“After seven years of failed leadership, the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent spectacle of police brutality have revealed Mayor de Blasio to be the single greatest obstacle to peace and justice in New York City,” wrote New York city council member Carlos Menchaca in a Medium post published last Thursday.
In his statement, Menchaca, New York state’s first Mexican-American elected official, lambasted the mayor for his fatally bungled response to COVID-19, and even more so for failing to negotiate in good faith with a city council that has called to defund the NYPD and invest in other urgent social needs — not to mention letting the police riot in the street during the recent wave of protests for the Black Lives Matter movement, when cops wantonly brutalized protesters and members of the press.
When de Blasio was running for mayor back in 2013, it didn’t seem like his tenure in office would turn out this way. Even then, seven years before George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis, #BlackLivesMatter had already made racist police violence a mainstream issue. De Blasio’s biracial family was featured in more than one campaign ad, for example, in one of them the candidate and his teenage son, Dante, spoke with a sincere affect about the candidate’s commitment to ending the NYPD’s abusive “stop-and-frisk” policy. He ran his campaign as a father who, although white, understood what it is like to raise young people of color who must navigate racist, state-sanctioned violence.
De Blasio won the election partly on the strength of these idealistic appeals — and at first he seemed serious about fulfilling his campaign promises. Indeed, he did dramatically reduce the use of “stop-and-frisk” (although a 2019 report by the New York Civil Liberties Union found that police still used the practice to disproportionately target black and Latino men, and that men in these groups were far more likely to be victims of police violence in such interactions).
In 2014, soon after the streets of Ferguson, Missouri had erupted over the killing of Michael Brown, Eric Garner was killed by a police officer in New York City. When a Staten Island grand jury failed to indict the cop, Black Lives Matter protests exploded. Responding to the uprising, the mayor returned to his campaign theme: kitchen table talks with Dante over what to do when you’re stopped by the police. The NYPD was furious, and after two officers were shot by a gunman sympathetic to the Black Lives Matter movement, Patrick Lynch, president of NYC’s largest police union said the mayor had blood on his hands. Likewise, men and women in blue turned their backs on de Blasio in protest when he showed up to the officers’ funerals.
Ever since then, the mayor has been pathetically trying to ingratiate himself with the cops. For instance, he allowed Eric Garner’s murderer, Daniel Pantaleo, to remain on the force, permitted and enabled police violence during the recent Black Lives Matter uprising — including police officers deliberately driving cars into crowds of human beings — and instituted a city-wide curfew designed to be nothing but a license to arrest people. (And this in the middle of a pandemic, when jails have been among the surest way to transmit infection into a community.) By refusing to intervene in the NYPD’s vindictive assault on protesters, de Blasio, a liberal Democrat, might as well have been working for Donald Trump.
Equally awful is that rather than returning to his 2013 campaign persona — an empathetic father of black children — Mayor de Blasio has emerged as a pigheaded opponent of even the most reasonable reforms — opposing, for example, the demand to remove police from New York City’s schools. Even the Panel for Education Policy, the appointed school board Michael Bloomberg created to rubber-stamp mayoral fiat on all school-related matters, defied de Blasio on Thursday, passing a resolution calling for the Department of Education, rather than the NYPD, to take control of school safety. Predictably, the mayor has resisted the city council’s effort to defund the police department, and instead removed a billion dollars from its budget, even as he makes cuts to a badly needed youth summer employment program.
De Blasio has even punted on the basic democratic principle of civilian control over the police. Without democratically elected officials in charge of police, you have, obviously, a junta and not a democracy. Mayor de Blasio was elected on a mandate to reign in the police. Instead he’s been intimidated by them. This is not only cowardly and undignified, it represents a dangerous turn toward a police state. As a consequence, the cops, emboldened by a racist would-be authoritarian president, have declared war on the public, and on the democratic system that is supposed to protect our rights.
Mayor de Blasio has failed to safeguard that system, failed to protect New Yorkers — especially black New Yorkers — and even failed his own children. He should resign in disgrace.