Editorial | Bending toward justice

A lone student studies on the campus of Columbia University overlooking Amsterdam Avenue on Jan. 14th.
Photo by Dean Moses

At the start of a weekend celebrating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we were reminded once more that we have miles to go to fulfill his dream of equality for all. 
That reminder came in the form of a lawsuit that New York state Attorney General Letitia James filed against New York City and the NYPD over police brutality that occurred during last summer’s George Floyd/Black Lives Matter protests.
In her extensive case, James outlined that too many of the officers on patrol during the demonstrations simply went too far — from bashing people with batons, to pepper-spraying individuals without provocation, to “kettling” marchers on the street, sealing them in a perimeter and leading to standoffs.
In a much more damning light, many officers seemed to target individuals based on the color of their skin. One Black protester, Andrew Smith, said an officer walked past several white marchers, pulled down his mask and doused his face with pepper spray, though Smith said he did nothing to provoke such a reaction.
As news of the lawsuit hit, Mayor Bill de Blasio and the NYPD came out in defense of their actions, and recommendations previously made following probes by James’ office in the summer, and the city’s Department of Investigation last month.
They repeated once more a commitment to reforming policing, but argued that the lawsuit James filed won’t bring about reform any faster.
For years, we’ve heard promise after promise of corrective measures at the NYPD to end police brutality and racial injustice — yet both problems persist today.
It took a federal court order for the NYPD to finally stop employing “stop-and-frisk” tactics. That also brought about the renewed approach to community policing which kept crime down while improving police-community relations.
Under James’ reasoning, it might take another federal court order to finally get the NYPD to change its protest-response tactics. But why let it get to that point?
The NYPD should work in concert with James’ office to settle the case and implement the reforms needed to keep future protests orderly, and all protesters and police officers safe. 
It’s not an impossible objective to achieve, provided we work in cooperation with one another — and remind ourselves, as Dr. King said, that “the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

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