The wealth of the United States has been built on the principle that those in power will devise ways to keep their status and oppress the less fortunate. After slavery was abolished in 1865, whites could no longer legally own blacks. In order to maintain their former lifestyle, Jim Crow laws were passed in order to keep black Americans dependent on their white counterparts. Nearly 100 years later, the Civil rights movement aimed to destroy the legislation that made segregation and inequality legal. Many Americans ignorantly believed that the Civil rights movement had eradicated the remnants of racism until the Black Lives Matter movement brought to light the injustices people of color have faced in modern day America.
New York is seen as place where everyone is accepted because it was built by immigrants, for immigrants. Politically, the state itself is very left leaning. We have parades for LGBT, Puerto Ricans, Colombians, Irish, Chinese, Sikh and many more communities throughout the boroughs. Despite this reputation, race inequality still blatantly exists in New York. Blacks and hispanics are the most policed racial demographic. In the 2017 “Crime and Enforcement Activity in New York City” report, the majority of felony and misdemeanor arrestees were either black or hispanic. Since 2002, black youths have been targeted the most by stop-and-frisk tactics, followed by hispanic youths. This has come as a consequence of “broken windows policing.” This was popularized in the 1990s by NYPD police commissioner William J. Bratton. Unsurprisingly, targeting lower level crime almost always means targeting people of color who have to resort to petty crime as a result of socioeconomic disadvantages. The concept of broken windows has actually cost the lives of some New Yorkers, most notably Eric Garner.
In the months leading up to his death, Garner had been arrested twice for selling untaxed cigarettes by the ferry. He was undoubtedly doing something illegal to make ends meet, (likely due to the fact that people of color are at a disadvantage when it comes to employment and education) and he was reprimanded for it– fair enough. The 3rd time he got caught by police, he was let off with a warning. Unfortunately, the 4th time cost him his life. After an offer saw Garner breaking up a fight on the street, they moved in on a lieutenant’s command. The officers knew that Garner sold untaxed cigarettes, but when he was arrested on this charge, he was not selling them. He was just eating lunch. This came as a surprise to Garner and his friend Ramsey Orta who filmed the whole ordeal. Garner pleaded with the officers, “don’t touch me please,” but was ignored, grabbed by the neck and wrestled to the ground. Once he was down, Garner told the arresting officers “I can’t breathe,” a total of 11 times, but they did not believe him. Even the paramedics on the scene told Garner’s dead body to “get up”– they didn’t believe him either. There were multiple witnesses, multiple videos, and an autopsy to confirm that Garner was indeed choked to death by a police officer. The precinct was even caught producing contradicting reports and statements about the tragedy, yet the NYPD still got away with this. The grand jury brought no charges to his death. Unfortunately, this tragic story is only part of the long list of events in New York alone that justify the Black Lives Matter movement.
As I mentioned before, people of color are generally at a socioeconomic and educational disadvantage. In New York, this can arguably be traced back to the mid 1900s when dozens of neighborhoods were redline because they were deemed too dangerous (and had a high minority population). Redlined areas were purposefully avoided by real estate investors and developers because there was little money to be made. Instead, public officials, like Robert Moses, focused their efforts on building housing for white residents in green and blue-lined areas (considered the two safest areas). These new homes out of the price range for most working class people and minorities. In the instance that a minority family could afford to live in a green or blue neighborhood, realtors would often dissuade those clients and push them to move into a yellow or redlined area. Even some independent landlords would refuse to lease to people or color. This residential segregation led to educational segregation. New York City public schools are broken up in districts so if a district is mostly white, the zoned school would be mostly white as well. Unsurprisingly, schools in predominantly white districts were on usually less crowded than those in minority districts– probably minorities were purposefully forced into small areas.
Though redlining has since been made illegal, the effects of redlining are still felt in NYC. Residential areas and schools continue to be segregated. This is especially apparent in Specialized High Schools: only 10% of their student body is made up of black and latino students despite blacks and latinos making up 67% of the NYC public school system. This does not mean that black and latino students are incapable of qualifying for Specialized High Schools, rather that they are at a serious disadvantage. These disadvantages include lack of funds to prepare for the SHSAT (books and classes), financial obligations (jobs) that take up valuable study time, overcrowded classrooms as a result of residential segregation just to name a few possibilities. BLM actively tries to get rid of these obstacles put in the way of young black (and minority) students as well as all the aforementioned injustices faced by the black community.
Despite these noble goals, BLM remains a fairly controversial social movement mainly because of how the media portrays them. I remember being glued to the T.V. watching the riots in Ferguson, only they did not start off as riots. Many, if not all, BLM gatherings are peaceful calls for change. Even so, the police is Ferguson decided to show up in S.W.A.T. gear and use tear gas and rubber bullets to “control” the crowd. Conversely, when Eagles fans practically destroyed Philadelphia after their first Super Bowl win, the police did not show up in riot gear; they did not throw tear gas into the crowds; they did not shoot the rioters with rubber bullets. This sort of hypocrisy on the part of law enforcement, as well as the hundreds of unarmed black people killed by police in the country, are what make BLM so critical of the police force. In retaliation, law enforcement consider BLM to be an anti-cop, anti-white hate group, when that could not be farther from the truth. On the NY BLM list of demands, “killing cops” is not listed anywhere.
Of course, in any large group, there are going to be fanatics that exhibit the stereotypes linked to said group. The best example of this is a YouTuber named Gazi Kodzo a.k.a Black Hitler. Gazi is famous for promoting the idea that white people should give reparations to black people (video featured below). He has also been known to call cop killers “heroes” and even commended black teenagers that kidnapped and tortured a white teen. Unfortunately, it seems as if law enforcement thinks that all BLM supporters share this crazy sentiment. For example, NYPD Commissioner Bratton has criticized BLM for promoting bigotry and stereotyping cops, but isn’t his comment promoting the stereotype that BLM is anti-cop? Bratton also describes shootings by police as a “narrow” issue, supporting the argument that there’s just a few bad apples in law enforcement. As Chris Rock said, “I know it’s hard being a cop… But some jobs can’t have bad apples.”
Bratton’s vocal disapproval of BLM hasn’t sat well with the city’s mayor, Bill de Blasio. As a father of two biracial teens, de Blasio understands the dangers his children face everyday and supports BLM and all its done. In a press conference at NYPD headquarters, de Blasio responded to Bratton’s criticism of BLM by saying, “From my point of view, when you say Black Lives Matter, you’re talking about a very broad, diffuse, decentralized movement, the core of which I think has hit the right note,” the mayor said. “The very phrase, Black Lives Matter, is a necessary part of the national discussion. It has helped us recognize that, sadly, our history over and over again did not value African-Americans. And from what I’ve seen of that movement, again, the vast majority of people have gone about it the right way.” That being said, de Blasio and Bratton do agree on the strategy of “broken windows” which specifically targets petty crime in an attempt to stop more egregious crime to be committed in the future. Ironically, broken windows is notorious for targeting people of color as they are more likely to be poor and therefore more likely to commit crimes such as jumping a turnstile. Because of this, it is difficult to see where de Blasio’s loyalty lies.
Regardless of de Blasio’s approval, BLM will always receive mixed reviews. Many people focus on the “racist” name or the “violent” protesters, rather the message behind Black Lives Matter. BLM cries out “hey, we’re here, and we’re not going anywhere” to a system that continually oppresses people of color. The members of BLM boldly question and challenge social norms in hopes of a better future for black and brown people. Black Lives Matter may not be the heroes we asked for– they’re certainly not the ones we deserve– but they are the heroes we need in NYC.