I’m a Black woman. I am the mother of a teenage son. For decades, Black men and people of color — but Black men particularly — have continued to die at the hands of law enforcement around the country. George Floyd’s death was triggering for me and so many people across the country.
The knee that was put on George Floyd’s neck is the same knee a police officer put on the neck of a young man in lower Manhattan just three weeks ago. The words George Floyd said — “I can’t breathe” — are the same words Eric Garner said in Staten Island five years ago.
On Friday, I went to the protest near the Barclays Center in solidarity with all New Yorkers, calling for police accountability and police reform. I was out there not as a legislator, but as a person of the community, a person who has had enough.
I was in a crowd of maybe 3,000 people. I saw a variety of things: People standing in peace, chanting. I also saw people pelting bottles. I saw people coming together around an agenda for reform, and I saw people showing that frustration and emotion rightfully.
State Sen. Zellnor Myrie and I were in a section with several hundred other folks when the police came with their bicycles, using them to create a barricade. All of a sudden, they picked up their bicycles by the handlebars, turned the wheels outward, and started shoving them into our bodies, unprovoked. The wheels were in my pelvis, my lower abdomen. Where we were standing, no one was doing anything that would warrant any such behavior from the NYPD. After hours of protests, the officers just kind of lost sense of who and what.
Another wave of police came toward us. One of them put his hands up like he was giving up the fight. But before you know it, we were all pepper-sprayed. I was trying to see. I could hear Sen. Myrie calling my name, but I couldn’t see him. I didn’t actually know what happened to him. We got separated, and some protesters pulled me to the side. They were like angels to me. They pulled me away from the police—that’s why Sen. Myrie got arrested but I didn’t. I had to get on my knees in the middle of the street. They cleaned my eyes and helped me regain my vision. A reporter came over and said, “What happened? What happened?” And then I spoke.
I don’t think all police are bad, but clearly these NYPD officers were out of control. We’ve seen them caught on video. I experienced it firsthand myself, and so have many others. People are taking to the street in the middle of a pandemic not because we want to, but because we have to. We are taking to the streets because we’re hurt. People are hurt. Then you come in and you’re provoking them instead of using de-escalation tactics.
This is definitely a systemic problem and policy issue within the NYPD. Time and time again, we see so many instances where they willfully act, and then we pay for them to be retrained. There needs to be an overhaul of the NYPD. The best thing I can do as a legislator is to push a legislative package for real police reform. Accountability of the NYPD must happen before we have fatalities and folks become enraged and have to take to the streets. The New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, and Asian Legislative Caucus released a legislative agenda making it illegal to put anyone in a chokehold. We are making racial profiling illegal. We are creating transparency around that process when there is police misconduct. There won’t be any inward deals cut before justice is served.
It is evident Mayor Bill de Blasio has lost control of the NYPD. They turned their backs on him when he was first elected and he was standing up for people during police-related incidents. But now he’s doubling back and turning his back on the people. Something has got to change, and it needs to change swiftly. Imposing curfews on New Yorkers without having a conversation isn’t beneficial.
I’ve been very, very depressed and sad, but I’m trying to find my way to be solution-oriented through the pain. We need to remain consistent, be safe, and channel our frustration into tangible pathways. When we look back years from now, we need to say we didn’t just win in the moment, we won in the long run.