Sometimes crises can bring us together across lines of difference, as we see in mutual aid groups and support for essential workers. But COVID-19 is also cracking open the deep fault lines in our society fostered by centuries of structural racism. This week, we saw two shocking manifestations of racism and violence, the corrupt underbelly of our country’s history and its present.
In Minneapolis, George Floyd was killed by a police officer who crushed his neck for a literally breath-taking seven minutes, while he and three other officers ignored his cries that he could not breathe, echoing for many of us the cries of Eric Garner who was killed on Staten Island in 2014. Despite the years of mass protests and powerful organizing of Black Lives Matter, police killings of Black men continue at nearly the same rates as five years ago.
And this week in Central Park, bird enthusiast Christian Cooper could have become one more statistic on that list when a white woman, angered by his request to comply with park rules and leash her dog, called police pretending that she was being threatened, explicitly invoking a long legacy of violence against Black men accused of harming white women.
These horrific incidents come on top of the less visible, but no less viral or deadly, structural racism reflected in the African-American death toll from COVID-19. Black Americans represent 13% of the US population, but counties with higher black populations account for more than half of all cases and almost 60% of deaths. Here in NYC, the rate of death from COVID-19 is literally twice as high for Black New Yorkers as for white ones. 1 out of every 375 black New Yorkers has died of COVID-19.
Like many of you, watching these events, I feel outraged. I feel implicated in white supremacy. I see the pain of Black friends and colleagues — it’s a hard time to be a human being on the planet right now, but it’s excruciating to be a Black elected official in the U.S. — and feel unsure how to talk to them about it. And I sometimes feel helpless, at a loss for meaningful ways to be an ally in confronting racism and making change.
But this is no time to let those feelings turn into despair and apathy. So I thought I’d take a minute to outline a few things I’m committing to, and invite you to join me.
Join the campaign for #NYCBudgetJustice
Communities United for Police Reform is a coalition of community groups in NYC that organize together against discriminatory policing and support families who have lost loved ones to police killings. For years they’ve been demanding accountability for NYPD officers like Wayne Isaacs, who killed Delrawn Small, and Justin D’Amico and others who engaged in misconduct surrounding the killing of Eric Garner.
CPR is currently campaigning for #NYCBudgetJustice: “Overinvestment in policing and underinvestment in public health, housing, and community needs help explain why our city has been so devastated by COVID-19 especially amongst elders in Black, Latinx and other communities of color.” While NYC is facing massive budget cuts to education and summer youth programs, imposing a hiring freeze on teachers and counselors to support students, we are still planning to hire 2,300 new police officers, at a cost of over $200 million. I’ve joined CPR and many other advocates in this campaign, calling for a hiring freeze on new police officers. If you agree, support the campaign by writing Mayor de Blasio.
Bring a racial justice lens to our City’s recovery
As we’re thinking about recovery from COVID-19, where we are all feeling loss, pain, and anxiety, let’s make sure we are truly focusing on systemic racism and centering equity. We’re all craving open space, restaurants, civic life and the idea of a “return to normal.” But we aren’t all dying, losing jobs, or standing in food lines at the same rates. For the majority of people in this city, “normal” meant crowded apartments, stress about making rent, police harassment in the streets, precarious, low-paid jobs, and many other challenges.
So as we push to open streets to pedestrians and cyclists and open air dining, and other policies to help our city recover and regain its vibrancy, we have to ensure that those policies are shaped in response to low-income, communities of color, who have borne the brunt of this crisis. I found this piece in CityLab a hard but important read for progressive urbanist types like me to be reminded that our policies don’t automatically make things “fairer” without deep engagement, listening to what communities need, and designing changes with the most marginalized in mind.
Support integration and equity in our schools
Schools are a both a microcosm of our society, reflecting existing inequalities and biases, and a force that shapes its future, fostering opportunity for some and reinforcing barriers for others. To confront the dilemma of school admissions amidst the remote learning of this pandemic, student leaders in Integrate NYC and Teens Take Charge are demanding changes to middle- and high-school admissions, so we don’t let COVID-19 further segregation and inequality. Read more about their plan here, and my letter to the Chancellor supporting their plan here. You can join the effort at one of DOE’s town halls on changes to admissions for the 21-22 school year. The Brooklyn town hall is scheduled for June 2nd at 6 PM, more information and sign up here.
