Asking for justice

NEW YORK — Along with the tragic deaths of teenager Mike Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner, 43, little over two months earlier in Staten Island, N.Y., both Afro-Americans killed by white policemen, the last vestiges of New Yorkers’ trust in the police have vanished.

As a result, there has been a decline in support for Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat with progressive ideas who undoubtedly is the major figure in a growing national progressive movement.

De Blasio earned the favor of New York voters, among other reasons, for his promises to end the police abuse and discriminatory police practices against minorities espoused by his predecessors, the ultra-conservatives Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg.

“There is a different tone, but no change has yet been implemented. Those who continue to pay for it are the black and Latino communities,” says Priscilla González, the young principal organizer for Communities United for Police Reform (CPR), a coalition of religious, legal and community organizations created precisely to combat discriminatory practices by the police, such as “stop-and-frisk” and “broken windows”

The latter is the aggressive persecution of minor infractions that are not criminal, such as the street sale of cigarettes, entering the subway without paying, etc.

These practices focus almost exclusively on the minority communities, the homeless, the gay community, and the immigrants. For black and Latino youths, being stopped by the police and being frisked for no reason other than their looks is an everyday routine.

“These practices make us all less safe, because they create an atmosphere of fear of the police,” González says. “Whether De Blasio is really different from Giuliani and Bloomberg remains to be seen.”

Many have began to doubt that, and for good reason. The mayor has declared his unconditional support for the Police Commissioner, Bill Bratton, and the policy of “broken windows” established by Bratton during the nefarious administration (for the poor and minorities) of Republican Giuliani, later reaffirmed by Bloomberg, an equally nefarious mayor.

But the sea of people who flooded the streets of Staten Island last Saturday (Aug. 23), shouting slogans like “Respect human rights!” and “Justice for Eric Garner and Mike Brown!” in a peaceful march — which the mayor, of course, didn’t attend — must have made De Blasio reconsider.

More than 5,000 people demanded unanimously that charges be pressed against the officers involved in the deaths of Garner and Brown. They also asked for zero tolerance for police abuse and the abolition of “broken windows.”

“We need a city where an illegal chokehold is an illegal chokehold,” said Al Sharpton, the principal figure in the summons to the march, before he joined the demonstrators.

The Afro-American activist referred to the attempt by the policemen’s union to challenge the finding of a coroner that Garner, who suffered from asthma, died as a result of the chokehold applied mercilessly by Daniel Pantaleo, a white policeman, ignoring Garner’s desperate pleas that he couldn’t breathe. That chokehold has been banned since 1983.

The reason for such a degree of violence? The suspicion that Garner sold cigarettes on the street, a misdemeanor so insignificant that it would hardly call for an arrest if it weren’t for the racist practice of “broken windows.”

“There is a pattern of impunity. The policemen involved in deadly incidents are not punished. Justice is not done,” says González, adding that the CPR “is pushing laws” to change policies and transform the Police Department’s culture of violence.

“This will not happen overnight, but there are things that De Blasio can already do, such as abolishing ‘broken windows,'” says González. “It remains to be seen if the negative impact of Garner’s unjustifiable death and [De Blasio’s] support for ‘broken windows’ will be lasting.”

What’s beyond question is that the support of New Yorkers, who elected De Blasio believing his promises of equal treatment for all, will depend to a great degree — after the Garner case — on an end to the impunity the police has enjoyed until now.

As González puts it, “the only thing that the people are asking for is justice.”