Bratton's "Quality of Life" Clampdown in New York

Revolutionary Worker #1182, January 12, 2003, posted at

While heading the NYPD under Mayor Giuliani in the 1990s, William Bratton led a vicious war on the people--justified under the banner of "improving the quality wof life" in the city. The following sketches some of what the New York police did under Bratton's watch.

 There were coordinated raids on panhandlers and people who washed windshields at intersections for small change. There were sweeps on the streets targeting the homeless. People were ticketed for two-bit "crimes" like jaywalking, drinking in public, or sleeping on public sidewalks. Then people were busted when they couldn't pay the tickets.

 Anyone who "looked suspicious" to the cops--youth with baggy clothes, Black or Latino youth driving expensive cars or playing their radio too loud, anyone hanging out on the corner with their friends--was subjected to "stop-and-frisk" crackdowns by the police. 40,000 youth were picked up by police for truancy. Constitutional protections against "unreasonable search and seizure" were thrown out the window as cops went after anyone who "fit the profile." NYPD cops called it the "beer and piss patrol" because they went after people for carrying open cans of beer or for urinating on the street--in a city with almost no public toilets.

 There were so many disturbing allegations against NYPD of mistreatment, deaths in custody, and unjustified shootings that Amnesty International sent a team from London to investigate. AI used NYPD's own statistics to show that there had been a 34% increase in civilians shot dead by cops during Bratton's first year and a 53.3% increase in civilians shot dead while in police custody. There were 4,920 police brutality complaints in 1994, a 37% increase over the previous year. The N.Y. Times later revealed that there were 16,327 complaints handled between July 1993 and December 1996--a clear indictment of what Bratton's tenure meant for the people.

 During the two years on Bratton's watch between January 1994 and August 1996, at least 100 people died at the hands of the police. Regular readers of the RW will recognize the names and stories of some of the victims of police murder during that period: Anthony Baez , a 29-year-old Puerto Rican who was choked to death when the football he and his brothers were playing with hit a police car; Nicholas Heyward Jr., a 13-year-old who was shot and killed by a housing cop while playing with a toy gun; Antonio Rosario (age 18) and his cousin Hilton Vega (age 22), who were shot and killed in a Bronx apartment by cops who fired a total of 28 shots--all the bullets were fired from behind, and the wounds indicated the men had their hands raised when killed; Yong Xin Huang , a 16-year-old Chinese youth who was fatally beaten and shot by a cop while playing at his friend's house...the list goes on and on.

 This wholesale attack on the masses was accompanied by efforts to rope the middle class into supporting these vicious assaults. Posters on the subways warned against giving money to panhandlers. Talk shows railed against the "outrage" of having someone clean your windshield at a stop light and then ask for change. It was a straight-up attempt to appeal to the most backward attitudes among middle class people--to encourage them to feel smug and justified that they live more privileged lives in this imperialist country and to promise them that they have the right to move through society without having to face any of the poverty and misery that millions of people deal with every day.

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