JFREJ Weekly News Round Up
Be sure to follow JFREJ's tumblr for weekly news reports. Here are the latest rounds!
A Journey Is Made Of Steps
A couple of piece of good news have come recently in the efforts to curtail the NYPD’s harsh and racist law enforcement regime.
Mayor Bill de Blasio kept his promise to drop the appeal to the landmark stop-and-frisk class action, Floyd v. the City of New York. Judge Shira Scheindlin’s ruling therefore stands – that the NYPD conducted an unconstitutional and racially discriminatory policy on a widespread basis, and now must take steps to remedy the problem. In a statement, Communities United for Police Reform applauded the agreement, noting that “Developing and implementing meaningful, lasting reforms will require that New Yorkers impacted by stop-and-frisk abuses have significant and formalized roles – in the collaborative process that brings together various stakeholders to identify solutions, as well as in regular evaluation of compliance with agreed upon reforms.”
Less prominently, U.S. District Judge Charles Haight, Jr., declared that there was a “manifest” need for New York City to hand over documents from the NYPD’s surveillance of Muslims. That program, which goes way beyond the NYPD’s jurisdiction, is intended, according to the NYPD, to prevent terrorism perpetrated by “Islamist radicalized to violence.” Judge Haight’s order compels the city to turn over documents, but exactly how it must produce them remains unclear, as does the number of documents that will have to come to light.
While both of these represent steps toward our goals, we are reminded that dropping an appeal or ordering the release of a cache of information are not solutions. Further action will be needed from the government, and further action will need to come from us.
The story of an unnamed Muslim woman in Saddly Brook, NJ illustrates the need for deep cultural work, in addition to legal reforms. Her boss at Paradigm Packaging Inc., where she works on the factory floor producing plastic bottles for vitamins and medicine, informed her that she would be fired for violating safety regulations if she did not remove her headscarf. According to Khurrum Ali, the Civil Rights Director of the NJ chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, “It has been our experience that legitimate safety concerns can easily be addressed, while at the same time providing the reasonable religious accommodations that must be offered by all employers.”
Indeed, a head scarf poses no public safety threat on the job. Confiscating one is another expression (and reinforcement) of the racist conflation of Muslims with terrorists, the insistence on white cultural dominance, and the reservation of the right to humiliate and exploit immigrants.
There is much work to be done, so we must appreciate the encouraging legal developments along the way. They may seem like small steps, but that’s what a long march is made up of: steps.
Marjorie Dove Kent
Jews for Racial & Economic Justice
It Will Take More than Replacing Kelly to Fix the NYPD
The departure of one repressive NYPD bureaucrat does not mean the end of a repressive system.
Ray Kelly’s departure does not mean that Bill de Blasio and the newly progressive New York City government have solved the NYPD’s problems. The racist and harsh policing we’ve come to expect from the NYPD is, after all, not a byproduct of Kelly’s particular tenure as commissioner, but the result of decades of institutional conditioning and bad social theory, cultivated all around the country by law enforcement elites like Kelly and his replacement, Bill Bratton.
Kelly, Bratton, and their ilk were part of the revolution in policing precipitated by the 1982 publication of “Broken Windows,” in the Atlantic. In it, George Kelling and George Wilson argued that clamping down on minor quality of life crimes like vandalism and graffiti would help prevent more serious and violent crimes. Bill de Blasio, in the days before winning the Democratic Primary, told reporters that he “does believe in the core notions of the broken windows theory.”
In practice, “broken windows” has had nothing like the life-improving effects its proponents predicted. Rather, it has meant “criminalizing poverty” in the words of Alyssa Aguilera, political director for VOCAL-NY. “The tenuous logic linking crime prevention and broken windows policing tactics, more accurately described as zero-tolerance policing, is both misaligned with the reality in New York City today and incredibly biased against low-income communities of color,” she said in a statement.
It is therefore very troubling that Commissioner Bratton is set to bring on Kelling, one of the authors of “Broken Windows” as a consultant. This suggests that not only hasn’t there been a change in policy or thinking at One Police Plaza, but even the personnel changes have been superficial almost to meaningless.
