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How Dare Mayor de Blasio Tell New Yorkers To Submit to the NYPD

In the midst of national outrage over police killing unarmed black men, no one should urge faith in the criminal justice system.
Image via AP/Seth Wenig

This week, Mayor Bill de Blasio asked New Yorkers to be entirely irrational. With some incredulity-provoking remarks, the mayor did the equivalent of asking well-reasoned atheists to get on their knees and pray anyway. He asked us to trust the police.

Specifically, de Blasio advised that New Yorkers should always submit to arrest when an NYPD officer decides to detain them. "When a police officer comes to the decision that it's time to arrest someone, that individual is obligated to submit to arrest," he said during a press conference in Harlem. "They will then have every opportunity for due process in our court system."


The problems with his suggestion are myriad. Firstly, he delivered them in the midst of national furor over the police killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed black young man in Ferguson, Missouri, and just a few weeks after NYPD cops strangled Eric Garner to death on a Staten Island sidewalk.

In the last ten days, cops in Los Angeles killed two unarmed men — Ezell Ford, who suffered from mental illness, was reportedly lying on the ground when shot dead by the LAPD and, a week earlier, Omar Abrego was apparently fatally beaten by police during a traffic stop. With these deaths being just the latest incidents in a brutal pantheon, de Blasio's comments did the tacitly violent work of victim blaming.

The suggestion is that if these young men had simply submitted to arrest, they might be alive. Perhaps de Blasio thinks Brown should have subjugated himself more. It is apparently not enough to raise one's hands and say, "Don't Shoot." Perhaps Oscar Grant could have been more prostrate on the Fruitvale Station platform in Oakland, to have avoided death by cop bullet.

Furthermore, what counts as resistance to arrest in this country would be laughable if it weren't so tragic. "Resisting" charges are tacked on in the case of nearly any physical altercation. The mechanics of police impunity begin with their ability to liberally claim that they were faced with resistance. No activity is too docile to avoid charges of resisting arrest. Therein lies the rub: De Blasio's comments support a system in which citizens, particularly young black citizens, are forcible taught that any behavior except total docility and subjugation can and will be punished.

De Blasio's suggestion that we should trust police judgment on arrests — or at the very least have faith that any bad cop decisions will be rectified in the courts — flies in the face of pretty much everything we see in the criminal justice system. De Blasio must know (his very mayoral campaign relied on touting such facts) that of the more than 5 million stops-and-frisks carried out under his predecessor Bloomberg, 88 percent did not result in an arrest or a summons, let alone conviction. Yet his platform for mayor rested on agreeing with enraged New Yorkers that this police practice was discriminatory and ruinous to the lives of young black and brown men in the city.

How dare the mayor of New York ask for our trust in "due process" while the officer that shot dead unarmed Bronx teen Ramarley Graham in his grandmother's bathroom walks free. That happened two years ago and the promise of a Justice Department investigation remains unfulfilled. Eric Garner's killers have not even been removed from the police force. And how dare he speak of "due process" when at least 94 percent of criminal cases in this country don't even go to trial, but end in guilty pleas as the threat of draconian mandatory minimum sentencing runs high.

Of course, I don't expect a mayor to urge citizens to resist arrest. And I never had faith in de Blasio's lofty promises to cleanse the NYPD of its violent and racist tendencies — his choice of Bill "Broken Windows" Bratton confirmed that the police war on the poor and black would push on. But de Blasio's remarks about arrests give pause for thought on our authoritarian reality. To resist arrest at all can be a fatal game for young black people in this country; and anything at all can and will be construed as resisting. There's no hyperbole in seeing totalitarianism here — total subservience to authority, we have been told, is the least required.

Follow Natasha Lennard on Twitter: @natashalennard