With Donald Trump in the White House and ICE agents lurking around New York City courthouses gearing up for body-snatching season, this might be a good moment to reflect on how we got here.
I got here when my pregnant mom rode into this country in the trunk of a car. A Colombian-born social worker who worked with Bolivian miners during a brutal dictatorship, she, like many others, wanted a better life. She came up through Central America until she paid “coyote” smugglers a few thousand dollars in exchange for the American dream. A few months later, she brought me to New York.
The first time I was stopped by a cop I was 12 years old. A few of us got patted down behind a basketball court. No one asked why. It’s part of life when you’re Black or Latino in New York.
As we got older, my friends and I started getting caught with nickel bags of weed. The stakes got higher (pardon the pun). When I was 19, a cop wrote me a $50 summons after I spit in the subway. He kept me there for 20 minutes, making me late for my soul-sucking, minimum wage job at CVS.
For my mom, who went from a professional career to cleaning houses in Manhattan, her constant fear was that immigration agents would kick in the door, Biggie-style. She was looking over her shoulder for ICE while I was looking over my shoulder for the NYPD.
In 1994, the year of that first stop, NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton and Mayor Rudy Giuliani rolled out Broken Windows. Vendors, squeegee men and the homeless got hit hardest. Giuliani, a Republican, was helped by an infusion of extra cops thanks to the Safe City Safe Streets program of his Democratic predecessor, David Dinkins. Nationally, a Democratic majority in congress pushed the 1994 Crime Bill to the desk of President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, who signed it into law.
In college, I read about the Broken Windows theory of policing. It made a ton of sense: I was the broken window, and cops were going to keep breaking me forever.
The policy brought cops down on our necks for every transgression or sign of “disorder,” hitting us with arrests and court dates. The ’94 crime bill added thousands of cops and prisons across America as the Clintons talked about “super-predators” and both sides of the aisle cheered.
Republicans and Democrats built the police state.
In 2014, Bill de Blasio, our first Democratic mayor since Dinkins, brought back Bratton and re-embraced Broken Windows. We protested, of course, confronting local politicians, all Democrats.
When Eric Garner was killed by a Staten Island cop, groups started organizing, in part, to end Broken Windows. We crashed Mayor de Blasio’s fundraisers and shut down the City Council in 2016 when they thought it was a good idea to add nearly 1,300 cops to the NYPD. Those extra cops, particularly the new anti-protest Strategic Response Group, now harass protesters who consistently honor the lives of those who’ve been killed by the police.
We’ve been at war with these Democrats for a few years. So when another group of protesters showed up outside a forum on Broken Windows this month to protest a Brooklyn State Senator, Jesse Hamilton, to tell him to get in line with establishment Democrats in Albany, you can imagine how hard my palm hit my face. The protesters, most of whom, though not all, were white, say a breakaway group of Democrats, known as the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), should realign with the party. Hamilton is one of them.
Let me just say that I don’t know Hamilton. Apparently, he’s taken on a position against Broken Windows, maybe to deflect from the criticism being thrown his way. I could be cynical about that, but I was much more annoyed with these protesters.
Everyone wants to be part of “the resistance” in the Trump era. Everyone’s a protester, even the mayor of New York City. The Democratic machine has the most to gain as they rebrand themselves. However, the fact that deportations had already been happening in our oh-so-liberal town under deporter-in-chief Barack Obama gets ignored. Similarly, the risks that constant police contact through Broken Windows imposes on immigrants is only now, under Trump, slowly being acknowledged.
And yet it seems no one wants to come to grips with the Democrats’ role in how we got here. So when this “No-IDC” mosh pit of liberal self-righteousness throws a tantrum because Democrats won’t act like “real” Democrats, I gotta ask: who are the “real” Democrats? De Blasio, the self proclaimed progressive standard-bearer of big city mayors? Hillary Clinton?
Are they Brooklyn Councilmember Carlos Menchaca and Daniel Dromm in Queens? Dromm is leading some of the anti-IDC rallies in Jackson Heights and Menchaca is egging on the protesters in Sunset Park. They seem to be a significant part (dare I say “source”) of the anti-IDC rallies. Has anyone taken these two Democrats to task for voting for the extra cops last year and for supporting the mayor’s developer-friendly “affordable housing” scheme? For acting like, well, establishment sellout Democrats? Did any of the protesters know, or care, when Menchaca gave an award to one of Sunset Park’s most notorious cops?
Perhaps local Democrats are using the IDC drama to deflect from the fact that they have no answers for Broken Windows or that the IDNYC municipal identification program they voted for might actually help the federal government find and deport New Yorkers?
When IDC member and State Senator Jose Peralta, the focus of the rallies in Queens, was clamoring for the city and NYPD to clean up Roosevelt Avenue from the “dangerous characters” (code for Broken Windows enforcement) before he joined the IDC, did anyone care?
But it’s easier to play Democrats vs. Republicans than it is to tackle policing or gentrification. When you get down to it, quality-of-life policing and displacement benefits urban white liberals most of all.
A cop sweeps away that homeless person so that Sara can get from her loft to Starbucks undisturbed. The plainclothes officer will arrest that Black kid dancing on the train because what’s perfectly normal for some of us (b-boy-ing, selling loosies, loud music) is a nuisance to some of our more affluent neighbors. A rowdy Salsa block party in Williamsburg 20 years ago would’ve been perfectly normal. Today, it’s a 911 or 311 call waiting to happen.
Since their protest in Brooklyn, some anti-IDC protesters, perhaps sensing their privilege, have tried to straddle both sides. They say they can be against Broken Windows and also pressure rascally rebellious lawmakers to go back to being loyal Democrats. A Democratically-controlled Albany, they say, could pass the DREAM act or create more “Sanctuary Cities”, which are obviously so effective at protecting us. When Democrats are in power, the argument goes, they can pass bills that help us people of color.
Yeah, tell me how the Democratic party, the graveyard of social movements, will save me. Give me a break. The flavor of the IDC isn’t new. Whether you rail against the IDC or “blue dog” Democrats in Congress, striving for political order is just another example of liberals wanting to play fair.
If well-meaning white people want to help us, start by turning off MSNBC and grabbing a MetroCard to swipe in poor people so that we don’t get busted for fare-evasion, the top Broken Windows arrest. Take action. De Blasio says he can’t afford a subsidized-fare program for the poor, yet he and the council found the money for more cops.
Better yet, let’s have our white allies stage some protests at the ICE processing center on Varick street. Make a human wall. Shut it down. Wiggle those fingers, Occupy-style. Do whatever you want. Just don’t talk to me about “real” Democrats. We’re at war with both parties, the “real” Democrats included. People are being displaced and criminalized all around you. Keep your eyes on what matters.
Josmar Trujillo is an activist and writer based in Spanish Harlem. He organizes with the Coalition to End Broken Windows.