Activists and the relatives of police brutality victims held a community speak out on Commissioner Bill Bratton’s legacy shortly before booing him during his farewell ceremony outside the New York City Police Department’s headquarters on September 16.
“We’re out here making sure that Bratton’s legacy, as a poison and a criminalizer of the highest order, is remembered by the community,” Josmar Trujillo of New Yorkers Against Bratton said. “And we want to give him the proper Harlem, Brooklyn, Bronx farewell cause what they’re doing out here is just kissing his ring. And we’re out here to throw his ring out the fucking window.”
Around 30 protesters gathered outside of NYPD headquarters to talk about Bratton’s influence on policing in NYC before booing and jeering him during the ceremony for his last day on the job. Though most of the people there had either been personally affected by the NYPD under Bratton or been fighting to get Bratton out since his appointment by Mayor Bill de Blasio, many felt that Bratton’s departure was a first step more than a decisive victory. Though activists worked hard on ridding the city of Bratton, they say that they’re now more focused on ending Bratton’s signature “broken windows” policing style and keeping the pressure on his successor James O’Neill.
“O’Neill is going to continue broken windows. We know that already. It’s been spoken about publicly. Nothing is going to change,” Dennis Flores of copwatch group El Grito de Sunset Park said. “It’s just another white man at the top overseeing a city like New York where they’re disconnected from our experiences, what we go through, what we’ve been living with, and what we’ve been experiencing with the police in the city.”
The activists began to rally at 1 Police Plaza at around noon with members of New Yorkers Against Bratton, Copwatch CPU, El Grito de Sunset Park, Picture The Homeless, the War Resisters League, Peoples Power Assemblies, the Police Reform Organizing Project, and Why Accountability present. The relatives of people killed by NYPD officers, like Akai Gurley, Nicholas Heyward Jr., Anthony Rosario, and John Collado, were also at the speak out to remind people how Bratton handled killer cops in the ranks of his NYPD.
“I’m the father of Nicholas Heyward Jr. who was murdered by NYPD on September 27, 1994. Police commissioner William Bratton was the commissioner at that time,” Nicholas Heyward Sr. said. “He has done absolutely nothing in that case.”
Ramsey Orta, the man who taped Eric Garner’s death at the hands of NYPD officers, made an appearance as activists addressed the huge gang raids in Harlem and the Bronx, Bratton’s past actions as head of LAPD, and the effects of the broken windows policing he championed. Broken windows policing, which emphasizes cracking down on petty, quality-of-life offenses in order to prevent more serious offenses, has been shown to disproportionately affect people of color and has been blamed for provoking much of the anti-police backlash from communities of color.
“I have clients who get criminal records, convictions that will stay with them for the rest of their life, for $2.75,” Noha Arafa, a public defender of 11 years, said referring to fare-beating on the subway being the number one broken windows offense with which people are charged. “Not only do they get a criminal record but I have had clients who have served jail time for jumping the turnstile, 30 days in jail, a 16-year-old black man gets 30 days in jail.”
During the protesters’ speak out, the NYPD prepared for Bratton’s departure and made sure to keep protesters as far away as they could from the festivities. Before the protesters even arrived, cops had heavily barricaded the area, and they added even more barricades once things started. Reporters were kept in the back of an NYPD truck as if they were cattle. Protesters booed and hurled insults like “sellout” at public officials like Mayor de Blasio and Public Advocate Letitia James as they arrived at the ceremony.
At around 3 p.m., Bratton finally made his grand exit to applause from public officials and NYPD rank-and-file. They tried to use bagpipe music and applause to drown out the protesters’ chants of “Fuck Bill Bratton,” but even in the New York Post’s video of the ceremony, one can hear the protesters in the background.
The campaign to end Bratton’s reign as NYC’s top cop began right when Mayor de Blasio chose him for a second stint at the post on December 5, 2013. Activists remembered how disastrous Bratton’s first reign as NYPD commissioner under Rudolph Giuliani was and knew that Broken Windows policing would criminalize people of color in the same way that stop-and-frisk did under Bratton’s predecessor Ray Kelly.
