In 2022, millions of New Yorkers are looking at a streamline of Black leadership in their political landscape, from their councilmember to the mayor. After years of racial injustice, unequal treatment and inequities of city resources, many are hoping the Black political alignment could bring change.
“It’s about policy, not personality,” said Assemblyman Charles Barron. “We have long been aware that having a Black face in a high places doesn’t mean Black power or self-determination. We don’t need a change in complexion, we need a change in direction.”
Depending on where they live, many New York City residents will have a Black city councilmember, Black borough president, Black district attorney, leading up to the universal Black public advocate and mayor.
Mayor-elect Eric Adams, the 22-year NYPD vet, the co-founder of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement, the former state senator and current Brooklyn borough president, told the Amsterdam News, “If ever there’s a time to deal with the inequalities on the city level, and the state level, now is the time.
“You have Letitia James as the AG, Jumaane Williams as the public advocate, Eric Adams as the mayor, Hakeem Jeffries is in leadership, Greg Meeks is dealing with international foreign affairs committee, you have Carl Hastings handling the lead in the assembly, Andrea Stewart Cousins is the leader in the Senate. As you look it is clear that we are in positions of power, it’s imperative that we utilize them correctly.”
What about the grandfathered-in status quo?
“I believe we should expect changes, short-term, mid-term, and long-term changes, because resources are coming from the federal and state level that can really put in place some real systemic changes. I think if we do some things around education, around employment, we can make a major impact in our city.”
At the state level, Blacks hold leadership positions in the Senate, Assembly, as attorney general and lieutenant governor. With several candidates already announcing gubernatorial runs, New York State could elect a Black governor in 2022. Nationally, a Black woman is currently sitting as America’s vice president.
The local politicians are promising a “new day” for New York City as the Big Apple continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and press forward from America’s 2020 racial reckoning after the police killing of George Floyd.
“Tomorrow’s going to be a new day in New York City, the day when every member of our community has the support they need to thrive,” Mayor-elect Eric Adams said the day before winning the general election. “My dreams came true here, and as mayor, I’ll fight for your dreams, too.”
Next week will mark 15 years since the police murder of Sean Bell. Bell was among three men who were riddled with bullets after cops fired 50 rounds into their vehicles assuming they were perpetrators on the way to kill someone they had beef with. According to the NYPD, the strip club that Bell attended as part of his bachelor party (he was slated to be married the next day) was a den of drugs and crime.
Activists called the incident racially motivated. Others said it had nothing to do with race and didn’t believe that Bell’s killing was an actual murder. There are also the deaths of Mohammed Bah and Eric Garner, whose mothers are still seeking justice
Despite all of this, despite the new mayor’s background and despite the support from more conservative outlets, some in law enforcement believe that Adams has the ability to toe the line between serving the community and satisfying law enforcement.
Marquez Claxton, of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, said that putting policies into practice is up to the incoming mayor. Considering his background, Adams believes that this should be relatively easy.
“The involvement of directly impacted parties in the process of creating a mayoral administration is consistent with Mayor-elect Adams’ pledge to embrace the diversity in philosophy, culture and socio-political priorities,” stated Claxton. “These organizations and individuals are investors in the city and have skin in the game.”
New York State Sen. Jamaal Bailey said that the concept of “skin in the game” is the right word to use. The more people with experiences in Adams’ ear, the better.
“I think that he has tapped the number of individuals who have a wealth of experience and a number of in a variety of areas that will take that we’re going to need in our city,” said Bailey. “I don’t know about, I don’t know about the conflict. So much as it is just simply different. Different agendas.”
Kyle Bragg, president of 32BJ, said that he hopes that Adams’ experiences with both sides of the law will come into play and not his experiences with one side of the law.
“One important reason working New Yorkers like our members supported Mayor-elect Adams is because they understand that his long-standing personal and professional experiences with the city’s police have shaped him deeply,” said Bragg. “And they know this experience will help him balance New Yorkers’ desire to feel secure in their neighborhoods with holding police accountable to those they serve.”
“We do not need the policy of police containment and turning our community into a police state which feeds the prison industrial complex. It is unconscionable,” said Assemblyman Barron.
“Whenever you have Giuliani say the election of a person means that the city is going in the right direction, we know that we are not. We have long been aware that having a Black face in high places doesn’t mean Black power or self-determination. We don’t need a change in complexion, we need a change in direction. We don’t need plantation politics, we need liberation politics.”
Observing New York City walking through the crime chaos, deliberate distractions, and sometimes more style than substance political shenanigans, Brownsville activist Danny Goodine noted, “We think we choose who we put in position when we pull levers on election day, but we don’t know who is behind them to put them in there; to counter the crime are the immediate issues we need to be addressed.”
Adams said he is about addressing the fundamental ailments of the city. “That’s the goal, and in order to do that, it’s not to be distracted.”
Fielding media questions for the past week over a public spat with Black Lives Matter Greater New York co-founder Hawk Newsome, said with regards to his bringing back the much berated Street Crimes Unit, Adams told the Amsterdam News, “I ran on the same things I’m saying now, I campaigned on. People said, ‘We heard what you Eric, this is what we support.’ They elected me in the primary, they elected me in the general election by over 70% based on what I ran on…people are saying that you are rolling out a plan that is going to keep us safe, and not allow cops to be abusive then Brother we trust you. You’ve been doing this for almost 35 years…I understood what the problems were with plainclothes unit. I’m not bringing back street crime. I’m not bringing back anti crime…
I’m bringing back the plainclothes unit that’s going to focus on gangs and guns.
