Calling A Village to Action


By Lou Cespedes

At the height of the Black Lives Matter protests earlier this summer, Governor Cuomo made a call for communities to reimagine policing. This occurred in a seminal moment in which the NYPD, arguably this country’s most robust police force, could not contain sporadic looting taking place in affluent neighborhoods in Manhattan and Brooklyn. This threat to “property” not “lives” and the subsequent response by the NYPD against peaceful protestors resulted in a sea change about how the public views policing, and the effectiveness of institutional policing in black and brown communities, where looting DID NOT occur. The abhorrent tactics used by the NYPD toward protestors further underscored a view, this time notably advanced by “white progressives” that the NYPD is an institution which has expired. What shook the foundations of the NYPD brass and the PBA was that a budget fight in the city council caught fire, because the apparent “unity” of both black and white voices echoed in the corridors of City Hall, and city government tipped their hat to the “Black Lives Matter” movement, via an acknowledgement to “defund” or strip the NYPD of 1 billion dollars. Of course, this did not really happen. No cuts occurred, but the message was sent – loud and clear – that the NYPD was losing the battle for hearts and minds, as well as the purse.

On the New York Times Podcast episode of the “The Daily” for Monday August 24th, correspondent Ashley Southall defined three theories that are behind the recent rise in gun violence. The first theory is that the rise in crime is because COVID-19 has increased poverty and unemployment in the black and brown community. This leads to increased violence and gang activity. The second theory is that reforms and protests have some correlation to crime increases because disbanding anti-crime units in the wake of protests have hamstrung policing efforts and the NYPD have stopped being “proactive”. This second theory promotes the idea that the police are retaliating against the public because progressive narratives like “Defund the Police” have gained traction, and they want to “demonstrate” what lawlessness would be like without them. The third theory advanced by the NYPD is that due to recent bail reforms and the release from jail of low-level offenders due to COVID-19, has enabled released offenders to commit violent crimes. These are simple categories to understand, even if somewhat false or misleading.

Our black and brown communities regardless of geography and economic status suffer the effects of ‘progressive’ calls to defund the police. Naturally, in moments of crisis, people tend to gravitate to what they know, and policing seems to be a natural reflex of civil society. But we must question that reflex. The Village Act, proposed by Leonardo Coello, a city council candidate in Bronx District 16 offers a framework, but more importantly it sets a table for all stakeholders to sit around and discuss the “alternative” to the “progressive position”. As a community we must remember that the problems we are facing – gun violence, unemployment, gangs, poverty, and inequity in the criminal justice system, all of which can be indexed to the incarceration and criminalization of black men – have been persistent in our communities long before the “Defund the Police” or Black Lives Matter movements took root.

We must acknowledge that ‘progressive narratives” whether “Defund” or “FTP” strike at the core paradox of trust in our community when viewed through the “policing narratives” of “bad old days” or “safety and security” because black and brown people can neither trust the police, nor does the police ever offer us any measure of safety or security. They simply “police” us, and therein is the fundamental break. If the NYPD wants our trust, they have to trust and protect “us” – the rational leaders and bridge makers – within our community that want to lead an effort to reimagine “safety and security”– For Us By Us. We must demand accountability from both sides. As I’ve written before, we the public have been blinded by faux activism infused with irrationality and impatience. Like Coello, other city council candidates must demonstrate the moral courage to apply calibrated strategic thinking to open dialogue with those we consider our enemies, whether they be gangs or cops. The Village Act offers us this opportunity to rebuild trust and partnership between community stakeholders. We should rally behind it!

The Village Act proposed by Coello offers an “olive branch” in that it takes up the Governor’s call for our village to act in our own self-interest to re-imagination policing in our neighborhoods. We should take the Governor at his word, and this cannot be precinct by precinct endeavor, but rather a coalition of black and brown communities across all boroughs speaking in unison about the changes we demand within our precincts. The Village Act specifies steps we must undertake together with the police. We know that the culture of policing must change in order to accomplish this. Police will not go along without this culture change. This means that those within the NYPD leadership, specifically PBA leadership, cannot partake in this effort. We need fresh leadership and new interlocuters in the NYPD. Our efforts to build trust between the NYPD and our community means Pat Lynch cannot represent the NYPD rank and file. Furthermore, “we” – the bridge makers – are drawing a clear line in the sand, an ultimatum for the NYPD. Either you work with us, or we will lend our voice to the “progressives” because you are leaving us no alternative.

Recent grumblings by “the establishment” and their cohorts in the media, talking Twitter heads, and pedigree career and legacy politicians that have suffered losses to DSA and emboldened “progressives” may have a point about how a resurgent left may alter our city’s direction. To them I say, “we” the bridge makers – the parents, working class people, entrepreneurs, and professionals in the black and brown community – “we are knocking; open the door! If you refuse, the irrational will break down the door, and overtake you. Why would they not? They are already winning!

(Isaiah 59 v.14-15) Twitter: @loufor45 Instagram: loucespedes @LCoello4BX


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