Angry constituents confronted Brooklyn State Senator Jesse Hamilton on Thursday night at a heated community meeting over Broken Windows policing and its impact on immigrant communities.
The state senator, who joined the Independent Democratic Conference just hours before his November re-election, perhaps cynically steered the long-planned panel discussion hosted by Community Board 7 in Sunset Park away from questions about his IDC defection to the more pressing issue of how the NYPD and Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio are aiding federal authorities in deporting New York City’s immigrants.
Since Donald Trump’s election, furious Democrats have turned their attention to the breakaway IDC, which gives Republicans the power in the state senate and thus stifles progressive legislation like universal healthcare, rent reform, increased transit funding, and the DREAM act. Earlier this month, protesters called the IDC’s Jose Peralta a “traitor” at a raucous town hall meeting in Queens.
“Hamilton, cut the crap, we don’t want fake Democrats,” anti-IDC protesters chanted in the minutes leading up to the meeting. Hamilton, some supporters, and his staff chanted back “Black Lives Matter,” and attempted to portray the anti-IDC crowd as also being anti-immigrant. In fliers, Hamilton had re-christened the IDC as the “Immigrant Defense Coalition.”
Hamilton tried to make his case for why the IDC was the most expedient political choice he could make, and the best for his constituents.
“We’re doing this because we care about immigrants,” Hamilton told the crowd. “We’re doing this to pass the DREAM Act.”
As the number of protesters swelled outside into the hundreds, Hamilton kicked off the community meeting by telling those inside CB 7 that if they wanted to discuss IDC-related issues, they could meet him outside, so the time could be spent on immigration and policing. His staffers sifted through note cards with questions for the panelists, which included city officials, public defenders, and community organizers. “There aren’t many that don’t actually involve the IDC,” a harried staffer told the Voice.
Out in the hallway, Hamilton met with angry constituents as the chants from outside echoed through the building.
“Tell me what legislation I’ve supported that you don’t,” Hamilton asked Stacy Bord, a Sunset Park resident upset with his defection.
“It’s about bringing legislation up for a vote in the first place,” she responded.
Hamilton was hurried back inside the room where the Broken Windows discussion was taking place. But the microphone had been grabbed by anti-IDC protesters, who pressed Hamilton on why he wasn’t willing to respond to their demands for a true town hall meeting about his defection.
“I’m right here, I’m not running scared,” Hamilton told the constituents. “I’m not running scared.”
He added, “I think people are afraid right now, but the IDC is not the boogeyman. If it were to disappear tomorrow, Broken Windows policing would still exist…It’s not about Republican or Democrat, it’s about doing the right thing for our communities right now.”
Later, Hamilton dismissed the protesters as gentrifiers who did not represent his true constituency.
“The people outside here protesting about Trump are the same people who won’t send their kids to school with us or live next to a shelter,” he told the Voice. “They’re mad about Trump, but when it comes to diversity in their own backyard, they don’t want it.”
Community organizers who have been working against the NYPD’s use of Broken Windows policing took over the microphone, trying to wind down the anti-IDC discussion by pointing out that Democratic rule doesn’t mean that immigrants will be respected.
“Who is the mayor right now? Bill de Blasio. He’s the one pursuing Broken Windows policing. He’s the one putting us at risk,” said Dennis Flores, an organizer with the community group El Grito de Sunset Park.
“Progressive Democrats in the City Council? They’ve been quiet. They’ve been shut up. They’re falling in line with the mayor. You guys fighting against IDC, you also need to listen to what’s been happening on the front lines with Broken Windows from the people who have been documenting police abuse and chased around by the Democrats. So we can’t play no party favorites here, because the Democrats aren’t doing jack to end Broken Windows policing.”
To that end, the councilmember whose district includes CB 7, Carlos Menchaca, is aligned with the mayor and has refused to call for an end to Broken Windows policing. Menchaca did not attend the event.
The mayor himself remains committed to Broken Windows policing, which puts undocumented immigrants at immediate risk from federal authorities by criminalizing even the smallest of offenses. While the mayor has worked to reduce arrests citywide, he has refused to disallow the NYPD the discretion to make an arrest while encountering someone while fare-beating or extremely low-level marijuana possession. Over 16,000 New Yorkers were arrested for low-level marijuana possession in 2016, over 85% of whom were people of color. The fingerprints and address of anyone arrested by the NYPD is immediately shared with federal authorities.
Speaking at an event at The Nation on Wednesday, Mayor de Blasio once again could not give a definitive answer about how exactly “broken windows” policing could be putting New York’s immigrants in harm’s way.
“I don’t think there’s a lot of folks in the situation that are ending up with a record that would migrate to the federal government,” de Blasio told the selected audience of supporters and writers, while pressed on the issue by Nation editor Kai Wright. Ultimately, he told Wright, he’d have to look into the matter.
But for the organizers and lawyers back in Sunset Park, Broken Windows policing is something that rises beyond simple party politics. It’s a matter of life and death.
“Broken Windows offenses aren’t trivial things. They lead to very serious consequences,” said Noha Arafa, a public defender in Brooklyn who works with immigrants facing deportation. “We have to press our elected officials who were there before Trump and brought Broken Windows to us in the first place. Broken Windows is a policy that exists only because they’re the ones defending it. Not Trump. There has to be accountability right here at home.”