It took more than a week for all four men who murdered George Floyd to be charged. As Derek Chauvin’s three accomplices to cold-blooded murder sat in their homes, protesters across the country were being beaten, gassed, shot, and imprisoned. Over 10,000 people have been arrested for protesting over the past week. The brutality police officers are unleashing on protesters, many of whom are young people of color, is not an anomaly or evidence of a few bad cops. The orders, which come from higher up, are police policy towards protesters. Police departments and the mayors of each city are in lockstep in support of the brutal measures being used against protesters.
Some of the harshest repression of protesters is happening in cities with Democratic mayors, including Minneapolis. A clear example is New York City and its Democratic mayor Bill de Blasio.
De Blasio, fresh off his deadly mishandling of the coronavirus crisis — during which he refused to close public schools until a potential teachers strike forced his hand — has once again revealed his absolute disregard for the working class and people of color. Since Floyd’s murder, he has overseen the brutal repression of protesters by the NYPD . He also instituted a draconian curfew, enforced by police with batons, mass arrests, and stranding protesters far from their homes in the middle of the night.
What is happening in New York City lifts the veil from any notion that police can be restrained. The brutality of the NYPD includes beating protesters to the point of hospitalization. Leaked audio from the police scanner reveal cops joking about murdering protesters. Video clips that have gone viral show a New York cop calling a woman a “fucking bitch” and then throwing her to the ground, causing her to hit her head. Another video shows an NYPD vehicle driving full speed into a crowd of protesters.
The curfew has been another weapon in the NYPD arsenal to expand the violent repression of protesters, most notably people of color. On Tuesday, cops trapped thousands of protesters on the Manhattan Bridge for hours. Video from Wednesday shows cops stealing bikes and beating protesters. Videos surfaced from Thursday, of the NYPD arresting a delivery driver, healthcare workers (including Left Voice’s own Mike Pappas), and jail support volunteers (including two Left Voice correspondents) — all of whom were supposed to be exempt from the curfew.
The NYPD has also shot tear gas and pepper spray at peaceful protesters, arrested legal observers, and kettled protesters until the curfew began so they could then be arrested The cops have arrested people watching the protests from in front of their own homes (including Broadway composer Shaina Taub). Just imagine the instances of violence that haven’t been caught on camera.
De Blasio’s response to police violence has been especially horrific. On the first Friday of the protests, de Blasio said he understood the anger of protesters, but from the beginning he has consistently defended the NYPD for every one of the incidents just mentioned — and even when the cop’s arrested his own daughter who was protesting. He claimed he’d seen no video evidence of NYPD violent against protesters — which defies belief given the sheer number of videos that have gone viral on social media that reveal NYPD abuses.
De Blasio ran on a platform of reforming the NYPD, but now he defends the right of cops to run over protesters. He claims to be a progressive, but stands by as tear gas, curfews, and the National Guard are all deployed against demonstrators.
The progressive veneer has been torn off, and New York City is furious with de Blasio. On Tuesday night, marchers greeted him with chants of “de Blasio resign!” and “Where’s your daughter?” On Wednesday evening, protesters took the fight directly to the front of his Upper East Side mansion. They returned on Thursday; plans are for regular protests at the site. Also on Thursday, de Blasio was booed as he tried to speak at a rally for Floyd, and the chant went up again demanding his resignation — led by healthcare workers. De Blasio’s national reputation as a progressive Democrat is beginning to crumble while revealing a central contradiction between the Democratic Party’s words and actions.
The same hypocrisy is being shown all over the country Mayors and governors claim to support the goals of the protests, but they are the ones authorizing the most brutal force to repress demonstrations. In Minnesota, for example, the governor, attorney general, Minneapolis mayor, and county attorney are all Democrats. They wring their hands and give concerned speeches about the situation. They condemn the murder of Floyd and call for justice. But when it came to arresting all four officers responsible for the killing, they dragged their feet for more than a week.
In New York city, de Blasio’s behavior reveals the lie of lesser-evilism Democrats tell us at every election: that while we may not agree with all their positions, in the end they are better than the Republicans, especially on issues of social justice. They try to lay every injustice of the last four years at the feet of Trump. They tell us that if we don’t vote for Joe Biden — with all of his flaws, including his long history of racism and racist legislation — we are tacitly supporting Trump and all his bigotry. But look at how Democrats actually behave once they get into power. Sure, they make speeches as candidates, with all the right buzzwords, but once in office they are more than willing — indeed, even eager — to abandon their social justice rhetoric as they work to channel the energy of movements for change into the next electoral campaign.
Ask the protesters choking on tear gas or recovering from being shot by rubber bullets in Minneapolis or New York City or Los Angeles or Atlanta or Raleigh or any other city with a Democratic mayor whether they feel grateful that at least it was a Democrat who ordered the attacks.
What, in reality, is the difference between a Republican and a Democratic leader during a crisis? As we can see now, it is simply a matter of political theater. The Republicans have plenty of bluster about law and order — and, in the case of Trump, they appeal directly to white nationalist sympathies. Meanwhile, Democrats claim that understand and empathize with the anger and hurt the community undergoes. Once the press conference is over, though, it doesn’t matter which party they come from. They’ll both dispatch the police and National Guard to beat, gas, shoot, and jail whoever stands up against injustice.
The leaders who have for years told us they support the Black community are, once again, oppressing that community.
De Blasio has used his power to order violence against protesters — and then claims he’s seen none of it despite the preponderance of evidence. He is not only complicit but directly responsible for the unconscionable cop violence in New York City. That’s why protesters demanding justice for victims of police violence must add a demand: that de Blasio, who has protected the NYPD at every turn, must go. We can do better than the dead-end lesser evilism and the “kinder, gentler” police repression of the Democrats. Protesters must demand that Bill de Blasio resign immediately.