Bratton should check his privilege

Tamika Mallory | 7/14/2016, 4:15 p.m.
Commissioner Bratton has developed a knack for talking about improving police-community relations out of one side of his mouth and ...
Comissioner Bratton Contributed

Tamika Mallory

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Tamika Mallory

Commissioner Bratton has developed a knack for talking about improving police-community relations out of one side of his mouth and then opening chasms between him and New York’s communities of color on the other. His Sunday interview on WABC Radio was, therefore, as unsurprising as it was disappointing and inaccurate.

Bratton’s job is to ensure New York City has a strong, effective police department. It is not his job to offer his uninformed perspective about exactly how a victimized people should respond to their oppression. In a display of uncritical white privilege, Commissioner Bratton advised people of color to quiet down and rely on the system. Yes, Commissioner, no one ever thought to try going to a police precinct community council meeting, as you suggest! Thank you for showing us the way to make YOUR department more accountable when officers brutalize and kill black men and women.

Not only did Bratton offer this patronizing advice, he glorified strategies used by historic civil rights organizations, like the NAACP, without acknowledging that members of these historic organizations are also in the streets, yelling and screaming “Black Lives Matter.” I’ve also seen protests include elected officials, police officers, business professionals and many others. We are using all the strategies available to us. When we took our frustration to the polls in 2013, we elected a Mayor who ultimately hired Commissioner Bratton.

As a public servant who has been charged with addressing the concerns of all citizens in this city, at the very least we might expect Bratton to be informed on what “Black Lives Matter” is and how it relates to protests. For all those who may have missed it, including the Commissioner, allow me to share some information. There is an organization, called Black Lives Matter, and it is led by three strong, queer, black women and has chapters across the nation. There are also millions of people who are in the streets making the statement “Black Lives Matter” and every black person in America--along with our allies--are leaders making that statement. Either way, the movement for black lives is not “leaderless”, it is leader-FULL.

Perhaps it is overly generous to attribute Commissioner Bratton’s statements on Sunday to blind privilege. A few weeks ago, Bratton displayed a more aggressive mischaracterization of black culture when he responded to a shooting during a T.I. concert by saying rap artists are a bunch of “thugs.” His willingness to vilify and reduce hip hop artists into a gross stereotype demonstrates not just a lack of leadership given his position, but a lack of respect for the black community as a whole.

In all of this, it remains unclear why Mayor de Blasio continues to support Commissioner Bratton despite repeated indications of his bias. Yet the Mayor is hardly doing a better job himself, as he time and time again tells protesters to show respect for police while not doing nearly enough to enforce accountability throughout the department. Case in point, when will Daniel Pantaleo be fired for choking Eric Garner to death? When will the NYPD fire the officers involved in the killing of Ramarley Graham in front of his six-year-old brother and elderly grandmother? Lastly, when will the Mayor acknowledge the ‘NYPD 12’ whistleblowers, who are calling out the racist quota system used by the department? As long as Mayor de Blasio continues to unconditionally support Commissioner Bratton, the ‘tale of two cities’ will remain unchallenged. As a person who supported the Mayor during his candidacy, I must ask, what does he want the legacy of his administration to be? And, if protesters are to hug police officers, as he suggests, who will hug us?

The Commissioner’s statements are not only unacceptable, but are a divisive strategy used to demonize movements throughout history. We don’t need him to tell us how to organize protests. We need him to keep cops from brutalizing black people. Until somebody in City Hall or One Police Plaza holds police officers accountable for executing state-sanctioned violence against black bodies, groups like the one I work with, Justice League NYC, will continue to vote + attend meetings + engage in dialogue--and also yell and scream that “Black Lives Matter” and injustice will not go unnoticed.