The tragic murder of two New York City police officers on December 20th ensured that the city would close 2014 on a somber note. 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 Attorney General Eric Holder to President Obama – who affirmed the people’s right to peacefully protest and expressed sympathy with the frustration and anxieties of the black community. 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 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.
Sadly, those charging that the Mayor’s words have stoked anti-police sentiment are only increasing tensions between City Hall and the police department at a time when we need tone down incendiary rhetoric. That tension has existed on some level since the beginning of the Mayor’s term, but is now on full display.
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. However, his support for legislation mandating a minimum amount of paid sick leave to most workers stands out.
In early 2014, the Mayor and Speaker Viverito expanded the Earned Sick Time Act to require businesses of five or more employees to provide five paid sick days a year. In doing so, a basic job protection most of us take for granted now covers more than 1.2 million workers who previously lacked a single day of paid sick time.
The mayor also went after a less visible, but nevertheless glaring inequity in our education system; the absence of early childhood education programs for thousands of New York families. Research shows that greater investment in children at early ages produces stronger academic outcomes in the long run. Yet, for thousands of low-income families with limited resources, this proven educational benefit was out of reach due to cost. Although he was not successful in funding it through a tax on the wealthiest New Yorkers, the Mayor’s push for expanding the number of universal pre-kindergarten slots across the city was the catalyst for the governor and legislature agreeing to fund the program.
Finally, the Mayor is putting pressure on developers to create more affordable housing units as part of his ambitious plan to build or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing in the city. Under his 10-year plan, the city will commit $8 billion in capital funds to expanding affordable housing in the private sector. We hope the Mayor will follow this up with a parallel commitment to upgrade public housing.
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.