NYPD’s history of misconduct has led to mistrust and ambivalence among New York City voters. Despite this, the state’s new redistricting may improve the odds for former cops turned political hopefuls.
For the first time since the adoption of historic 2014 reforms, this current election cycle operates under redrawn district maps. Leading up to 2022 primaries, the New York Court of Appeals appointed an Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC) to create new electoral maps for congressional and state seats. This comes after the courts declaring previously structured lines were “unconstitutional,” because they allowed “certain undemocratic practices such as partisan and racial gerrymandering” by Democrats. The mapping was led by nonpartisan Special Master Jonathan Cervas.
To contest, Democrats said their past efforts were equitable practices that righted previously Republican-drawn maps favoring the GOP. Regardless of their claims, the petitioning period ended in June without any contestation and just before Tuesday’s primaries. To accommodate last minute changes, primary election day for U.S. House of Representatives and State Senate positions are set for August 23.
Thus far, primary results report Gov. Kathy Hochul winning the Democratic ticket against N.Y Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-NY). In the Republican race for the gubernatorial seat, Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) is projected to be the favored candidate to go up against Gov. Hochul in November.
Moreover, the city saw many Democrats running on the Working Families Party splinter. Like Queens Assemblywoman Vivian Cook, who lost some supporters to her political mentee, district leader Dr. Anthony Andrews. Although she is projected to snag the Democratic nominee for District 32, the over 30 year political veteran maintained a narrow 14 point lead over Andrews in the final tally.
While initial results show Democrats maintaining a stronghold in the recently newfangled maps, the long game of politics might present another reality come November’s midterm. New York-based political science professor and chair, Andrew Sidman told Ark Republic the redistricting could hurt minority New Yorkers. The Pork Barrel Politics author says “the new maps, especially the congressional map, does seem to harm NY residents of color,” by “dilut[ing] voting power from a racial perspective.”
Indeed, this new map can result in different election outcomes than before, which in turn impact what laws are passed. Moreover, remapping causes some of the most vulnerable communities to further lack adequate representation. Ultimately, compromising their political power and choices.
“In the past, [redistricting] has been a result of a political compromise. Democrats and Republicans come together and try to figure out what lines reflect our different interests…what Latino or Black communities would be where. For example Brooklyn or Harlem,” explains John Jay political science professor, Susan Kang to Ark Republic.
Added to this year’s feasibly chaotic terrain is the employment of the 2020 Census that took place during a fraught Donald Trump presidency. While the U.S. was crippled by the pandemic, the Trump Administration attempted to force census bureau collections to scale back and report earlier than planned. The move was blocked by California U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh.
Another impediment experienced by the 2020 Census Bureau was Trump’s appointment of Louis Dejoy as the U.S. Postal Service Postmaster General. Under his leadership, and while most of the country observed quarantine measures that shuttered in-person federal offices, Dejoy gutted postal operations across the board. His decision caused mail delivery to dramatically slow down. In some places, it came to a screeching halt. The measures also complicated mail-in votes for the major 2020 elections.
In the end, census participation was gravely disrupted. Nonetheless, the last census was used to redraw New York’s political maps.
Presently, there are 27 New York Congress people in the U.S House of Representatives. Although the old Republican District 27 was absorbed, districts have notably flipped between parties in the past. For instance, districts 11 and 19 were just Democratic four years ago, but are now Republican. Since the new lines eliminated one, some of those 26 new boundaries–namely, 1, 2,11,19, 21, 23, and 24–tend to swing right.
The new playing field
With such a delicate balance in the midst, a strong incentive to gerrymander looms if court mandates fail to uphold New York’s neutrally drawn districts.
Gerrymandering was named after former Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry. Following his review and acceptance of the state’s, Republican-controlled legislature’s drawing of districts into an oddly shaped Salamander configuration in 1812, it established a method to manipulate elections. When implemented, the inequitable political strategy divides or consolidates certain demographics like class in a given district to favor one party.
