BROOKLYN – The race for Congressional District 9 that represents Brooklyn from Park Slope through Crown Heights, Flatbush to Midwood and Sheepshead Bay is underway, with democratic primaries on June 23. There are five candidates looking to represent Congressional District 9, which saw the majority of Brooklyn Protest, a district in which over 52% of residents are Black, and where COVID-19 hit hard.
We reached out to all of the candidates with questions to get their take on what’s been happening in the City regarding policing and protests. Four out of the five candidates in this race – Yvette Clarke, Adem Bunkeddeko, Isiah James, and Lutchi Gayot are Black, and they responded almost immediately. Sheepshead Bay Council Member Chaim Deutsch, proudly endorsed by the Police Benevolent Association of New York, declined to comment at all. In fact, he has been quiet on Twitter, only Tweeting about the looting and violence against cops, and a statement from the NYC Jewish Caucus on standing against racism.
Representative Yvette Clarke is running to keep her seat and is calling on Mayor Bill de Blasio to ensure that cops are held accountable for their actions.
“As COVID-19 and police brutality protests continue to rage across the country and in my hometown, beloved Brooklyn, I am reminded of an ever-present fact: COVID-19 is the second deadly disease to pose a direct threat to the health and well being of our communities. White supremacy has always been the undisputed first,” she said. “The things I have seen and the stories I have heard in our communities, including from elected officials that I work closely with, have been disturbing, to say the least. This civil unrest highlights what happens when people are dehumanized and when their issues and concerns are relegated to the discretionary as opposed to the mandatory.”
She said cops who violate the law must be removed from the police force.
“George Floyd was murdered. Before George, there were Black men, women, and children whose lives were taken from us without any provocation. We have seen this play out time and time again and there must be regulations, policies, and procedures in place to ensure that racist cops are not given a slap on the hand when they choose to violate the very laws they’re meant to enforce,” she said. “They must be removed from the police force and dealt with swiftly as a deterrent to those who would follow suit and or interpret the lack of accountability and consequence as a license for police brutality and state-sanctioned murder.”
Adem Bunkeddeko protested alongside thousands of others last Saturday. He told us that Black men being killed in the hands of cops isn’t anything new.
“Being a Black person in this country is exhausting, and it’s important to note that nothing that has happened in the past week is new. The injustice and outrage that Black people have felt are also not new because we see police brutality occur day in and day out in our communities. The only difference now is that these actions are caught on camera for the world to see,” he said. “Now, despite these actions being caught on camera, we still aren’t getting adequate leadership or resolve from our leaders to tackle police brutality. It’s a daily exhausting battle for Black people in this country, but we must continue to fight this until our country has been exhausted by this injustice.”
He believes strongly that 50-a– a section of the New York Civil Rights Law that deems the “personnel records” of police officers, firefighters, and corrections officers “confidential and not subject to inspection or review” without the officer’s permission— should be repealed.
“This law protects bad cops and undermines faith in our criminal justice system. There are fatal consequences — the officer that killed George Floyd had 17 previous complaints and Eric Garner’s killer, Daniel Pantaleo, had numerous complaints against him,” he said. “We need to be able to track police misconduct and the disciplinary measures taken. Repealing this law will be a step forward to hold the police accountable.”
When asked about the many cops that have been aggressive toward protestors, Bunkeddeko said it was “beyond alarming to see.”
“The police often used the batons in an entirely antagonistic manner. It is beyond alarming to see a police officer choose to use a baton against peaceful protesters and these violent actions escalate the situation,” he said. “Make no mistake, the use of batons, driving into protesters, all of these tactics are meant to heighten tensions at a time when people are hurting because of the deep injustices against black people in our country.”
As for the Mayor’s response to it all, Bunkeddeko said it was inadequate and disgraceful.
