Coronavirus : The fiasco of the “not racist” NYPD enforcing social distancing continues at the expense of Black and brown New Yorkers

“We also have to recognize that police officers are human,” Police Commissioner Shea said this week during the City’s daily briefing. “They make mistakes, they’re not infallible. So, that’s the backdrop. But I will push back strongly on any notion that this is business as usual for the NYPD or that this is ‘racist police.’”

NYPD Covid 19 social distancing data

A week after the “not racist” NYPD released the social-distancing enforcement data showing clear disparities, the series of violent encounters with the police and Black and brown New Yorkers continues with, this time, the arrest of 22-year old mother Kaleemah Rozier in the subway.

Rozier, who was accompanied with her young child, was escorted up the stairs before a struggle with male police officers followed that resulted in her arrest.

Yet another video that Mayor Bill de Blasio found troubling a few days after he announced that the City was not removing the “not racist” NYPD from the social-distancing equation.

“We saw another video last night and like every human situation there are complexities, but what was not complex at all, was it shouldn’t have gone down that way, period,” Mayor de Blasio said.

“For us it is painful because it means something is still not working the way we need it to, and to say the least, whatever else was going on in that video, whatever else was happening in that moment, we should never have a situation where a mom with her child ends up under arrest for that kind of offense,” Mayor de Blasio added. “It’s just not right.”

The New York City Council Women’s Caucus also condemned, in a statement, the encounter they qualified as an “abhorrent assault” of the 22-year old mother. The Caucus went further to denounce “the use of derogatory and misogynistic language directed at Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot by Sergeant Benevolent Association President, Ed Mullins.”

The Mayor also announced that the City was trying a new approach that many, including Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and former NYPD officer and current Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams have been advocating since the beginning of the Coronavirus Crisis — the introduction of non-NYPD personnel to educate, distribute masks and interact with New Yorkers. But de Blasio insists that NYPD officers will still be in charge of breaking down large gatherings. A move that advocates, including Iesha Sekou of Street Corner Resources in Harlem, find came a bit late.

“If the Black and Latino communities are those who were at the highest risk, the City waited a little too long,” said Iesha Sekou.

“The minute we realized that this was serious we went to the CDC website to educate ourselves,” Sekou added. “We had workshops for our community and staff members before Gov. Cuomo even announced “NYS on Pause.” We started giving people gloves and masks for about seven-and-half weeks and educating them, because many didn’t take this seriously. We have been distributing 350 masks every other day. Sending social-distancing ambassadors is a good thing, but we like it better when these are people from the community.”

Eric Garner’s mother Gwen Carr, and elected officials called for cuts to the NYPD’s nearly $6 billion budget during a press call this week organized by Communities United for Police Reform (CPR), a coalition of more than 100 organizations working to end discriminatory policing in New York.

“The NYPD’s continued budget growth is unjustifiable, especially given all the services and support needed for recovery in Black, Latinx and other communities of color hit hardest by COVID-19,” said Anthonine Pierre, a leader of Communities United for Police Reform (CPR). “Year after year, the NYPD routinely refuses to discipline or fire officers who engage in misconduct, while funding its own harmful and illegitimate expansion into many non-police activities. That’s wrong and needs to change.”

To Eugene Adams, Director of Collaborative Education at Bronx Community College, a budget cut will not be welcomed for obvious reasons.

“Any military organization, whether it is the police or the army, will be resistant to any cut because they know that every other system depends on them to maintain balance,” Eugene Adams said.

“You can’t focus on racism in the NYPD when all the other institutions are complicit – the Education Department, the Health department, social welfare, the Fire Department – they are all part of it,” added Adams. “If you look at the executive structure of all these institutions, they all have their roots in white male privilege in power.”

Jennvine Wong, Staff Attorney of Cop Accountability Project at Legal Aid Society, also thinks that the move to introduce social-distancing ambassadors came late, but it is not the only problem.

“There is evidence of systemic racism that is deeply rooted in our American police and culture in general,” Wong said. “We have the largest police force in the country and we also have one of the most diverse police forces in the country, but when you have systemic racism that is rooted so deeply into the institution, it is difficult to root out. It requires a commitment to really work on it and it requires a commitment to acknowledge that it is just not a surface-level issue, but it could be implicit bias that plays into the policing that is happening. It also requires officers to be comfortable in speaking up and holding each other accountable when they are engaging in moral wrong, such as disparate policing based on implicit biases of race.”

Data shared by Data Scientist & Policy Analyst Samuel Sinyangwe shows that Black people are the most impacted by police violence, not just in New York City, but nationally, with New York City placing first in Black people murdered by police.

Who's impacted by police violence? Black and Brown people

Even if Wong admits being very pessimistic when it comes to the NYPD, she believes that change is possible.

“What is going to be a driver of change is going to be a matter of public opinion,” Wong said. “I think the public is going to be that change for the NYPD.”

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