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The Fight for Justice is a Fight Against the NYPD

Mothers of young men killed by cops demand reform. We must realize that this is not a campaign but a fight to be fought.

by Natasha Lennard
Aug 9 2014, 8:10pm

Photo by Poster Boy

More than two years after unarmed Bronx teen Ramarley Graham was executed by NYPD officer Richard Haste in his grandmother's bathroom, the killer remains a free man (two indictments against him were thrown out.) The Department of Justice has yet to follow through with a promised investigation into the killing.

Graham's mother, Constance Malcolm, has waited in vain for some modicum of justice for her son's death for over two years. She had to watch as fellow cops cheered for her son's killer as he pled innocent to manslaughter charges in court, after shooting an unarmed teen in front of his family. At the time she said, "That’s how they work, you see it everyday."

Then, while Malcolm waited for justice that would not come, cops killed Brooklyn teen Kimani Gray (also allegedly unarmed, according to witnesses) and they choked Eric Garner to death for allegedly selling loose cigarettes on the sidewalk. They allegedly stomped on a detained man's head and choked a pregnant woman. The same day an NYPD officer received honors on Medal Day, the same cop allgedly broke in to a Bronx woman's home and assaulted her.

Surveying the two years since her son's death, Malcolm understandably carries a nagging resignation. She told the Huffington Post, "I don't think it's going to be okay, because it keeps happening."

I don't think it's going to be okay either. I don't see New York Mayor de Blasio's vaunted police reform promises ending the fact that the largest municipal police force in the country is an impunity-garnished army of thugs. As VICE News has pointed out, reform efforts of late have been little more than lip service to quell widespread anti-police sentiment.

Much maligned stop-and-frisk numbers have dropped under the new mayor, only to be replaced by an equally discriminatory no tolerance effort to ticket and arrest peddlers, panhandlers and minor violators in public spaces and housing. Police Commissioner Bill Bratton's bread-and-butter "broken windows," back in full force, has maintained the NYPD's war on poor and minority communities.

And when it comes to use of force, a reportedly suggested reform on the table includes an increased use of Taser guns. Illegal chokeholds, it seems, were garnering too much bad press. But, as I have repeatedly noted, cops who shoot dead unarmed teens and mentally unwell individuals consistently remain on the force. They are not jailed.

Perhaps it is through rage-red tinted lenses, or simply that my social media feeds algorithmically cater to my anti-cop interests, but I believe we are seeing an increasingly legible, or at least defensible, anti-police sentiment emerge in New York in the last few years.

Police brutality is nothing new and certainly no scoop in the communities where police harassment has long been a quotidian violence. It would be crassly historicist to draw a causal line to explain why cop criticism has become a staple of mainstream media and local political discourse.

We might point to the proliferation of phone videos spreading incontestable evidence of vile police behavior; we might acknowledge the efforts of advocacy groups, civil liberties activists and pissed off neighborhoods making themselves visible. We might point to the federal lawsuit challenging stop-and-frisk as unconstitutional. We might point to city politics jumping on the bad cop hot button, too. Or maybe even the fact that many young, privileged kids brushed with the blunt side of police batons for the mere act of occupying space in the financial district. All of these and more contributed to the conditions that make "Fuck The Police" hardly seem like a controversial statement, even in the mainstream. I also leave room for the possibility that this is no more than wishful thinking on my part.

But, supposing for a second that anti-police sentiment, or at least distrust of cops, is genuinely gaining ground right now — so what? Fury, when confined to online outrage or the boiling of blood at yet another tragic dirge for an NYPD victim, will not — has not — stopped this army in its tracks. Indeed, following Garner's choking death, the police union released a statement said they would be open to reform and training insofar as it would get them out of trouble. Protecting and serving their own asses was the explicit sentiment expressed.

Ramarley Graham's mother and five other women whose sons had been killed by cops met this week with NYPD Inspector General Philip Eure to push for an investigation into the department’s use of force, especially lethal force. One of the mothers present has been calling for justice and accountability for a decade; her son was killed in a chokehold by cops in 1994. Her refusal to stop fighting is astounding.

And so, too, there is inspirational strength in Graham's mother saying, "I don't think it's going to be okay," yet fighting on nonetheless. Her comments here reflect a grim truth that must be acknowledged: This is a fight, with many fronts, against an army of uniformed and state sanctioned thugs. Fights are not "okay," fights are not easily ended with tweaks and promises and minor gestures. Fights can be unwieldy and scary. Fights are fought. And while it is politic to talk about the fight for justice, we should finish that sentence: The fight for justice is a fight against the police.

Follow Natasha Lennard on Twitter: @natashalennard

Image via Flickr

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