The motion and leaflet below were distributed at “The Gathering” conference on the struggle against racist police injustice in New York City, January 30.
Our arguments for the need to organize a march on Mayor de Blasio and City Hall received strong applause from many of the hundreds of people in the main plenary session. The support our proposal received, and the lack of any alternative proposal, suggested that there was real desire among the attendees for a united mass protest that could revive the movement in New York and respond to Mayor de Blasio’s attacks on it. Unfortunately, the conference was not structured to allow the participants to vote on motions or in other ways make collective decisions about the way forward.
Fundamentally working-class, poor and oppressed people face a powerful enemy: the capitalist ruling class that holds on to state power by relying on cops. prisons, politicians, the media and other structures designed to do their bidding. Our side, the exploited and oppressed, needs to forge a powerful unity if we are to resist successfully.
The cops’ rebellion against Mayor de Blasio was a rare example of a mass struggle opening up divisions among the ruling powers. Many people in the movement mistakenly assumed the conflict between the mayor and the cops arose because de Blasio was somehow on our side; others thought it was just maneuvering by the cop leaders to help with their contract negotiations or to help the Republican Party in future elections.
In contrast, we warned that de Blasio would make concessions to the police so that they could re-unite and resume their harassment and brutality against working-class and poor people, and especially people of color. We emphasized repeatedly that the movement had to target the man who gives the cops their marching orders: Mayor de Blasio in City Hall. This was especially important because Democratic Party operatives within the movement were dedicated to preventing protests that would target de Blasio.
Instead, Mayor de Blasio has been allowed to take advantage of the demobilization of the movement that followed the shooting of the two cops in Brooklyn. As we warned, he has rewarded the police for their rebellion, and now they are returning to their old ways. Weeks ago we asked the question “How Many More Dead Eric Garner’s Does Mayor de Blasio Want?” The question now is whether we will have to wait for another person of color to be murdered by the police as a consequence of de Blasio’s policies before we unite in action against him.
Credit to the organizers of today’s conference for calling it at such a crucial time.
The movement against racist police injustice lost its momentum after the two police officers were killed in Brooklyn and political leaders everywhere called for an end to protest. And it was disoriented by the cops’ rebellion against Mayor de Blasio, which led many people opposed to racist policing to think that de Blasio must somehow be on our side.
But we think today’s conference can play a big role in getting the movement back on track – if it decides to issue a call for a return to mass protest like December 13’s Millions for Justice march, and if it is clear about who to aim those protests at and what to demand.
After the murder of Eric Garner, Mayor de Blasio offered a few words recognizing the concerns many people of color have with the police. But at the same time, he rejected every one of the protest movement’s demands for reform.
Instead, de Blasio has made clear he is determined that the police return to implementing the Broken Windows policy that led to Eric Garner being targeted by the police. Broken Windows orders cops to make their priority cracking down on petty non-violent “quality of life” misdemeanors in working-class and poor neighborhoods. Until the cops’ virtual-work stoppage, this policy saw more than 20,000 New Yorkers arrested each month for “crimes” like subway fare-dodging – and almost 90% of those arrested were Black and Latino.
The protest movement might not have won any reforms from the government before the police were killed, but it had won unprecedented public support. Opinion polls showed that an overwhelming majority of the public thought that the cops responsible for Eric Garner’s death should have been punished as criminals. And the cops recognized this meant that while those who killed Eric Garner may have gotten away with their crime, the next to be caught killing or brutalizing people could no longer be confident that they would escape punishment.
The real target of the cops’ rebellion was the protest movement. The cops know that fulfilling their quota of arrests inevitably means more brutality and deaths. They were refusing to implement Broken Windows until de Blasio stopped expressing words of sympathy for people’s concerns and instead backed the police unequivocally in being above the law. And they were demanding that de Blasio attack the protest movement in order to help undo its widespread support.
