New York City closed out 2014 on a somber note. The tragic and unspeakable murder of two New York City police officers – Officer Rafael Ramos and his partner Wenjian Liu -- as they sat in their patrol car stunned our city. On their own, the murders were a heinous act committed by an unstable and violent individual. In the context of recent events – the death of Eric Garner at the hands of police, the lack of an indictment in that case, and the wave of protests against police brutality that followed – the murder of two police officers has left many in the city at a loss over how to move forward.
Unfortunately, many utilized the actions of a lone, deranged individual to place blame on protestors and public officials – from Mayor de Blasio to Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito to President Obama – who affirmed the people’s right to peacefully protest and expressed sympathy with the frustration and anxieties about police abuse of power in minority communities. Police Benevolent Association president Patrick Lynch, former Governor George Pataki, and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani all joined the fray, insisting that the murderer was incited by anti-police rhetoric from elected officials and the Mayor’s unwillingness to crack down on protests.
Those sentiments are wrong on many levels. Perhaps most importantly, they completely ignore the idea that the right to peacefully protest against perceived injustices is one of the fundamental rights of our democracy. The protests in New York City have been by and large peaceful and without incident. Would those criticizing the Mayor have rather seen a Ferguson-like crackdown? And would such a crackdown have made it any less likely that the murders would have taken place? This individual was a career criminal with mental health issues who had shot his ex-girlfriend earlier that morning. Is her blood also on the hands of protesters and the mayor?
Saying the Mayor’s words were inciting is also flat wrong. When the Mayor said that he has talked with his son – who is black – about being careful around police, he was merely acknowledging the reality that young black and Latino men, in particular, are far more likely to have unwarranted interactions with police, and those interactions are far more likely to turn violent. And this problem goes back generations. My father, Thomas R. Jones, an attorney, judge and state assembly member vehemently denounced the Brooklyn District Attorney for his refusal to indict a police officer who fatally shot a black man through the bars of a locked cell in the 1950s.
The Mayor starts 2015 with a significant challenge ahead of him. How does he walk the tight rope of repairing his relationship with police while not abandoning his responsibility of making sure all New Yorkers have faith in our institutions of public safety and criminal justice? It is one of many challenges the Mayor will face. But it is also worth looking back on 2014 and the things that went right.
Basic Job Protections, Early Childhood Education, Affordable Housing
Bill de Blasio was elected in large part on the hope that he would address concerns about widening economic inequality in the city and expand opportunities for low-income individuals to achieve greater upward mobility. To that end, he has introduced several policy measures designed to help those working at the lower end of the economic ladder secure better wages.
In early 2014, the Mayor and Speaker Mark-Viverito expanded the Earned Sick Time Act to require businesses of five or more employees to provide five paid sick days a year. The decision to expand the law was supported by research, conducted by my organization, that found that more than a million New Yorkers – the majority of them Latino working in low-wage jobs – did not have a single day of paid sick time. Today, a basic job protection most of us take for granted now covers more than 1.2 million workers.
The Mayor also expanded the number of universal pre-kindergarten slots across the city. And, starting this month, New York residents who are at least 14 will be able to apply for a municipal identification card to gain access to services, programs and benefits regardless of their immigration status. Finally, on the critical issue of housing, the Mayor has put pressure on developers to create more affordable housing as part of his ambitious plan to build or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing in the city.
Much was accomplished in 2014 under this mayor. And while it will take time to repair the rift with the police union, this mayor should stay the course.