Of Cops and Clergy – Reflections on Enforcement Culture by Lou Cespedes 

It was about a year ago I sat in the basement of Clarendon Road church for a meeting of the 67 Precinct Clergy Council for their year-end-review on progress against gun violence. I wrote about this in a previous column titled “The Professional Mourners- The Business of Gun Violence and Clergy”. A year later, after a rash of shootings in Brooklyn (a notable rise from the year before) and after successful Bail Reform and Close Rikers efforts passed, I thought it would be useful to begin the year reflecting on what policing is and isn’t in our community. 

In the coming months, I will break down, despite the obvious perils, the culture of law enforcement and entitlement that has been procreated in the NYPD since Mayor Giuliani’s tenure, it’s effect on the psyche of African Americans and other black/brown peoples, media, and popular culture. 

I would be remiss however if I didn’t specifically draw out how politicians and clergy of-late in our community have facilitated this culture of coercion and fear, particularly by playing up victimization, subservience, and reverence through a combination of for-television protests, sermon, and faux-activism. I am an unapologetic Christian. However, to digest my argument, you must understand both how Christianity and politics underwrite the police-state, despite the black Protestant church’s legacy as the conduit for civil rights and disobedience. To boot, I will articulate how church affiliated organizations, particularly the 67 Precinct Clergy Council, has been weaponized by BP Eric Adams, (an ex-cop turned politician) and the dangers of giving him any shot at becoming Mayor (pun intended). If it’s not clear – I am not a fan – but more importantly this series is a critique of policing culture and not of any individual. I simply seek to highlight how certain protagonists embody a clear mission about “enforcement” and “quality of life”, and how these “policies” manifest themselves in our communities – Show of Force – Stop and Frisk -Broken Windows.  To illustrate this proximity, I’d like to reference BP Adam’s response to the shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in 2018 when he foolishly stated; “Do as I do. Bring your firearm to church”.

I grew up part-time in the Bronx during the eighty’s on St. Lawrence Avenue. My Father purchased my first Atari 2600 in 1981. I used to break dance with older kids and listen to rappers battle on street corners. I remember what some in the NYPD and the media have termed the “bad-old-days”; Graffitied train cars, burning buildings, squeegee men, and rude people. I am an Ed Koch kid. Those of us old enough to remember (or interested enough to know) may understand why the simplicity of Koch’s ‘How am I Doin’ style resonated and connected with all New Yorkers in a human way. Koch was not a liberal; he was by all measures a conservative mayor. This is in stark contrast with Rudy Giuliani’s self-consumed and cruel persona, best illustrated by his continuous defense of the NYPD’s grossest abuses. In Jack Newfield’s May 2002 article for the Nation “The Full Rudy: The Man, the Mayor, the Myth” he details Giuliani’s handling of the NYPD’s murder of an unarmed security guard named Patrick Dorismond. In the article Newfield goes on to describe how Giuliani’s green lighted the offensive against the poor of New York City primarily through the criminal justice apparatus, but also through education and housing.  One memorable line reads: “In Giuliani’s second term, the poor became scapegoats and lab rats for experiments in conservative social policy”.  

This brings us back to the here and now of the matter, and how subsequent mayors have kneeled at the altar of the NYPD and PBA. Recently in our city we’ve debated about the three consecutive NYC mayors that have sought the Presidency of this country, and about the New Yorker who currently occupies the White House. We cannot forget to debate the atmosphere in which black men were labeled super-predators by a future New York Senator and presidential candidate, whose husband signed a crime bill that set black folk back in this country for a generation. Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden’s apology for the 1994 Crime Bill only foreshadowed Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s flat apology at the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn last month for his support of Stop and Frisk during his tenure. Ahhh Church – the place of forgiveness!

The great import of this series is to describe and debate these episodes in our recent history that have enabled police excess and have cemented the institutionalization of abuse by law enforcement as well as a culture of permissiveness by our community’s clergy. We now urgently need the tools, both locally and nationally, to deconstruct narratives that buttress the enforcement culture, so we are better equipped to shape meaningful reform in our community and lives.

(Isaiah 54 v.16-17)

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