Staunch critic of the NYPD grapples with deaths of 2 officers

Written By: Katie Glueck © 2021 The New York Times The New York Times
New York Updated: Jan 27, 2022, 12:07 AM(IST)

New York Police Department Photograph:( The New York Times )

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Councilwoman Kristin Richardson Jordan, 35, has equated the policing system with slavery and emphasized her deep compassion for both the fallen officers and the man who the police said killed them — positions that are vastly out-of-step with many of her fellow Democrats

 On one side of Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard in Harlem, dozens of candles and bouquets of flowers were clustered outside the 32nd Precinct station house after a shooting that would leave two officers dead.

Across the boulevard was the apartment building where the officers were struck by gunfire as they responded to a report of a domestic incident.

And in between, the neighbourhood’s new city councilwoman sat in a bare-bones office, trying to reconcile the need to comfort a grieving community with her firm belief that police departments should ultimately be abolished.

Councilwoman Kristin Richardson Jordan, 35, has equated the policing system with slavery and emphasized her deep compassion for both the fallen officers and the man who the police said killed them — positions that are vastly out-of-step with many of her fellow Democrats.

Her political style, as a revolutionary activist and poet, is distinctive.

But in the context of left wing politics, her overarching argument around policing — that New York City should invest far more in social services while cutting spending on law enforcement — is not.

“The greatest way to honour the loss of life on all sides, loss of life due to gun violence,” Jordan, the granddaughter of a police officer, said on Monday, “would be to invest in our communities.”

Discussions around policing, justice and how best to ensure public safety have divided Democrats across the country and shaped elections from Long Island, New York, to San Francisco. But this week, on that sliver of 135th Street in Harlem, those debates were especially raw.

“Right here,” said Jordan, a democratic socialist who lives a few minutes from where the shooting occurred. “We’re at the centre.”

Against the backdrop of the Harlem shooting, Mayor Eric Adams, who has promised to battle crime in a just fashion, released an expansive public safety plan Monday. The response — early praise from the White House but plenty of pushback at home — freshly illustrated Democratic tensions around those searing issues.

The proposal called for significant policing efforts to combat gun violence, including the restoration of an anti-gun police unit. Adams also urged state lawmakers to make changes to New York’s bail law and to a law that altered how the state handles teenage defendants.

The plan for revamping anti-crime units, which were disbanded in 2020, has stoked particular controversy, with even some of Adams’ typical ideological allies expressing reservations. But the most vociferous criticism has come from supporters of criminal justice reform who are to his left.

“I am concerned about some of the elements that are in the mayor’s plan for safety, that they’re rolling back the clock on some things that have been some really meaningful reforms,” Jordan said.

At another point, she warned that the shooting could be used “as an excuse to overpolice and continue oppression in the community.”

The murder rate and other measures of violent crime in New York City remain far below the rates of the early 1990s, but gun violence in particular has spiked during the pandemic, and the U.S. murder rate has gone up significantly. Adams’ speech crystallized a national debate around how to respond and followed a spate of high-profile crimes that has left many New Yorkers shaken and that culminated in the shooting deaths of the two officers.

Officer Jason Rivera, 22, was killed while responding to the 911 call Friday. The death of Officer Wilbert Mora, 27, was announced Tuesday, a day after Lashawn McNeil, the man who the New York City police said was the gunman, also died from injuries.

On Friday night, Jordan was hosting a planning meeting and attending a neighbourhood gathering of Black socialists at her office when she learned of the shooting. She headed to Harlem Hospital, joining other elected officials and Adams, who held a news conference.

But as many of her colleagues expressed their pain on social media, a post from Jordan’s Twitter account that evening focused on community gardens.

It was a preplanned message, she later said, posted “mistakenly” by a staff member — but it touched a nerve online.

She did not comment on the shooting directly for several more hours, because of directions given by officials at the hospital, she said. (Assemblywoman Inez Dickens broadly confirmed those instructions, though others in attendance quickly issued statements of sorrow.)

