Just a few days ago millions of mothers celebrated Mother’s Day. For far too many Black mothers, the holiday was filled with sadness and despair. Just thinking about the mother of Ahmaud Arbery, a young Black man hunted down by white men in his neighborhood while jogging and killed in cold blood, makes my heart ache thinking of her passing her days without her son. This country’s insidious racist roots are rising above ground and strangling far too many Black men and women’s hopes and dreams. Until we are honest about the anti-Black core of this nation, we will not be able to have substantive conversations to combat this cancer that has afflicted our nation since its earliest days.
Even in New York City, we see far too many examples of racist policies affecting the life chances of Black residents in the city. The NYPD cannot seem to see Black New Yorkers as equal residents and worthy of the same respect as their white counterparts.
Mayor Bill de Blasio was elected in 2013 on a wave of support due to his stance on ending the practice of stop, question, and frisk. He even evoked his Black son as the foundation of his beliefs in policing. Sadly, it is 2020 and Black New Yorkers are still seeing justice and respect being doled out differently for Black and white New Yorkers.
Take the recent exposé which indicated that of the 40 New Yorkers arrested for failing to comply with social distancing orders, 35 of those arrested were Black New Yorkers. This reveal came on the heels of story after story showing white New Yorkers lounging shoulder to shoulder sunbathing in parks across the five boroughs. Many of those photos included pictures of NYPD officers handing out masks and treating those white New Yorkers with respect and courtesy. Contrasting these images were the viral images of NYPD officers beating and attacking Black and Latinx New Yorkers in parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn.
In a time of crisis New Yorkers are looking for leadership. New Yorkers are looking to be seen and heard. After each disturbing video, Mayor de Blasio says he will look into it, speak to his police commissioner, and right the ship. But when? There is a racial problem in the NYPD and it is historical, institutional, and part of the culture. Something must change and the mayor must stop fearing his own police force and make some substantive changes in his final months in office.
So many New Yorkers (and people of color living in America) know there are two sets of rules and two sets of justice in this city and country. However, the mayor must provide some real leadership these last months in office to move the needle on racial and police equity…as promised.
Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Fordham University, political editor at The Grio, the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream,” and the co-host of the podcast FAQ-NYC.