“His comments on Saturday evening reflected a total misunderstanding for the protests and willful blindness to the brutality inflicted by our own police force. It is because of his inability to hold the police force accountable that we continue to see these officers act with impunity in our streets,” he said. “He offered excuses for brutal, violent, and antagonistic acts from the NYPD. Mayor de Blasio, you can’t condemn a police officer in Minnesota as you protect and enable the NYPD while they engage in violence against our own residents.”
Lutchi Gayot, another candidate for the seat, also believes 50-a should be repealed. Like Bunkeddeko, he was out protesting on Saturday in East Flatbush. He saw aggressive behavior from cops and said such behavior is typical.
“These are innocent people who the cops are using violence against. This is why we’re protesting in the first place,” he said. “We want to have a peaceful protest and once they start attacking us with batons it’s very hard to just let it happen. Peace is only present not just with no violence but also the prescience of justice. Attacking nonviolent peaceful protesters is an injustice.”
He said enough is enough.
“An innocent man was murdered and only one out of the three officers responsible has been punished. These protests are not just about George Floyd it’s about the continuing pattern of injustice against minorities from those who are supposed to protect us,” he said. “This can’t just be temporary outrage. We can’t go back to where we were before. It’s not enough right now to not be racist, we have to be anti-racist. We can’t be the cop standing over George Floyd watching him die and do nothing about it. We have to confront the problem even if it’s not our knee on the innocent man’s neck.”
And lastly, there is Isiah James. He didn’t send us his answers via email, instead, he called us right away. After each question we asked, his answers became more and more filled with frustration and rage. He remembered the time when cops assaulted him for no reason at all, he told us.
“I’m seeing a man die in front of our face. The entire world saw it and that’s why the entire world is so enraged. We didn’t just see the weight of one police officer on the neck of a Black man. We saw the weight of the entire system on the neck of a Black man. We saw 400 years of persecution on the neck of a Black man,” he said. “I saw the pain. I saw someone pleading for their life, asking for the humanity of the officer to take his knee of his neck.”
James believes the Mayor is doing a terrible job and should be holding cops accountable.
“The Mayor is adding fuel to the damn fire. He does not listen,” James said. He then quoted from Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech, “Riot is the language of the unheard.”
“America is not listening and in the biggest city in the world, our mayor is not listening. You do not add 500 more police officers to a situation. You de-escalate that situation. You cannot expect people to listen to you when you roll up on them in armed vehicles in body armor, in bullets, in tanks. People are not going to listen. You are literally adding fuel to the fire. Instead, you add water to the fire. You de-escalate. You pull the police officers back. You don’t send them in riot gear.”
James said he was “pissed off at the Mayor months before this.”
“The Mayor always seems to tout that he has a Black son, and a Black daughter, and a Black wife. But the same mayor hired 500 additional new cops to police Black and Brown communities in Crown Heights, in Bed-Stuy. Why did he do that? Why did it take him five years to fire Pantaleo when he choked Eric Garner to death?” he said. “Don’t tell me you give a damn about the plight of Black people when Black people all over this city have been suffering under the NYPD while you were mayor and you didn’t do anything.”
Like the other candidates who spoke to us, he believes 50-a should have never been put into law in the first place.
“All 50-a does is allow bad police officers to be shielded when they commit heinous acts. Now think about this, if you were a teacher, a DOE employee, and had 20 write-ups in your 10-year career abusing children, would you still be allowed to teach? Your teaching license would be pulled,” he said. “There’s absolutely no reason that public servants, police officers, can literally have complaint after complaint of excessive force, violence, and misconduct on their personal record and still be allowed to draw a taxpayers salary, still be allowed to operate and terrorize our community.”
He said he understands policing is a hard job. After all, he has served this country himself.
“I also had a hard job in the military for almost a decade. If I had shot an Iraqi civilian who was unarmed, I would be in jail. If I had just started beating an Iraqi or Afghan civilian, I would be in jail. I get policing is a hard job, but you also have life and death on your hip. You chose to be a police officer. You chose to be a public servant. So dammit, serve the public.”