By Monifa Bandele and Jose Lopez | NOVEMBER 03, 2020
This summer, tens of thousands of New Yorkers took to the streets to demand justice. Those same New Yorkers are now heading to the polls in droves to turn those calls for justice into tangible reform.
But this election season, this diverse wave of New Yorkers is hitting the same obstacle to change they hit this summer: the New York Police Department.
Rather than do their civic duty to defend all New Yorkers’ constitutional rights to vote and speak freely, some members of the NYPD — and especially their union leaders — are using the same abusive tactics we saw on our streets this summer.
Even while New Yorkers are heading to the polls in historic numbers, videos are surfacing showing NYPD officers heading to the polls, not to protect the franchise, but to engage in voter intimidation. Officers have seized personal protective equipment and COVID-prevention resources from community organizers, and a uniformed NYPD officer was caught on video endorsing Trump over his patrol car loudspeaker.
The police unions, who defended the officer for his political charade, are further using their outsized resources to undermine the will of the people. New York City’s largest police union, the Police Benevolent Association, has endorsed the most racist and anti-democratic president in modern history, and unions have spent more than $1 million to try to sway elections in their favor. How can we expect these same officers to protect the democratic rights of all New Yorkers, especially Black, Latino and other New Yorkers of color who are most at risk of voter suppression?
As New Yorkers take to the polls to exercise their right to vote, we need to take meaningful steps to prevent the NYPD and police unions from interfering with democracy. We’re determined to protect the right of our communities to vote without police intimidation, harassment and violence. Together, we can #CopWatchThePolls to call out instances of voter intimidation and interference.
For lasting change, we need to prevent armed officers from monitoring polling sites and replace them with community leaders who actually know how to de-escalate conflict. We also need the New York attorney general to investigate the NYPD, the police unions, and instances of individual officers interfering with protected election support activities, like handing out protective equipment and nonpartisan informational flyers.
But we also need to think bigger than just responding to and litigating police violence. Calls are ringing out in New York and across the country to defund the police, and they’re inspiring us to ask an important question: What makes a city safe? Is policing really the solution to our biggest social problems? What would our communities look like if we stopped responding to mental health crises with weapons and escalation? What would our communities look like with better-funded schools? With health care, jobs programs and community-based violence interruption?
This election is one of the most urgent of our time. We need a plan and a promise now from Mayor de Blasio, Gov. Cuomo and Commissioner Dermot Shea that the NYPD will not be given free rein to violently and senselessly interfere with the vote — or the pro-democracy protests that will surely come in the wake of the election.
Bandele is a board member of Communities United for Police Reform Action Fund, a long-time leader in Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and part of the Movement for Black Lives policy table. Lopez is a member of Make the Road Action and a board member of Communities United for Police Reform Action Fund.