We don’t want Bratton back

December 19, 2013

Bill de Blasio won the mayor's office in New York City by criticizing the stark divide between rich and poor that opened up still further under billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg. But even before he's officially installed in office on January 1, de Blasio has begun disappointing those who hoped his victory would signal a new day for working-class Blacks and Latinos.

On December 5, de Blasio announced he would appoint William Bratton as police commissioner. Bratton held the job of top cop in New York City from 1994 to 1996, when he introduced an aggressive policy of policing in communities of color that many people associate with "stop-and-frisk" and brutal methods today. Bratton then took his belligerent police methods to Los Angeles, where he served as the LAPD chief from 2002 to 2009.

But the gulf between the expectation of change and the reality of Bratton's style of policing could serve as a line of confrontation between activists and the incoming administration. Under Bloomberg, groups like Parents and Families Against Police Brutality helped to organize the opposition to police murder, brutality and racial profiling. In this statement, the group condemns de Blasio's choice for police commissioner.

WE ARE all outraged over Mayor-elect de Blasio's choice of William Bratton for police commissioner, and furious with Al Sharpton for allowing Bratton to speak at the National Action Network, knowing Bratton is not for the good of the Black community. At an inaugural press conference on October 3, 2002, newly appointed LAPD Chief William Bratton was quoted by the Los Angeles Times as saying:

Where you have guns, you have drugs. Where you have drugs, you have youth. Where you have youth, you have gangs. Why treat them like four different diseases? When you go to a doctor, he treats the totality of all that are affecting your body. L.A. is not doing that in any way, shape or form.

What can we expect from a cop who considers youth as a disease?

We can look to the bone-chilling reality of Bratton's New York, when he was NYPD Commissioner between 1994 and 1996. Disturbing allegations of mistreatment, police brutality, deaths in custody and unjustified shootings became so serious during Bratton's tenure that Amnesty International sent a team from London to investigate.

William Bratton (right) when he was chief of police in Los Angeles
William Bratton (right) when he was chief of police in Los Angeles (Eric Richardson)

Amnesty International found a "serious problem of police brutality and excessive force" in the NYPD under Bratton. The evidence suggested "that a large majority of the victims of police abuse are racial minorities, particularly African Americans and people of Latin American or Asian descent [and that r]acial disparities appear to be most marked in cases involving deaths in custody and questionable shootings."

Bratton dismissed the 72-page Amnesty International report as having no merit, despite the fact that Amnesty used the NYPD's own statistics. Amnesty International found that in Bratton's first year in office, there was a 34.8 percent increase in civilians shot dead by the NYPD, a 53.3 percent increase in civilians who died in police custody, an upsurge in the number of civilians injured by firearm discharges of police, and 4,920 new police brutality complaints made by citizens to the city's Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), an increase of 37 percent over the previous year (in 1995, 8,767 complaints were filed with the CCRB, and between July 1993 and December 1996, the CCRB handled 16,327 complaints, according to the New York Times).

AND HOW about this one: as soon as Bratton was sworn in as NYPD Commissioner, all NYPD officers were issued a 15-round, rapid-firing, 9-millimeter, semi-automatic handgun, replacing the six-round, .38-caliber revolvers that were formerly carried. Before this, even some NYPD commissioners had resisted the use of semi-automatic weapons on the grounds that they would increase the likelihood of officers firing more rounds than necessary or emptying their guns into people.

Newsday described this as "one of the largest re-arming projects the country has ever seen." In 1999, a few years after Bratton's departure, the NYPD "Street Crimes Unit" shot Guinean immigrant Amadou Diallo 41 times, thus realizing the worst fears many had about Bratton's issuance of these high-powered weapons to thousands of NYPD cops.

From 1994 to 1996, New York saw an explosion in the number of people arrested. In 1994, 198,066 people were arrested. In 1995, 268,057 were arrested. The majority of arrests were for nonviolent misdemeanors, thousands were arrested for "illegal peddling," and 40,000 youth were picked up by police for truancy. Bratton's "Streets Crimes Unit" made 9,000 arrests in 45,000 stops in the two years under Bratton's stop-and-frisk policy.

Sixty-three percent of those stopped in those two years were Black, and most of the others were Latino. Close to 90 percent of those "stopped and frisked" were people of color. In one case, the city of New York paid up to $50 million to settle a lawsuit on behalf of some 50,000 people, the largest monetary settlement of a civil rights lawsuit in New York City history. The plaintiffs were illegally strip-searched after being arrested for minor offenses--on the basis of the specious "broken windows" theory that aggressive policing of urban "disorder" prevents crime.

A police murder spree ensued during the two years of Bratton's watch. Between January 1994 and August 1996, more than 60 people died at the hands of NYPD. The book Stolen Lives: Killed by Law Enforcement published by the October 22 Coalition to Stop Police Brutality Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation, the National Lawyers Guild and the Anthony Baez Foundation has documented the horrifying reality of Bratton's New York.

Among those lives ended by Bratton's officers are Nicholas Heyward Jr., 13 years young; Anthony Baez, 29 years young; Shu'aib Abdul Latif, 17 years young; Antony Rosario, 18 years young; Hilton Vega, 22 years young; Anibal Carasquillo, 21 years young; Yong Xin Huang, 16 years young; and Frankie Arzuaga, 15 years young. The list of stolen lives under Bratton goes on...

Now tell me what gave the Rev. Al Sharpton the nerve to have this man whose history he knows well come to the National Action Network to speak in honor of Nelson Mandela. If the Reverend cares as much about police brutality as he claims, he should be standing with parents of those murdered by police in voicing our concerns for all New Yorkers.

We are extremely disturbed by Mayor-elect de Blasio's appointment of Bratton as Police Commissioner of New York City.

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