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Condemn, Then Complain

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eye on the news

Condemn, Then Complain

New York City public advocate Jumaane Williams has excoriated the police for years—and now protests that they aren’t doing enough to stem violence. August 21, 2020
New York
Politics and law
Public safety

New York City continues to experience a ghastly increase in criminal violence. Shootings and homicides, mostly gang-related or sparked by obscure beefs, rack neighborhoods across the five boroughs. Homicides are up 30 percent over last year at this time, and even more troublingly, shooting incidents have almost doubled and appear to be accelerating.

In response to the escalating violence, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams has identified police diffidence, in the form of a “deliberate slowdown,” as the culprit. In a letter to police commissioner Dermot Shea, Williams takes the NYPD to task for dragging its feet amid “a horrific rise in shootings . . . with the vast majority of victims being black and brown New Yorkers.” Williams upbraids the NYPD and reminds Commissioner Shea that “community trust” in the police can “degrade from underenforcement.”

No public official in New York City has expended more energy than Williams to limit the power of the police, undermine their credibility, and promote the release of criminals. Since his election to the city council in 2009, Williams has fought vigorously against Broken Windows policing—universally credited with bringing the city’s murder rate down by 90 percent over 25 years—which he invariably cast as racist. “Upwards of 75 million dollars have been used to arrest NYC residents for marijuana possession,” said Williams in 2011, and “86% of those arrests are young children of more color. . . . Had this been 86% of our young children of a lighter shade, there would be uproar.” As part of his campaign against marijuana arrests, Williams protested outside then-mayor Michael Bloomberg’s house, calling for “a stop to the unjust stop and frisk policy that is endangering the young black and Latino men of this city. Stop and frisk is a racist practice, plain and simple, and it is an abuse of power.”

In 2012, Williams introduced legislation demanding that the NYPD “stop arresting people for committing minor infractions in the transit system, irrespective of whether they have an arrest record or have previously committed minor infractions in the system.” In 2015, when the rest of the city council had caught up with Williams’s agenda of decriminalization, he pointed out that “an arrest can cause significant stress” for the arrestee, as well as “financial hardship.”

Williams himself continually tangles with the police. At the West Indian Day Parade in 2011, he intentionally crossed into a “frozen zone” meant to control a crowd of more than 1 million people. He claims that he identified himself as an elected official and was arrested anyway; he later insisted that the arrest was racially motivated.

In 2012, Williams attended a one-year anniversary commemoration of the end of the “occupation” of Zuccotti Park to “observe and ensure the rights of protestors are being protected.” Police attempted to establish a secure perimeter; video shows Williams ignoring their requests not to stand on a bench. An officer pushes him away, but he continues to crowd the police line.

In 2018, protesting the attempted deportation of convicted mortgage fraudster Ravi Ragbir, Jumaane Williams was arrested while blocking Broadway. Video clearly shows Williams scrapping with police, then sitting in front of an ambulance.

This year, following weeks of agitation to defund the police department, Williams, now public advocate, claimed that he would use his “charter-mandated” powers to paralyze the city if police funding was not cut to his satisfaction. He claimed that a clause in the city charter requires the public advocate’s approval before property-tax warrants can be distributed. Thus, he claimed, it lay within his authority to freeze the city’s ability to collect revenue necessary for running its operations. Mayor de Blasio, to his credit, dismissed this idea as absurd, and nothing came of it.

Williams has promoted radical expansion of funding for “violence interrupters” as a means of “curing violence,” despites the tactic’s dubious efficacy. He has demanded “abolition” of jails. He regularly calls any disparity in law enforcement racist, though there is evident racial disparity in criminal activity. He insists that social workers should answer calls for emotionally disturbed persons instead of police officers.

New York City’s public advocate has built a career on opposing the police and trying to limit their scope. Yet now that the depolicing movement is ascendant and police commonly find themselves the object of public scorn and vilification, Jumaane Williams is surprised that criminals are running wild.

Photo by David Dee Delgado/Getty Images

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