3 Things About the Struggle for a Police-Free New York

by Sophie Lewis

28 April 2014

All moments are ACAB moments when you live in the city controlled by the world’s largest paramilitary organisation. In light of the recent non-coverage of the #myNYPD affair, here are merely three aspects of what’s behind that sentiment in New York City.

1. #myNYPD’s torrent of “Old News” (Black corpses).

Typical #myNYPD experience: a 16 year old from the Bronx being brutally stopped and frisked for being “a fucking mutt”. The tragedies of Kimani Gray, Mohamad Bah, Deion Flood, Ramarley Graham, Shantel Davis, Sean Bell and Amadou Diallo. These New Yorkers of colour were gunned to death (while unarmed) by NYPD officers who walked free, but they are “old news”, according to Police Commissioner Bill Bratton. The Stolen Lives project reckons that two Black or Brown people a month are killed by the NYPD. The hundreds of thousands of twitpics – many of them simply snapshots of these victims, and many more – expressed what the New York Police Department really means to people in a way that suggested their rage was more immediate. While the vast majority of discourse about #myNYPD has expounded the dangers of ‘PR failure’ for corporations in the age of social media, the better frame for this story is the failure of the very logic – and existence – of the police.

[OAKLAND]ASM (@OLAASM) April 23, 2014

[OAKLAND]ASM (@OLAASM) April 24, 2014

jdavidgoodman (@jdavidgoodman) April 23, 2014

Raven Rakia (@aintacrow) April 23, 2014

Raven Rakia (@aintacrow) April 23, 2014

2. #NYPDonTrial: the ‘end’ of stop-and-frisk.

Floyd et al. 2013 was a federal class action lawsuit, successfully charging the racism of both the conception and practice of ‘Stop, Question & Frisk’, that won the biggest ever court case to be brought against the NYPD. The incumbent mayor Bill de Blasio’s black son even appeared in a campaign video promoting the end of stop-and-frisk. A monitoring body has formed which may prove to have teeth: new documentation is in use on the streets, the Democratic media are jubilant, and the right-wing has cried ‘racism’ (of the phantasmatic ‘reverse’ variety). Cops are officially no longer being trained to “target the right people” – a ‘post-racist’ lie about which you can read tortuous legal arguments.

Meanwhile, the police commissioner appointed by De Blasio for this new dawn is, er, Bill Bratton, doyen of ‘Broken Windows’ and erstwhile supporter of stop-and-frisk. Indeed, Bratton has fallen in line with Bill de Blasio’s noble push for “respecting civil liberties” as colour-blind, albeit neither stopping nor frisking people on the street is going to be abolished as we “turn the page”. This is America, as Michelle Alexander says in The New Jim Crow: “no other country in the world incarcerates such an astonishing percentage of its racial or ethnic minorities.” Perhaps unsurprisingly then, the tone behind new policy remains saturated with a structural, biopolitical liberal racism that is concerned with the best way to get the streets clean and orderly by putting real criminals into prisons while not perturbing the innocents of society. De Blasio speaks of being “honoured to work with” the NYPD’s 34,000 cops, as if the police could set New York free from racial oppression. His campaign does not concede that there are macro relations producing classed racial apartheid in NYC. It merely concedes that “democracies” don’t “break the law to enforce the law”. To paraphrase Stuart Hall, race is indeed still the modality in which class is lived in New York City.

3. “Essentially all the same”.

It could be that 2014 will see the movement against police brutality – and against the police, period – regaining a strength it hasn’t known for 14 years. Back in 1999, thanks to a formidable movement taking to the streets, the Centre for Constitutional Rights successfully litigated against Police Commissioner Bratton to shut down the plain-clothes Street Crimes Unit. It was a meaningful victory, albeit one that wasn’t capitalized on as 9/11 followed soon after. Particularly in the aftermath of 2001, the homogenization of Black people as abjects extends to other ‘groups’. But it is potentially the proliferation of groups the NYPD attacks – pedestrians (‘jay-walkers’) may now join bikers, sex-workers, queers, homeless people, people of colour, trans* people and women as targets – which opens the door for a more generalized struggle to dismantle the state’s armed wing.

Much could change if women rose up with people of colour to repudiate the image of police as their protectors. One of many deferential books on the NYPD, Two Cultures of Policing blithely quoted an officer as saying: “Precincts are like women … Some of the external goodies might make one more attractive than the other … they’re all alike”. Certainly this will have been the experience of Cecily MacMillan (whose high-stakes trial for reacting to being groped by a cop is ongoing, see #Justice4Cecily) and Lydia Cuomo (attacked by Officer Michael Pena, then forced into a lengthy legal nightmare by the state of New York which did not then recognize oral or anal “rape” of a woman). All evidence points to domestic violence being endemic among police officers, and chronically under-addressed. Meanwhile, women continue to be encouraged to feel anxious in public places and to associate the danger of rape with men outside their families.

Often, the most vulnerable, minoritarian communities are targeted. Some evidence points to a conscious turn to meet arrest quotas (sorry: suggestions for officers’ guidance) by raiding shelters where families might be living in contravention of a court order to stay apart. Yet concerted solidarity organizing has won real victories in recent months. In the freezing winter of February 2014, the NYPD announced pre-dawn raids on the homeless people on the subways: a groundswell of opposition from campaign groups and anarchists forced its cancellation. In New York and New Jersey, Muslims and their allies have been fighting back, in and out of court, against being indiscriminately surveilled and have won.

The NYPD puts so many people away on Riker’s Island even the City Board of Correction has had to admit the prison is a factory for mental illness, which bodes for a long-overdue wave of prisoners’ resistance. On which note, I’d like to submit a contribution to the hash-tag avalanche #myNYPD:

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We’re up against huge power and influence. Our supporters keep us entirely free to access. We don’t have any ad partnerships or sponsored content.

Donate one hour’s wage per month—or whatever you can afford—today.