Dear NYPD: Continue the Work Slowdown. It’s Exactly What We Want.

Photo courtesy of drpavloff on Flickr.

Photo courtesy of drpavloff / Flickr.

Arrests and ticketing in New York City have decreased drastically in the week following the murders of NYPD officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu. The slowdown of work comes amidst calls from the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association in opposition to the way Mayor Bill de Blasio has responded to the officer deaths.

According to statistics obtained by the New York Post, overall arrests have dropped by 66 percent from 5,370 in the same week last year to 1,820 last week. Summonses for non-criminal low-level offenses — so called “quality of life” offenses — like loitering, public urination, graffiti, and panhandling have plunged 94 percent from 4,831 to 300. More significantly, even drug arrests have dropped by 84 percent from 382 to 63.

Ironically, this is exactly what many racial justice advocates have been calling for. In an October 23 piece “Give Police Less Work” for The Nation, Mychal Denzel Smith wrote:

We have created a police state, criminalizing innocuous behaviors (largely those associated with blackness) or those harmful only to the person participating. We have handed over responsibility of solving social problems like mental illness and drug abuse to police officers who are not equipped to do anything other than arrest or shoot. We think we can stop violent/serious crime by tasking police officers with cracking down on petty crimes, rather than address root causes of violence and inequality. We still have a society predicated on the control of black bodies.

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In response to the work slowdown, The New York Times issued its second editorial in two days criticizing the NYPD’s protests of de Blasio. “What New Yorkers expect of the Police Department is simple: 1. Don’t violate the Constitution. 2. Don’t kill unarmed people. To that we can add: 3. Do your jobs,” the Times wrote. But what the Times editorial board doesn’t seem to understand is that, for New York City police officers, doing your job is essentially being racist. We have a racist system with racist laws. Police officers, by doing their job, have no choice but to uphold those racist laws.

By giving police less to do, fewer black and brown people are swept up in this system that “depends primarily on the prison label, not prison time,” as Michelle Alexander writes in The New Jim Crow. She calls that prison label the “badge of inferiority” that makes discrimination perfectly legal.  Once you’re branded a felon, you have become part of the undercaste — whether or not you are in prison. (According to Pew Research and Analysis, more than double the number of people in prison are on probation or parole.)

Arrests and citations are only a few of the several layers that create a racial undercaste in this country. Each new layer magnifies the oppression. But it starts with policing. No one faces those deeper layers of discrimination if they don’t make it there in the first place. And the police, with unbridled discretion to stop whomever they want whenever they want, are the first to put people there. Transform the criminal justice system from the inception of oppression. Give police less to do.

Fordham Hosts Dialogue on the Culture of Police Brutality in America, Led by Darnell L. Moore

"Before a bullet is actually shot from a gun, we shoot bullets from our minds."

“Before a bullet is actually shot from a gun, we shoot bullets from our minds.”

More than 100 members of the Fordham University community met today to share their reactions to the recent police shootings across the country and to learn about how to speak out against institutionally racist policing. The event was sponsored by Fordham’s Black Student Alliance, the Dorothy Day Center for Service and Justice, and the African and African-American Studies Department.

It featured guest speaker Darnell L. Moore (@Moore_Darnell on Twitter), Bedstuy, Brooklyn-based writer and activist who has been integrally involved in Black Lives Matter, a movement that has organized nationwide bus rides to Ferguson, Mo., where on Aug. 9 unarmed black teenager Michael Brown was shot and killed by white police officer Darren Wilson.

After leading a 30-second meditation to honor the victims of police brutality, Moore explained why he has been a part of a movement that is based on “an assumption [black lives matter] that we all should know is true”: “We exist in a culture with a history that is full of a genealogy that points to various examples where black lives, brown lives, and the lives of so many others absolutely didn’t matter.”

Moore told the stories of a 10-year-old girl from Los Angeles who traveled 36 hours and a 17-year-old girl from New York who traveled 21 hours to join the Ferguson community. “They feel the traumatic trace of something very heavy, something very very toxic. A 10-year-old girl who should be playing in the park should not be concerned about whether or not her life is going to be snatched away.”

“What makes you so hungry for justice?” Moore asked after telling the story of the Lost Voices (who were arrested today), a group of young people who have been sleeping outside in tents since Aug. 9. “Folk have lost their jobs because they have been protesting everyday.”

Noting that Black Lives Matter was started by two women who identify as queer, Moore emphasized how important expanding the racial justice framework is to him. “Racial justice has only ever really been organized around this notion of a black straight man…People forget all about the black girls and women…We can no longer allow queer, trans black folk to be invisibilized in the fight for justice. All black lives matter.”

“I’m really tired of having to host stuff like this, to give talks like this, come and try to convince people that black lives matter. It’s 2014. I want the type of world where my nieces and my nephews would not have to come to a talk like this on a college campus,” Moore said.

For 40 minutes, the floor was opened to those who wanted to share their experiences or reactions. Here are their voices:

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“Frustrated and disgusted.”

“I feel more scared than anything.”

“It’s very frustrating because sometimes when my brother leaves, I’m like, ‘I hope I see you later,’ and that’s so sad.”

“It’s a shame that it takes lives to be lost for people to actually stand up and see what’s actually happening.”

“It didn’t shock me.”

“When I saw what the youth was doing out in Ferguson, it made me just want to organize.”

“In the wake of Ferguson, I’ll never forget when I was watching CNN, and they had a segment called ‘How Black Youth Should Engage with the Police.’ Why do I have my own set of rules about how to engage with police? I don’t see no ‘How Whites Should Engage with Police.’”

“What pisses me off the most is that I still have peers who think this is actually all right.”

“I am shocked as a white person.”

“I came here because a friend of mine was murdered a few weeks ago. A young black man.”

“There are no more excuses. There is literally not a single one.”

“You get asked eight times in the Gap, ‘Do you need help with something?’”

“If you’re constantly wondering why this happens, please go and study the history of our country. We have to realize that our country is built on black and brown blood.”

“Instigate. Shake. Yell. Scream. Inform.”

“I grew up getting called the ‘n’ word. I grew up getting called a slave.”

“It shouldn’t take death to bring us together.”

“We as white people need to get our shit together.”

“I feel less valued as a person of color at Fordham. I feel oppressed at Fordham.”

After a short session about how to get involved, the event ended with a standing ovation for Darnell L. Moore.

Darnell L. Moore, sitting. To his right in the photo, Aimee Meredith Cox, professor of African and African-American Studies at Fordham University.

Darnell L. Moore, sitting. To his right in the photo, Aimee Meredith Cox, professor of African and African-American Studies at Fordham University.