With the Derek Chauvin police trial going on, another shooting of an unarmed Black man in Minnesota and video of a Black Army lieutenant being brutalized by police in Virginia, policing is a front-and-center issue in Black America.
In the city, candidates vying to be the next mayor or city council members are using the issue to attract Black voters. When choosing a candidate, the names of police killing victims Eric Garner, Sean Bell, Ramarley Graham and Amadou Diallo are on the minds of Black voters looking for someone to solve the problem.
However, policing for Blacks in New York City goes beyond the names and high-profile cases seen in the media. They play out every day for those having negative interactions with law enforcement that don’t get publicized or recorded on video.
A survey conducted by the African American Research Collaborative, the NAACP and the Vera Institute of Justice last November shows that discrimination and racial justice were the second most important issues to Black voters after the COVID-19 pandemic. Last month, an Ipsos survey revealed that nearly 60% of Black Americans support police reform..
Advocates say specific remedies for the next mayor and city council for police include an independent prosecutor for the NYPD, an elected Civilian Complaint Review Board and residency laws requiring officers to live in the neighborhoods they police. The first test for any mayor on how they handle law enforcement usually arises when there’s a deadly incident on an unarmed civilian.
“During the pandemic, people have had a really sharp understanding of where government funding is going and they aren’t seeing it go into education, healthcare or housing but they are seeing lots of police in their neighborhood,” Anthonine Pierre, a spokesperson for Communities United for Police Reform told the AmNews. “The bottom line is that if a candidate has a great plan for police reform you don’t have to convince anyone of it. A great plan for police reform includes what people have been asking for for all of these years.”
The next mayor of New York City will have the power to appoint the city’s next NYPD commissioner and lay out the tone for law enforcement. Some candidates are already using policing to resonate and secure Black votes.
A political ad released by mayoral candidate Ray McGurie features Eric Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, weeping and discussing her support for McGuire’s police reform plan. Mayoral candidate Dianne Morales announced this week that Garner’s daughter, Emerald Snipes, is joining her campaign to connect with Black voters impacted by policing. Former police officer and mayoral candidate Eric Adams is pulling from his own background in law enforcement to make his case for change.
In an interview with the AmNews, Brooklyn Assembly Member Charles Barron said for Black voters, the issue of policing is a double-edged sword: crime in the community and crime by police. He says when connecting with Black voters about the issue of policing, history is everything.
“We don’t want to hear your campaign talk now,” Barron said. “What have you done in the past to address this issue? Don’t give us all of your empty rhetoric now because you want to get elected. Will you support holding police officers to the utmost consequences when they are discourteous and brutalize us unjustifiably? Where have you been on the issue and will you support a radical systemic change of the policing system so that the Black community has control over the personnel and the policies.”
Former NYPD officer Marq Claxton of the Black Law Enforcement Alliance says that Black voters are thinking about their individual safety and their constitutional rights being protected. He told the AmNews that an effective mayor will set a tone of intolerance for criminal activity and defend the rights of people.
“A good mayor in New York will have to understand the racial and economic complexities and incorporate that into whatever strategy that their police department will engage in,” Claxton said. “A lot of campaigning is about philosophy and hopes and dreams as opposed to actual plans. If you end up with a person who is aspirational and says all the right things, that person can’t implement the plan. The most effective leader will go beyond talking about it, lay out a plan, then––on day one––start implementing that plan.”
The words “police reform” are used heavily by all candidates and Black voters are looking for it to become reality on the streets. Many are skeptical that it will actually happen and fear “voters’ remorse” supporting a candidate promising changes and later realize nothing was done.
CEO and founder of anti-violence organization Street Corner Resources in Harlem, Iesha Sekou, said that services are needed to keep youth out of trouble and prevent negative interactions with police. She’s met with several candidates running for mayor and city council and says what she’s looking for is what’s going to trickle down to the community and how fast.
“We’re going to need for whoever takes these seats to be ready with a plan and take that plan and implement it,” Sekou told the AmNews. “Implementation is key. Not having a plan and you have to wait a year or six months. We have to be able to implement particularly where violence and safety is concerned. Whoever is running needs to hear the voices of people in the community, particularly talking to young people who are usually the ones most victimized and brutalized by the police.”
Fairness is another issue Black voters think about when it comes to policing. The “tale of two cities” also applies to treatment, many Black residents feel. According to a 2020 Gallup poll, 41% of Black Americans say their encounters with law enforcement were not positive. In a 2019 Pew Research Center survey, 84% of Black adults said that Blacks are generally treated less fairly by police than whites.
A.T. Mitchell runs Brooklyn-based community organization Man Up! Inc. and says the next mayor should appoint a Black police commissioner who can empathize with the Black community.
“We want to make sure there’s not a plan that is produced that says go into neighborhoods and lock up Black boys,” Mitchell said. “We want to make sure our youth can also walk these streets freely without prejudice and stereotypes. Whoever is our next mayor must be totally understanding of this fact. We want the same thing everybody else wants. We want to be treated with respect. Our vote counts and we want to be able to know there’s fair treatment under the law.”