Support Black-led organizing
Being an ally means supporting those who are leading. Right now, that means supporting Black-led organizing, so often the most important force in demanding that our American democracy do better to live up to its founding ideals. So I’m going to increase the percentage of my giving that goes to groups like Black Visions Collective and Minneapolis Freedom Fund in Minneapolis, Brooklyn Movement Center, Life Camp, and the Audre Lorde Project in NYC, and national groups like Color of Change and Black Youth Project. Here’s a good list of Black-led organizations to support.
Working for Police Reform in Localities Across the Country
Local Progress, the national network of progressive local elected officials, has created a Reform/Transform toolkit to evaluate policing reforms according to a set of standardized criteria across jurisdictions. Use it to start a conversation with your friends in other cities comparing police reform efforts … and then to join and support those efforts.
My friend and Local Progress colleague Jeremiah Ellison, a Minneapolis city council member, wrote for the New York Times over a month ago: “During every crisis, well-meaning white people here make a ritual of acknowledging the city’s steep inequities, but we’ve been hearing the same “woe is you” sentiment for a long time. It’s as if people think the mere acknowledgment is the work… Now this pandemic is bringing forward the full horror of our inability to reckon with America’s history of racial terror. For many black people experiencing the disproportionate impact of this crisis, any solution will come too late; the consequences of our inaction are too final.”
This week, Jeremiah is in the streets of Minneapolis supporting protesters facing down tear gas and rubber bullets, even as the pandemic rages on in communities he represents. As he wrote, “the how we got here is known and the path out is knowable.” We have to put in the work.
Let’s show up, and take care of each other.
In this email:
City and State Updates
- Latest Impacts: The country surpassed 100,000 deaths from the coronavirus over the last 4 months, a heartbreaking milestone. Here in NYC, 16,673 people are confirmed to have died from COVID and another 4,742 are presumed. More than 51,449 people have been hospitalized and 198,255 positive cases have been identified.
- Contact Tracers: NYC has hired 1,700 contract tracers who will be starting work on June 1. As of now, only 100 tracers are on the job. The city expects to have 2,500 tracers hired — the number needed to meet one of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s metrics to begin reopening its economy — some time in the first half of June.
- Reopening Progress: Long Island met all of the seven metrics to begin the Phase 1 reopening on Wednesday. Every region in the state outside of New York City has begun the reopening process. For details and information about the different phases of this process visit forward.ny.gov. The Mayor announced that NYC is expected to start Phase 1 in the first or second week of June.
- Resources for Special Education: Beyond Access is hosting a series of online workshops and trainings, focused on providing families of children with disabilities tools and strategies to support their child at home through remote learning. Learn more and sign up here.
- Outdoor, Socially-Distanced Dining: The City Council introduced legislation yesterday to allow for outdoor dining, in an effort to help struggling restaurants survive. I’m proud to be a sponsor of the legislation and hopeful that the administration will be a partner in making this happen.
- Register to Vote: Today is the deadline to register if you are not yet, in order to vote in the June primary election. Register here and order your absentee ballot to vote from home here. The State Senate just passed legislation to expand access to absentee voting by mail to the November general election.
- School admissions: The DOE is holding townhalls with parents around the city to get input onto how to approach admissions for middle and high school students in the absence of the grades and tests that usually inform screened admissions. The Brooklyn townhall is scheduled for June 2nd at 6 PM, more information and sign up here.
- Reusable Bags: Thanks to everyone who donated their reusable Fresh Direct bags. We delivered them to the fantastic volunteers with the South Brooklyn Mutual Aid, who are feeding several hundred families each week, for their food delivery efforts. We’ll still take your bags at the following locations and times.
- Park Slope: 256 13th St, M-F, 9 AM to 6 PM
- Carroll Gardens: 71 3rd Pl, M-F, 8 AM to 6 PM
- Cobble Hill: 359 Henry St, Mon-Wed, 9 AM to 6 PM
- Kensington: 3 Avenue C, Saturdays at 4 PM