“I stand with the families of the fallen,” Jordan later wrote. “The death of police officers is not what abolition is. Abolition is an end to violence altogether.”

In the days since, she said, she prayed with constituents for Mora's recovery. She attended vigils. She plans to attend the officers’ funerals.

She also indicated that there was a parallel between the loss of the officers’ lives and the death of McNeil. “I see every single human life as equivalent,” she said Monday.

After Mora died from his injuries, Jordan went a step further.

“My deepest condolences to the families of Officer Rivera, Officer Mora and Lashawn McNeil,” she wrote on Twitter on Tuesday. “Lives lost due to broken public safety & mental health systems that spare nobody.”

Debates around policing and safety played a defining role in the New York City mayoral primary. Many of the working-class voters of colour who propelled Adams to victory — reflecting, in some ways, President Joe Biden’s base — embraced his message of both supporting a powerful role for law enforcement and demanding policing reforms. Those discussions took on fresh urgency again this week in Jordan’s district.

“They want mutual respect between the police and the community,” said Dickens, who represents an overlapping district. “But they want the police.”

At the memorial outside the police station in Harlem, one sign read, “Mayor Adams, NYPD need a raise.” Lenny Gardner, 67, a Democrat who works at a hospital, seemed sympathetic to that argument as he walked by.

“They have a hard job, and they’re underpaid and sometimes not given credit for what they do,” said Gardner, who said he had lived in the area for 33 years and had relied on the police himself. “I’m not with the abolishing police. That’s the only way that we can keep order.”

Jordan, too, has deep roots in the area, describing herself as a third-generation Harlemite. She attended the Calhoun School, a progressive private school on the Upper West Side, and Brown University and built a career around activism — she was involved in the Black Lives Matter and Occupy Wall Street movements and founded a “cop watch” team, she has said. And she spent time writing and in publishing, including releasing a book that grapples with her personal experiences with domestic violence.

She ran for City Council last year, initially inspired, she told The Nation, by the left-wing members of the “Squad” in Congress. Jordan identifies as a Black socialist, though groups like the Democratic Socialists of America and the left-wing Working Families Party made no endorsement in her primary.

Other prominent left-wing organizations, including the political group associated with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, did offer support, though to date Jordan is not considered a prominent member of the city’s left wing; she is largely unknown even to like-minded officials.

In the ranked-choice primary election, she ultimately prevailed over the incumbent by around 100 votes.

Asked to assess her performance so far in office, Keith L.T. Wright, chair of the Manhattan Democratic Party, replied, “I’ve never had a conversation with her, and I don’t know what she does.”

(Jordan said she welcomed conversations and noted her relationship with the Manhattan Young Democrats. “The future of the Democratic Party is progressive and bold,” she said.)

Patrick J. Lynch, head of the Police Benevolent Association — a union considered toxic by many Democrats for, among other things, endorsing Donald Trump in 2020 — also said that Jordan “is new to the office and we have had no interactions with her.”

“We are aware of her public statements about police officers and public safety,” he said. “They don’t reflect what police officers hear from her constituents.”

Jordan acknowledges “hit-and-miss” dynamics with the police, also saying that she has been both “falsely arrested” and has relied on law enforcement herself when confronting domestic violence.

Her style is far more radical than that of many of her colleagues, but the broadest contours of her approach — to see social services as vital components of public safety — are shared widely among many New York Democrats, including, to some degree, Adams.

“Deep investments in the communities that have for so long been overlooked and left out, underfunded, disinvested in — that is what will keep our communities safe,” said Councilwoman Crystal Hudson of Brooklyn.

Since the shooting, Jordan contacted the families of both the officers and of McNeil, though as of Tuesday she had not connected with them.

She has also maintained other aspects of her schedule, attending a balloon-festooned inauguration celebration Saturday. There, she held a moment of silence to mark the shooting. Then, she recalled, she thanked her team and sought to brace them for the task ahead.

“It’s been a really tough moment to navigate,” she said. “Because people are searching for a villain.”

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