Now de Blasio is rewarding the cops’ rebellion by giving them everything they demanded:
And police “union” leader Lynch is already expressing his thanks to de Blasio, writing to cops:
... our demands have never been for a simple apology, but for clear and unequivocal expressions of support for our members and an equally strong condemnation of those who have stirred up hatred and violence towards police officers ... We have also demanded that these words be backed up by concrete actions to hold anti-police agitators accountable and to protect our members from further attacks. ... We have seen a marked and welcome shift in the mayor’s tone regarding anti-police protests, including his admonitions not to resist arrest ...
Today’s conference might be the last chance to revive the protest movement against racist police injustice in New York before another person of color is murdered by cops the way Eric Garner was. But that depends on recognizing that far from being on our side, Mayor de Blasio is implementing policies that are designed to return the cops to their harassment and brutality targeting working-class and poor people of color without fear of punishment.
And to mobilize the biggest numbers in struggle, we think it is also necessary to recognize how racist police injustice is tied up with the economic attacks on the working class and poor. Increasingly repressive policing and the massive expansion of the prison system has gone hand-in-hand with rising poverty and unemployment, the cutting of funding for education and other social services and the rise of temporary, part-time and low-wage jobs as “the new normal.” Young people of color suffer the worst of all this – they are seeing their lives caught in a chokehold of economic misery and racist police-state criminalization. That’s why Eric Garner’s last words have been echoed in protests across the country with the chant “We Can’t Breathe!”
The recent announcement that the MTA plans to raise Metrocard fares yet again on March 22 gives us the opportunity to begin to renew the struggle against racist police injustice by also fighting back against this latest economic attack on the working class. The dramatic rise in the cost of subway and bus fares in recent years has hit the working class in this city hard. And the subways have been the front line in de Blasio’s Broken Windows attack on working-class and poor youth of color, with arrests there up 300% since he became Mayor.
That’s why were proposing that this conference call for a massive protest march on City Hall to demand and that Broken Windows be ended, that de Blasio’s vow to veto the City Council bill criminalizing chokeholds be defeated, that the creation of the new “Strategic Response Group” of militarized police be stopped, as well as to demand that the MTA’s fare hike be stopped.
If a first protest is called for the second half of February, that would provide time to call on all community and working-class organizations to throw their support behind the protest and mobilize the largest possible numbers. With another month after that before the Metrocard price hike is scheduled to go into effect, that would allow for further protests to be called and grow.
If anyone has ideas for how to improve our motion, or a better idea to take the struggle forward, we’d welcome it. But right now we are convinced this is the best way to revive the protest movement for its just and urgently needed demands and we hope people will support it.
Eric Garner was targeted for arrest in Staten Island under Mayor de Blasio and police chief Bratton’s Broken Windows policy and was then murdered by a police chokehold;
Mayor de Blasio has vowed to continue Broken Windows which targets working-class and poor people of color for arrest for non-violent misdemeanors while he has also vowed to veto the City Council’s bill that would criminalize the cops’ deadly chokeholds as a misdemeanor;
De Blasio and Bratton have compared the non-violent protest movement against police injustice to terrorism by forming a new “Strategic Response Group” of hundreds of militarized counter-terrorism police to respond to demonstrations;
Increased police-state criminalization of working-class people of color has accompanied economic attacks on the working class and poor and an example of this is continued hikes of the price of a Metrocard and the 300% increase in arrests in the subways since de Blasio took office and implemented Broken Windows;
This conference resolves to call for a massive protest march on City Hall to take place in the second half of February to demand:
We agree to create a committee, open to all who volunteer, to organize this protest and call on all community and labor groups to endorse and build it.
1. Prison Reform Organizing Project, The Human and Economic Cost of Broken Windows Policing in NYC.
2. New York Times, Dec. 12, 2014.
3. New York Daily News, Nov. 13, 2014.
4. Bratton ‘outraged’ at city settlement with machete man.
5. New York Daily News, Jan. 14, 2015.
6. De Blasio Fights for the Right to Mass Arrest Peaceful Protesters, gothamist.com, Dec. 18, 2014.
7. Bratton on plans for ‘new patrol model’
8. New York Daily News, Jan. 18, 2015.
9. “Arrests of Panhandlers and Peddlers on Subways Triple Under Bratton,” New York Times, March 6, 2014.