“The reason they were dismantled is because they were being abusive.”
His unit, he insisted, is going to “wear clearly identifiable police clothing with the wind breakers and T-shirt.”
Adams said his policy is not to “motivate them based on the amount of contracts they were having with the public. I’m not using the standard anymore. I’m going to judge you on quality of the arrest, and you want to wear your body cameras and keep them on, so every interaction you make with people it’s going to be recorded and reviewed.”
There would be no influx of errant police officers surging into the community; Eric Adams told the Amsterdam News on Wednesday morning that the city can “trust me.”
Meanwhile, during the city’s recent general cycle Black women made especially high achievements with many entering politics for the first time. Glynda Carr, president and CEO of Higher Heights, said with the election of Kamala Harris in 2020 and a record number of Black women running for office in 2018, Black women are converting election power into political power.
“Black women are a powerful force in the American political system, and their political power at the polls and on the ballot continues to grow and is increasingly recognized as the force it is,” she said. “When Black women run for office, they not only challenge biased views of who can or should lead, but also disrupt perceptions of electability.”
Bronx Borough President-elect Vanessa Gibson, the first Black and the first woman to win the seat, said voters were looking for a change with the hope that long-standing disparities would get close to being resolved.
“People were excited about the fact that a woman of color was running for the borough president’s office,” she said. “I think many people gravitated towards that. I also think that generally people were looking for change. They were excited about the possibility of someone new coming in for office.”
It’s no secret that Blacks are looking for things to get better with so much leadership that looks like them in place. Earlier this year before the election, a Marist Poll found that only 42% of Black New Yorkers believe that the city is moving in the right direction while 39% believe the city is moving in the wrong direction.
Over the summer, a Gallup poll revealed that 64% of U.S. adults say racism against Black people is widespread in the nation with 55% believing Black people are treated less fairly than whites in their community in dealings with police. A majority of Black adults, 80%, believe they are treated unfairly by police.
In an interview with the AmNews, Basil Smikle, who serves as director of Hunter College’s Public Policy Program, thinks there will be a change of tone and attention to issues impacting the African American community in the city. However, he said that leadership should still be held accountable.
“When you see big apartment buildings and hotels going up on 125th Street, you have a lot of residents wondering whether they can even afford to live or eat in their own neighborhood,” Smikle said. “That means that there needs to be a level of accountability that perhaps had not existed before that is far more critical now.”
Smikle points out that elections are always a form of accountability. Measures to expand ballot access voted on during the general election did not pass and could present a challenge in getting people to head to the polls for future elections.
“We have a majority minority electorate and we’ve had that since 2013,” he said. “We now have a substantial number of elected officials at the highest levels of leadership in our city that are much more representative of the city than previously so I do think you’ll see a change.”
State Senator-elect Cordell Cleare agreed that there’s definitely a lag between the call for criminal justice reforms and what actually gets passed into laws.
False civilian and police reporting strikes at Black men and is serious because people lose their lives. In New York City, the Amy Cooper incident, where a white woman in the park falsely called the cops on a Black man, and the George Floyd death at the hands of police were at the heart of this latest criminal justice wave, said Cleare.
As a reaction to last year’s racial reckoning, the City Council proudly announced several bills touting police reform and redefining public safety. Some of the bills had existed before but lacked the support needed to get pushed through.
“Here we are in New York the progressives that we are and it took that to pass the chokehold bill which had already existed after the murder of Eric Garner,” said Cleare. “We had that experience and it was recorded and televised, but it took that moment to make things happen.”
Garner was a Black man who died from an NYPD chokehold in 2014, which was similar to Floyd having his neck kneed on until death by Minnesota police in 2020. Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, is still seeking justice in her son’s name. In 2019, she and petitioners filed for a judicial inquiry into Garner’s killing and related police misconduct and is currently in the middle of court sessions.
“The judge hasn’t allowed us to question any witnesses with any disciplinary authority so it’s unbelievable to me that she won’t even allow us to question Richardson, who was the head of NYPD discipline when my son was murdered in 2014 and when Pantaleo was finally fired in 2019,” said Carr in a statement summarizing how the proceedings went on Nov 4.
Carr described the court proceedings so far as “disappointing.”
Cleare said the officers that killed Garner lied and there have to be consequences for these injustices. “Daniel Pantaleo was allowed to keep his job for five years following the incident, getting paid by us, and I was along with people protesting,” said Cleare.
Cleare said that having a Black Manhattan DA and Black mayor in addition to diversity initiatives within the police department, community partnerships, and delegating some responsibilities away from police, then it “could” make a difference. She said the “blue wall” isn’t black or white in her opinion.
“It has to be implemented correctly. It can’t be the same leadership at the top because you will find that you could put Black people in these spaces, but if they feel that they have to behave a certain way it could be just as bad or worse,” said Cleare. “If they’re not free to operate in a just way, sometimes people have told me sometimes it’s worse to run into your own.”