It appeared that victories in the struggle against the New York Police Department were being achieved prior to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s election and Bill Bratton’s appointment as NYPD chief. Organizations relentlessly fought against then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg and then-NYPD chief Ray Kelly, who they knew were champions of racist policing, such as stop and frisk. But then de Blasio and Bratton are now in control and it seems like major organizations pushing for reforms have decided to give them both space to advance their own agendas because of a belief that they may be on their side.
Josmar Trujillo, a writer and activist who organizes with New Yorkers Against Bratton, is this week’s guest on the “Unauthorized Disclosure” podcast. He talks to Rania Khalek and me about what it has been like to organize in the veal pen of Democratic Party politics. He recounts a militarized police raid that took place in Harlem recently against alleged gang members where over 100 people were arrested. Trujillo also describes the record of Bratton not just in New York but other cities and the world and explains why he believes Bratton can be no friend to New Yorkers pushing for police reform.
Following Trujillo’s interview, we discuss the crisis of immigrant children crossing the US-Mexico border and the escalating conflict in Iraq. Khalek also recounts what happened at a Ta-Nehisi Coates moderated by Jeffrey Goldberg in which she asked a question about his ideas on reparations for slavery. Coates deflected and Goldberg chose to mock her in front of an audience at Sixth & I in Washington, DC.
The podcast is now available on iTunes for download. For a direct link (and direct download), go here. And, below is a player for listening to the podcast without getting it from iTunes:
In west Harlem during the first week of June, the “biggest gang raid in the city’s history happened,” according to Trujillo. Alleged gang members, mostly blacks and Latinos who ranged in age from fifteen years-old to their early twenties, were rounded up. They were charged with offenses like murder and conspiracy to murder all in connection to two shootings.
Some of these alleged gang members were already being held in Rikers prison, some were in the housing projects. Trujillo says the police built cases using Facebook posts and YouTube videos as part of a program called “Operation Crew Cut.”
Harlem residents “raised concerns that half of these people weren’t gang members, if that.” Also, “They are being charged with complex conspiracy charges and most of them don’t have any kind of decent legal representation.”
“It was a militarized raid with helicopters” and the “SWAT team,” Trujillo notes. It was “very, very much like a shock and awe kind of operation.” Residents were thrown to the ground and handcuffed. It had a quality to it that was similar to special operations forces conducting a night raid in Afghanistan or Iraq.
In regards to Bratton, who was previously New York police chief in the 1990s, Trujillo highlights how he immediately protested Bratton with families of victims of NYPD killings that occurred when Bratton was previously police chief.
Trujillo and others confronted progressive City Council members in New York and asked why they were “being given Bill Bratton when we just spent years in the streets fighting for reform.”
“This guy is the epitome of everything we’ve fought against,” Trujillo declares. “People refer to him as the architect of stop and frisk because his policing philosophy and the advent CompStat, which is a way to track crime, were in many people’s eyes a precursor to stop and frisk.”
A number of organizations that had organized for reform under Bloomberg and Kelly, Trujillo adds, had no strategy when Bratton became police chief. They lacked “political will” to keep up the struggle “because now there was a progressive mayor.”
“This is what people might associate with an Obama effect, which is people on the left, activists who are kind of pacified or want to give an extra little chance or want to wait and see and be cautiously optimistic, when there is a ‘progressive Democrat’ in office.”
A term popularized by Firedoglake editor-in-chief Jane Hamsher—veal pen—is often used to describe this phenomenon. It takes every ounce of energy and numerous resources to convince left-leaning groups to get out of the veal pen and keep fighting, as Democrats water down or give up on reform.
It happened with health care. It happened with the Iraq War. And Trujillo makes a convincing argument that it is happening now in the fight against some of the NYPD’s worst policies.