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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