When activists turned out to a 2013 city council meeting in Oakland to protest the hiring of Bill Bratton as a consultant to the Oakland Police Department, was anyone surprised? Organizer Bella Eiko gave an impassioned speech pointing out the danger of hiring Bratton--essentially the godfather of Stop and Frisk.
"Where am I gonna run to? I can't go to New York, Bill Bratton has already put Stop and Frisk there. I can't go to LA because it's already there."
Eiko made a point of calling out the city council, as well.
"If you got $250,000 for him, why didn't you have $250,000 to keep the schools open?"
The Oakland city council voted to hire him anyway.
A few months later, activists in the Detroit were similarly protesting the consulting roles of Bratton and Broken Windows godfather George Kelling for the Detroit Police Department. Bratton's consulting firm, Bratton Group, and the conservative Manhattan Institute, where both Bratton and Kelling are senior fellows, received $600,000 from Detroit for their services. Ironically it was the local chapter of National Action Network, Al Sharpton's organization, leading the anti-Bratton protests there. Sharpton himself would welcome Bratton back to New York shortly after that.
Again was anyone surprised? For as much as media pundits and politicians love Bratton, plenty of activists who've connect the dots between Bratton and the controversial zero-tolerance policing styles adopted in cities across America, hate him. And not just for Stop and Frisk, but for his low-level-crime-focused Broken Windows brand, which is practically gospel for many police departments. Detroit is still wrestling with Bratton's touch a year later.
So where o where has the resistance been in New York in 2014 where Bratton has returned not as a consultant--but as the commissioner?
Some of it was on display last week at the monthly meeting of the Civilian Complaint Review Board. Bronx residents, where complaints and police abuse-related settlements are higher than normal in a city with no shortage of either, turned out and ripped the board for their lack of urgency. Bronxites for NYPD Accountability members Ephraim Cruz and Shannon Jones tore into chairman Richard Emery and challenged him to send CCRB representatives to precinct community council meetings, where precinct commanders often refuse to divulge complaint data. Tired of the lack of real oversight, these fiery Bronx residents have been going to precinct meetings and speaking out against abuse and misconduct.
It was amazing watching Jones, a city worker, methodically rip the agency. She reminded me of Eiko in Oakland. In contrast, an NYCLU lawyer there last night made some good criticisms but complimented Emery, who used to work for the NYCLU, for at least "trying". Cruz wasn't so accommodating. He pointed out again that Emery is too close to Bratton to be fully trusted as the head of the nation's largest police oversight body.
Here was the resistance.
As I watched Cruz and Jones make Emery squirm in his chair, I was emailed a New York Times article titled "Liberals Growing Frustrated With De Blasio". In classic New York Times fashion, the headline changed by the next morning to "De Blasio Balancing His Promises With Reality"(probably after a frantic phone call from city hall). As with so much of mainstream media, ideas deemed too far to the left are often framed as at odds with reality.
The article was still very revealing in what it did and didn't report. For example, it reported Cornel West's dismissal of the city's recent plans to replace racist Marijuana arrests with racist Marijuana summonses (essentially echoing a 1977 state law decriminalizing weed, and even former NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly's oft-ignored 2013 memo). But it didn't, however, mention that West and a coalition of clergymembers called for the removal of Bratton and economic boycotts of downtown Manhattan to pressure Bratton's ouster.
That's a pretty glaring omission.
The article also quoted city council newbie Antonio Reynoso (D-Brooklyn) as some sort of police critic or reform advocate. What? The problem with Reynoso, like most of the city council, should be obvious. They're phonies. Reynoso tweets pictures of himself gleefully cleaning graffiti alongside cops to none other than Bratton (who famously hates graffiti--a sign of 'disorder' that needs his Broken Windows touch). A real Broken Windows poster boy, that Reynoso. With 'advocates' like these...
Still, Reynoso and a handful of other electeds lined the steps of city hall last week to show everyone that they're on top of this police reform stuff. Carlos Menchaca (D-Brooklyn), who's been trying to pacify the work of Sunset Park police brutality activists, was there too. They were out in front of cameras at a press conference alongside the Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) coalition to support newer versions of the other two bills from last year's four Community Safety Act bills. Last year's bills, one creating the office of the Inspector General (which has literally done nothing in 2014) and another expanding the definition of profiling, were the crown jewels of CPR's advocacy work last year.
Without admonishing all of the groups (the grassroots ones, in particular) in CPR, it's important to note that this well-funded coalition has been relatively muted in the de Blasio and Bratton era. It's perhaps no secret that I've had my own early criticisms about CPR's strategy and leadership, but the Times article did at least confirm some of our suspicions around why they've eased up in 2014:
"And in a sign of the critics' growing frustration with their onetime champion, an influential police reform group recently cut ties with a public affairs firm that is closely identified with Mr. de Blasio, seeking to be unconstrained from exerting greater pressure on his administration."
Without mention CPR by name (though they're quoted in the article later), the Times piece gave some insight into where New York City's fight has been for most of 2014: working with a city hall-friendly PR firm. Seriously, how and why the city's most influential and resourced police reform advocates were constrained for almost a year is a serious question. At what point did de Blasio's fawning over Bratton become too much for reformers to stomach? Even former commissioner Ray Kelly, who no one had a problem opposing, recognizes it's business as usual at the NYPD. And though the Times wouldn't name the firm, Berlin Rosen (if anyone cares), it's important to note they worked on de Blasio's campaign and are apparently the favored public relations people for 'progressives' in this city. CPR, perhaps now having figured out that Bratton and the mayor have to be fought and opposed, are arming themselves with... a new publicist: Dan Morris of Progressive Cities.
Everyone in the policing movement needs to be accountable if we're to hold cops accountable. With that said, can we really afford to cowtow to the mayor or rub shoulders with city councilmembers yet again? It's like we're in the movie "Groundhog Day", repeating the same predictable, cyclical steps on a loop. Cops abuse us, politicians are lobbied, pass some bills, repeat. Maybe this time with better publicists?
So as I'm inspired seeing non-publicicts like Eiko in Oakland and Jones in the Bronx stand up to city councils and the status quo, I wonder why a movement ever needed a PR firm to begin with anyway.