As evidenced in Milwaukee, gerrymandering favored the Republican vote so much so, it set up a legislative takeover that has led to more inequities regarding policing. Akin to NYC, Wisconsin’s largest city, Milwaukee, has long been liberal leaning and made up of over 60 percent minorities. Also like NYC, approximately one-fourth of its residents live in poverty. Yet, the Gill v. Whitford case delineated how Republicans hushed these overwhelmingly democratic districts.
In the aforementioned case, Democrats accused conservatives of reconstructing lines to advantageously position their party. By drawing new territories, the GOP swept Wisconsin’s state assembly, senate, and gubernatorial office for the first time in four decades. A mere two years after Gill v. Whitford was decided in June 2018, the police murdered George Floyd in neighboring swing state Minnesota on May 25, 2020. Today, more laws protecting police have been introduced in the state, mainly in Milwaukee, while reducing laws for citizen’s public safety.
Before that, gerrymandering was first decided on in the landmark 1993 Shaw v. Reno decision, where race-based redistricting created another strangely-moulded Black “majority-minority” district contested by white residents of the “Tar Heel State.”
North Carolina’s Black population significantly increased following the 1990 U.S. census. Thus, leading to the creation of its 12th Congressional District in the House. After an initial draft of the congressional map including the new district was outlined and sent to U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, it was rejected. Reno said the state’s entry did not meet the criteria for the 1965 Voting Rights Act. In turn, North Carolina was forced to revise its reapportion. The resubmission included a total of two Black districts.
Five white locals felt the new district did not properly represent their interests, arguing that the newly proposed territory existed solely to secure the election of more Black political representation in Congress. They contended it violated their Fourteenth Amendment rights under the Equal Protection clause–one of the Reconstruction Amendments that ensured African Americans citizenship and legal equity post the U.S. enslavement period.
In a 5-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) ruled that despite good-will intention, the irregular district “seemed to exceed what was reasonably necessary to avoid racial imbalances.” Setting a precedent for others–mainly in southern states like Texas or Florida–the ruling provided a gateway to contest majority-Black districts and, implicitly, those voters’ concerns.
Turning back to New York, so fickle have redrawn lines been constructed, the former governor, Andrew Cuomo, vowed to end partisan gerrymandering during his first term, albeit unsuccessfully. That is, until a rejected congressional map forged earlier in the year led to a delayed primary election. Ultimately, it ushered in Cuomo’s initial promise of an independent voting committee in the city.
Still, there are national advocacy groups against gerrymandering including Indivisible, as well as local nonpartisan organizations such as Common Cause NY and The League of Women Voters of the City of New York (LWV). Their stance prioritizes communities’ voter rights versus lines on a map. Their mission: to empower New Yorkers, especially those disenfranchised populations in New York City, with civic and voter knowledge as a part of promoting the New Yorker voting rights movement. As goals, they cite ending voter suppression and disparate partisan redistricting in the state that unfavorably disadvantages minority voting influence. That said, resources are limited and not everyone agrees.
The red party loves the boys in blue
It is clear that this latest round of redistributing political boundaries is poised to compromise the voting power of Black and Brown New Yorkers, but who could this help? Cops. Namely, those who are making a switch from police patrols to public office.
As red districts are far more likely to support law enforcement policy and funding than Democratic-majority areas, these new lines may very well augment the chance for more police to transition into politics. Likely because their supporters’ political influence could increase via the changed lines. Not a stretch, seeing as the Big Apple has collectively voted Republican a handful of times.
Admittedly, New York voters are 56 percent Democratic, 26 percent Republican, with 18 percent being undecided. Yet in contrast, New York state is almost 30 percent Republican leaning, 20 percent less than Democrats at 56 percent; the difference of which can be found in the 19 percent who remain undecided.
In general, Republican voters are reportedly warmer to police as compared to the public’s overall sentiment, details a Pew Research Center survey. Specifically, New York Republicans were pushing for stricter, pro-police legislation last year. This comes after claiming state Democrats created a dangerous environment with their 2020 “defund the police campaign,” following nationwide George Floyd demonstrations against police brutality.