“I met Josmar in December of 2013. We had a small contingent on the steps of City Hall when we heard the mayor had named Bratton. All of us did our research and came to the steps of City Hall and said ‘No.’ None of the press came,” Agnes Johnson of New Yorkers Against Bratton said. “Our City Council members, other than Inez Barron, rolled their eyes and went into City Hall that day. None of them would stand with us.”
The resistance to Bratton and broken windows really gained momentum after the death of Eric Garner at the hands of cops supposedly enforcing laws against selling loose, untaxed cigarettes, a typical quality-of-life offense. The constant harassment of poor people and people of color entailed in broken windows policing was blamed for much of the anti-police protests and tensions between communities of color and police. Absurd and antiquated claims by Bratton that marijuana causes violence and that hip hop artists are “basically thugs” whose music leads to violence didn’t help his racist reputation. Despite those ridiculous comments, multiple cases of police brutality, and the biggest NYPD corruption scandal in recent history all happening under his leadership, Bratton still maintained the support of the mayor, local politicians, and much of the mainstream media.
“He’s been able to push a police state down our throats and have half the country think he’s an innovator or that he’s some kind of a savior. And that super-cop status he’s been able to build for himself, that’s really his major contribution,” Trujillo said. “It’s really just the public relations veneer on top of what is just prisons, raids and the grossest, most disgusting forms of human treatment possible, which is aggressive, technologically-backed policing that crushes people every single day.“
Despite the backing of New York City’s political and financial elites as well as the media, the anti-police protests that Bratton said would “peter out,” never did. Protests against the NYPD and against Bratton specifically continued. Bratton was even booed at a vigil for the victims of the Orlando shooting in June 2016 with protesters chanting “You kill people!” at one point. By July 2016, Bratton announced that he wouldn’t make it past 2017 as commissioner. Then on August 2, a day after activists started the #ShutDownCityHallNYC occupation and outright demanded, among other things, that Bratton be fired, Bratton finally announced that he’d be resigning in a month rather than wait until 2017.
But even though Bratton’s departure is welcome by many of the activists, they still see a long road ahead of them and realize that Bratton’s influence on policing, more than Bratton himself, needs to be banished from the city.
“It’s a victory in the sense that Bratton is no longer going to be NYPD commissioner. But it’s also not a victory because Bratton is a very smart individual, and he trained James O’ Neill very well. And he is going to use the same template that Bratton has established as NYPD commissioner,” copwatcher Jose LaSalle of Copwatch CPU said. “We see nothing really changing. Broken Windows is still going to be implemented inside areas where people of color live, and this is a continuation of Bratton’s legacy.”
Towards the end of his reign, broken windows had received much criticism and was severely undermined in the eyes of the public. Nonetheless, Bratton swore by it to the very end, despite its increasing unpopularity and a report by the Inspector General saying that broken windows didn’t reduce crime. And with Bratton’s successor likely to continue broken windows policing, it looks like liberal-and-media-friendly racist policing will be a major part of Bratton’s legacy.
The same activists who fought Bratton from the get-go say they are ready to continue the fight against O’Neill, the discriminatory police practices that Bratton advocated, the police institution itself, and the political and economic institutions that support it all.
“The next thing is we start to break down the political structures that supported Bratton,” Trujillo said. “Now we need to put that focus on everybody, from the council members to the public advocate to the mayor. This happens because of a well-oiled machine, and they all play their parts. Bratton is just the tip of the spear, but all the people behind that spear, all those sell-out politicians and real estate interests, we have to go after them.”
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The Prison Industry in the United States: Big Business or a New Form of Slavery?
Human rights organizations, as well as political and social ones, are condemning what they are calling a new form of inhumane exploitation in the United States, where they say a prison population of up to 2 million – mostly Black and Hispanic – are working for various industries for a pittance. For the tycoons who have invested in the prison industry, it has been like finding a pot of gold. They don’t have to worry about strikes or paying unemployment insurance, vacations or comp time. All of their workers are full-time, and never arrive late or are absent because of family problems; moreover, if they don’t like the pay of 25 cents an hour and refuse to work, they are locked up in isolation cells.
There are approximately 2 million inmates in state, federal and private prisons throughout the country. According to California Prison Focus, “no other society in human history has imprisoned so many of its own citizens.”
