife, Maritza (“the love of his life and the partner in all things”), and his sons, Justin and Jaden (“they are Mets fans. God bless them. And he loved playing basketball with his sons in Highland Park”). He added a few words in Spanish (“era un padre y esposo amoroso, un hombre de mucha fe”). Officer Ramos was studying to be a pastor, and Vice-President Joseph Biden, who also spoke at the funeral, said that he “didn’t just have a Bible in his locker; he lived it in his heart.” Wenjian Liu will be buried this coming weekend (the services were delayed to allow relatives to get here from China; that these two men are the ones Brinsley found randomly is a reflection of the N.Y.P.D.’s real diversity, as well as the city’s). Many of the officers outside were not New Yorkers; they had come from California, the United Kingdom, and places in between, and so it is hard to say what they knew about de Blasio when they made their act of protest, or what they knew about this city. They might answer that they knew what they needed to about being cops, and, sometimes, about being alone. That would be better expressed by moving toward people—the officers’ families, the communities they live in, even the Mayor—rather than showing their backs. The same could undoubtedly be said of some of those in the crowds that protested the grand jury’s verdict. Facing each other, those on each side might be surprised by what they see. The time for turning away is over.

 

By: Amy Davidson, The New Yorker, December 30, 2014

January 5, 2015 Posted by | Bill de Blasio, Law Enforcement, NYPD | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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