We recently got a particularly grisly example of the dangers of exerting excessive police force on minor offenses when cops beat an 84-year-old jaywalker who could not understand the police’s English instructions. How this sort of thing is supposed to improve anyone’s quality of life is as mystifying as Mayor de Blasio’s assessment that the jaywalking crackdown behind the beating is “appropriate.”
The way to improve people’s quality of life is to make sure they have the resources they need to flourish, not to subject them to surveillance, harassment, jail, and violence. The economic program de Blasio articulated on the campaign trail suggests he knows this, which makes the direction his NYPD is taking early on even more frustrating.
Meanwhile, the Justice Department is expanding its definition of racial profiling “to prohibit federal agents from considering religion, national origin, gender and sexual orientation in their investigations.” This victory is rare from a federal government whose mass surveillance, data collecting, and harsh law enforcement have been among the major stories of the last year.
So we find ourselves in a peculiar position: the Feds, renowned for their harshness, are prohibiting official profiling while NYC’s progressive mayor is busy elevating the personnel and codifying the policies responsible for the worst law enforcement excesses. Whatever else can be said, Bill de Blasio’s government should be doing at least as well as federal agencies at dismantling racist policing.
Marjorie Dove Kent
Jews for Racial & Economic Justice
This is the Year for Pressure
A new year begins with great challenges – and great opportunities.
For the last 24 years, JFREJ and our allies have been up against city governments ignoring our cries and unfriendly to our missions. The Giuliani-Bloomberg militarization of the New York Police Department combined with the dramatic post-9/11 rise in Islamophobia to impose a hostile atmosphere on millions of New Yorkers. At the same time, New York’s wealthiest residents have accumulated evermore wealth while working people have grown evermore precarious, perhaps most visibly among the city’s invisible domestic workers.
But the political reality in New York City is different now. As the most progressive slate in decades assumes the reigns of the city government, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ) harbors great hope that our three campaigns will advance in the coming months and years. We know it will not be easy to advance our causes against opposition from some of the most powerful adversaries there are, but, for the first time in over 20 years, we know that it is possible.
First, as regards our Fighting Islamophobia work, Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio campaigned, in the face of opposition from Pamela Geller and her crowd of anti-Muslim bigots, for a more inclusive city, where public schools could close to observe Muslim holidays and Muslims would not have to live in fear of an intrusive surveillance regime. Hopeful as we are, we know that the city government is not the chief purveyor of Islamophobia and that creating a truly openhearted city will require a great cultural and social effort on the part of JFREJ and our allies.
In some ways, our Police Accountability campaign is gaining traction: we have a mayor who campaigned on curtailing stop and frisk and a City Council Progressive Caucus, which was responsible for overturning Mayor Bloomberg’s veto of the Community Safety Act, that has grown in size and propelled Melissa Mark-Viverito, one of its own, to succeed Christine Quinn as Speaker. At the same time, we are wary of Ray Kelly’s continuing leadership role in the surveillance and security state and the elevation of Bill Bratton, a man with a long history of devising and advocating some of the most objectionable policing policies and methods, to head the NYPD. If the new commissioner is to transcend his reputation and successfully implement the new mayor’s stated goals, we will need to continue to be vocal and militant in defense of a vision of justice that lifts the crushing force of harsh policing from New York’s communities of color and provides all New Yorkers with the opportunity to flourish.
Lastly, our Shalom Bayit: Justice for Domestic Workers campaign, which focuses on promoting workers’ rights tojust and respectful working conditions and the rights of elders and people with disabilities to quality care, continues to develop in exciting ways, internally and on the political front. The new government’s closest institutional allies include 1199/SEIU, which has been a strong local partner in our movement for domestic worker rights, and the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA), whose work to keep hospitals open for care propelled de Blasio’s campaign (and landed the candidate in jail). Meanwhile, with each successive campaign event, our work anchoring the Caring Across Generations campaign here in New York continues to strengthen our community coalition.
If the signs are hopeful, we can be confident that the entrenched interests opposing our work will be fighting like they mean it to protect the status quo. If the incoming government and the larger progressive moment are to overcome these interests and make big policy changes that result in justice and equity, it will be because of the activist engagement of people like us.
Let’s use our hands first to applaud our new political opportunities and then to roll up our sleeves and get to work.
Marjorie Dove Kent
Jews for Racial & Economic Justice