The figures show that the United States has locked up more people than any other country: a half million more than China, which has a population five times greater than the U.S. Statistics reveal that the United States holds 25% of the world’s prison population, but only 5% of the world’s people. From less than 300,000 inmates in 1972, the jail population grew to 2 million by the year 2000. In 1990 it was one million. Ten years ago there were only five private prisons in the country, with a population of 2,000 inmates; now, there are 100, with 62,000 inmates. It is expected that by the coming decade, the number will hit 360,000, according to reports.
What has happened over the last 10 years? Why are there so many prisoners?
“The private contracting of prisoners for work fosters incentives to lock people up. Prisons depend on this income. Corporate stockholders who make money off prisoners’ work lobby for longer sentences, in order to expand their workforce. The system feeds itself,” says a study by the Progressive Labor Party, which accuses the prison industry of being “an imitation of Nazi Germany with respect to forced slave labor and concentration camps.”
The prison industry complex is one of the fastest-growing industries in the United States and its investors are on Wall Street. “This multimillion-dollar industry has its own trade exhibitions, conventions, websites, and mail-order/Internet catalogs. It also has direct advertising campaigns, architecture companies, construction companies, investment houses on Wall Street, plumbing supply companies, food supply companies, armed security, and padded cells in a large variety of colors.”
CRIME GOES DOWN, JAIL POPULATION GOES UP
According to reports by human rights organizations, these are the factors that increase the profit potential for those who invest in the prison industry complex:
. Jailing persons convicted of non-violent crimes, and long prison sentences for possession of microscopic quantities of illegal drugs. Federal law stipulates five years’ imprisonment without possibility of parole for possession of 5 grams of crack or 3.5 ounces of heroin, and 10 years for possession of less than 2 ounces of rock-cocaine or crack. A sentence of 5 years for cocaine powder requires possession of 500 grams – 100 times more than the quantity of rock cocaine for the same sentence. Most of those who use cocaine powder are white, middle-class or rich people, while mostly Blacks and Latinos use rock cocaine. In Texas, a person may be sentenced for up to two years’ imprisonment for possessing 4 ounces of marijuana. Here in New York, the 1973 Nelson Rockefeller anti-drug law provides for a mandatory prison sentence of 15 years to life for possession of 4 ounces of any illegal drug.
. The passage in 13 states of the “three strikes” laws (life in prison after being convicted of three felonies), made it necessary to build 20 new federal prisons. One of the most disturbing cases resulting from this measure was that of a prisoner who for stealing a car and two bicycles received three 25-year sentences.
. Longer sentences.
. The passage of laws that require minimum sentencing, without regard for circumstances.
. A large expansion of work by prisoners creating profits that motivate the incarceration of more people for longer periods of time.
. More punishment of prisoners, so as to lengthen their sentences.
HISTORY OF PRISON LABOR IN THE UNITED STATES
Prison labor has its roots in slavery. After the 1861-1865 Civil War, a system of “hiring out prisoners” was introduced in order to continue the slavery tradition. Freed slaves were charged with not carrying out their sharecropping commitments (cultivating someone else’s land in exchange for part of the harvest) or petty thievery – which were almost never proven – and were then “hired out” for cotton picking, working in mines and building railroads. From 1870 until 1910 in the state of Georgia, 88% of hired-out convicts were Black. In Alabama, 93% of “hired-out” miners were Black. In Mississippi, a huge prison farm similar to the old slave plantations replaced the system of hiring out convicts. The notorious Parchman plantation existed until 1972.
During the post-Civil War period, Jim Crow racial segregation laws were imposed on every state, with legal segregation in schools, housing, marriages and many other aspects of daily life. “Today, a new set of markedly racist laws is imposing slave labor and sweatshops on the criminal justice system, now known as the prison industry complex,” comments the Left Business Observer.
Who is investing?
At least 37 states have legalized the contracting of prison labor by private corporations that mount their operations inside state prisons. The list of such companies contains the cream of U.S. corporate society: IBM, Boeing, Motorola, Microsoft, AT&T, Wireless, Texas Instrument, Dell, Compaq, Honeywell, Hewlett-Packard, Nortel, Lucent Technologies, 3Com, Intel, Northern Telecom, TWA, Nordstrom’s, Revlon, Macy’s, Pierre Cardin, Target Stores, and many more. All of these businesses are excited about the economic boom generation by prison labor. Just between 1980 and 1994, profits went up from $392 million to $1.31 billion. Inmates in state penitentiaries generally receive the minimum wage for their work, but not all; in Colorado, they get about $2 per hour, well under the minimum.
