By Sheryl Estrada
During a Black History Month event on Tuesday at The Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral of New York in Queens, New York Police Department Commissioner Bill Bratton made an unexpected comment that police caused “many of the worst parts of Black history.”
Bratton said to the predominately Black audience that although police departments have played a pivotal role in maintaining civil rights and freedom of speech, they also have contributed negatively to the history of Blacks in the United States.
“The best parts of American history would have been impossible without the police,” Bratton said at the church led by Reverend Floyd Flake,a former Congressman from Queens.”Many of the worst parts of Black history would have been impossible without police, too.”
He said that in New York City, since Dutch settler Peter Stuyvesant came to New Amsterdam, the history of the police and of Blacks have been connected. One of the first things that Stuyvesant did was create a police force, and he used slaves to build the colony, Bratton explained.
“Since then, the stories of police and Black citizens have intertwined again and again,” he said. “The unequal nature of that relationship cannot and must not be denied.”
Regarding the choking death of Eric Garner by an NYPD officer last year, Bratton noted that “police actions can still be a flashpoint.”
He also added that the department has been working on providing better training for officers.
However, if not careful, a negative history can have a way of repeating itself.
The NYPD’s current Broken Windows policingaggressive enforcement of low-level, quality-of-life offenses, such as drinking on your stoopdisproportionately affects Blacks and Latinos.
Bratton has said the disproportionate number of summonses for low-level offenses handed out in communities with underrepresented populations are a result of cops concentrating their efforts on “the most problematic areas of the city,” where they are bombarded by quality-of-life and criminal complaints.
In September the New York Daily News reported itaccessed and reviewed nearly 2 million Broken Windows summonses, which revealed that Blacks and Latinos are being targeted in every neighborhood.
In response to Bratton’s speech on history, police-reform advocates argue that the commissioner needs to do more to improve racial disparities in policing.
“While it’s important to provide the historical context of current problems, Commissioner Bratton is in the position of authority now to address current problems of discriminatory policing in New York City,” said Priscilla Gonzalez of Communities United for Police Reform.
“Unless he takes action to end the abusive Broken Windows and other unequal policing that only targets certain communities with aggression and enforcement, and holds officers accountable when they brutalize and unjustly kill in communities of color,” Gonzalez continued, “he, too, will be judged poorly by history.”
Bob Gangi is director of the Police Reform Organizing Project. Bratton’s remarks earn an “A” for “audacious disingenuousness,” Gangi said.
“We appreciate comments on historic abuses,” he added. However, the problems are “still going on every day under [Bratton’s] stewardship.”