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Bill de Blasio Promised to Change the NYPD. His Courage Failed Him


Source: The Intercept

New York City, NY/USA – June 7, 2020 – Black Lives Matter, Justice for George Floyd protests rally and marches in Manhattan.

Photo by Sue Nilsson/Shutterstock.com

 

 

When Bill de Blasio was running for New York City public advocate, draft legislation was circulating among council members that sought to expand the powers of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, the city’s independent body investigating abuses by police. It was 2009, discriminatory stops of black and Latino men in the city were rampant, and what would become a yearslong federal court battle challenging the practice had just begun. Kirsten John Foy was working for the Rev. Al Sharpton at the time and seeking sponsors for the bills among elected officials. De Blasio wanted Foy to join his campaign.

“He made a personal commitment to me that this was going to be a major priority of his office, which was one of the reasons I decided to leave the nonprofit sector and go into government to work for him,” said Foy, who joined de Blasio’s team as a top adviser.

De Blasio won, but the bills went nowhere. Soon after he was elected, he started damping down his police reform rhetoric. When Foy challenged him, de Blasio, who had made clear the public advocate office was just a stepping stone, said that he had retreated from his promise to reform the police because of “the impact that it would have on his electability to pursue progressive police reform at the time,” Foy told The Intercept.

De Blasio spoke of the importance “not to miss the forest for the trees and to gain a longer-term perspective,” Foy recalled. “If we wanted real deep reforms,” he said de Blasio told him, “we really needed to focus on getting him elected mayor in order to be in a position to institute real reforms, and achieve real transformation of the department.”

Foy felt betrayed. “I felt like, both the electorate and I, and many of the advocates that supported him over some of the other candidates, were duped,” he said.

There were more problems: Foy — who is black — and other staffers of color repeatedly told de Blasio that “he needed to demonstrate a real commitment to reforms that were a priority for the black electorate and the black community, first and foremost being police reform.” But de Blasio, whose wife and children are black, believed his family “would be enough to prove to black voters that he was indeed sympathetic and friendly and receptive to our needs and concerns and priorities.” Foy never heard him talk about the challenges of raising a black son in a racist country, nor about how his black family informed his political priorities. “Every time there was a mention of his family, it was in the context of the political capital that it would accrue,” said Foy.

Four years later, a judge ruled that the city’s stop-and-frisk policing practices were unconstitutional and racially discriminatory, and ordered sweeping changes. This time, de Blasio was running for mayor, and by then he was speaking publicly, and often, about his experience as the father of a black son. In a viral campaign video that some credited with winning the election, Dante de Blasio, 15 at the time and sporting a giant Afro, told voters that his father was “the only one who will end a stop-and-frisk era that unfairly targets people of color. … And I’d say that even if he weren’t my dad.”

When he first saw the ad, “I was disgusted,” said Foy, who by that time had left the public advocate’s office. “I was disgusted by the notion that he would pimp his family in such a way.”

Last year, when de Blasio briefly entered a crowded presidential democratic primary, he again talked about Dante, arguing in a debate that what set him apart from the rest of the field was the fact that “for the last 21 years, I have been raising a black son in America.”

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