And in privately-run prisons, they receive as little as 17 cents per hour for a maximum of six hours a day, the equivalent of $20 per month. The highest-paying private prison is CCA in Tennessee, where prisoners receive 50 cents per hour for what they call “highly skilled positions.” At those rates, it is no surprise that inmates find the pay in federal prisons to be very generous. There, they can earn $1.25 an hour and work eight hours a day, and sometimes overtime. They can send home $200-$300 per month.
Thanks to prison labor, the United States is once again an attractive location for investment in work that was designed for Third World labor markets. A company that operated a maquiladora (assembly plant in Mexico near the border) closed down its operations there and relocated to San Quentin State Prison in California. In Texas, a factory fired its 150 workers and contracted the services of prisoner-workers from the private Lockhart Texas prison, where circuit boards are assembled for companies like IBM and Compaq.
[Former] Oregon State Representative Kevin Mannix recently urged Nike to cut its production in Indonesia and bring it to his state, telling the shoe manufacturer that “there won’t be any transportation costs; we’re offering you competitive prison labor (here).”
The prison privatization boom began in the 1980s, under the governments of Ronald Reagan and Bush Sr., but reached its height in 1990 under William Clinton, when Wall Street stocks were selling like hotcakes. Clinton’s program for cutting the federal workforce resulted in the Justice Departments contracting of private prison corporations for the incarceration of undocumented workers and high-security inmates.
Private prisons are the biggest business in the prison industry complex. About 18 corporations guard 10,000 prisoners in 27 states. The two largest are Correctional Corporation of America (CCA) and Wackenhut, which together control 75%. Private prisons receive a guaranteed amount of money for each prisoner, independent of what it costs to maintain each one. According to Russell Boraas, a private prison administrator in Virginia, “the secret to low operating costs is having a minimal number of guards for the maximum number of prisoners.” The CCA has an ultra-modern prison in Lawrenceville, Virginia, where five guards on dayshift and two at night watch over 750 prisoners. In these prisons, inmates may get their sentences reduced for “good behavior,” but for any infraction, they get 30 days added – which means more profits for CCA. According to a study of New Mexico prisons, it was found that CCA inmates lost “good behavior time” at a rate eight times higher than those in state prisons.
IMPORTING AND EXPORTING INMATES
Profits are so good that now there is a new business: importing inmates with long sentences, meaning the worst criminals. When a federal judge ruled that overcrowding in Texas prisons was cruel and unusual punishment, the CCA signed contracts with sheriffs in poor counties to build and run new jails and share the profits. According to a December 1998 Atlantic Monthly magazine article, this program was backed by investors from Merrill-Lynch, Shearson-Lehman, American Express and Allstate, and the operation was scattered all over rural Texas. That state’s governor, Ann Richards, followed the example of Mario Cuomo in New York and built so many state prisons that the market became flooded, cutting into private prison profits.
After a law signed by Clinton in 1996 – ending court supervision and decisions – caused overcrowding and violent, unsafe conditions in federal prisons, private prison corporations in Texas began to contact other states whose prisons were overcrowded, offering “rent-a-cell” services in the CCA prisons located in small towns in Texas. The commission for a rent-a-cell salesman is $2.50 to $5.50 per day per bed. The county gets $1.50 for each prisoner.
Ninety-seven percent of 125,000 federal inmates have been convicted of non-violent crimes. It is believed that more than half of the 623,000 inmates in municipal or county jails are innocent of the crimes they are accused of. Of these, the majority are awaiting trial. Two-thirds of the one million state prisoners have committed non-violent offenses. Sixteen percent of the country’s 2 million prisoners suffer from mental illness.
You say protestors actually disrupted a vigil for victims of the Pulse shooting?
CNN made a chart to compare the homicide and crime rates in New York since Bratton with Chicago. Thousands of people in New York lived who might have been victims of murder. Take a look. http://www.cnn.com/2016/08/04/opinions/legacy-bill-bratton-kennedy/
If you care at all about the lives of the poor in high crime neighborhoods you should thank Bill Bratton and the officers of NYPD.