The pull of power between pro-police and law enforcement critics continues. Roughly two months after New York Attorney General Letitia James promised for increased law enforcement reform with The Police Accountability Act, bills were written or amended to include more police protections. Included, the heavily white and rich Nassau County passed a bill protecting police against the discrimination toward first responders. Ultimately, allowing police to sue protestors for $25,000 per violation or double if it happens during a riot; the measure passed in a 12-to-6 August 2021 vote.
Notably, Nassau county voters recently elected an onslaught of Republican replacements into office. An interesting turnout, considering a 2020 Gothamist report stated that a majority of uniformed New York City Police Department (NYPD) law enforcement do not live in the city. Rather, many come from one of the six nearby counties in which NYPD officers are allowed to live, including Nassau and Putnam counties; some of the richest and whitest in the state–and who have strong Republican enclaves. Another Republican, police-loving and supporting bloc who would certainly vote-in other police officers.
In addition, the recent primaries occur on the heels of a racialized tragedy, spikes in gun violence, and a major SCOTUS ruling—all of which provide fertile ground for more cops entering into the public political discourse. On May 14, a majorly African American neighborhood in Buffalo, N.Y. suffered extreme trauma when 18 year old Payton Grendon plowed through shoppers at a Top’s grocery store with a high-caliber rifle. The mass shooting took 10 lives and injured three more.
An attack by a self-admitted white supremacist, eleven of the 13 victims were Black. Using the opportunity to address the spike in gun violence in a post-pandemic state, Gov. Hochul vowed to push for more legislative action. Her promise to curtail gun violence also followed the Brooklyn subway shooter: a man who opened fire in a metro car, hitting 10 people, but killing no one.
In spite of Gov. Hochul’s gusto, her campaign failed.
On June 23, the SCOTUS ruled in a 6-3 vote that New York’s gun control measures were unconstitutional because they restricted licensing for those carrying firearm permits. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the conservative supermajority’s decision to expand the scope of the Second Amendment to outside the home for the first time. Gov. Hochul called the ruling a “dark day.”
The case was based on two white, male New Yorkers, Brandon Koch and Robert Nash. They sued after being denied licenses to carry concealed weapons. Both plaintiffs are members of the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association. Nash, who already held a 2015 permit restricted to hunting and target shooting, applied for expanded authorization in 2016 after “a string of recent robberies” in his Averill Park neighborhood. Nash lives in upstate New York, in a town just west of Albany.
Although Gov. Hochul’s plans for more gun control have been stymied, her stance to work in tandem with law enforcement is clear; especially, with NYC’s Mayor Eric Adams. The action shows she is a Democrat who will be tough on crime, a far cry from more left-leaning sentiments.
Whoop, whoop–that’s the sound of the police
Residents from areas like Nassau county “definitely don’t have the same experience with law enforcement and [that] has more to do politics,” asserts Brooklynite and restaurant manager Kevin Richards to Ark Republic.
Regarding how discriminatory policing like profiling or excessive force was and is able to exist with the support of places like these, Richards says that upstate residents “have no reason to get involved in [stopping bad policing practices] that [don’t] affect them directly.” Indeed, these affluent populations are not the target demographic of police brutality or misconduct–minorities are. That is because unlike their neighborhoods, “there’s more Black and brown people in the city than upstate.”
Community outcries are warranted. The NYPD is one of the most corrupt police departments in the nation’s history.
As far back as U.S. slavery, the NYPD played a vital role in heavily policing and overtly controlling the city’s poor Black and Brown enclaves. From the 1830’s until the Civil War, racists like Captain Isiah Rynders, along with NYPD officers Tobias Boudinot and Daniel Nash—targeted both enslaved people fleeing the South, as well as, freed Black New Yorkers—under legislation like The Fugitive Slave Act, and regulatory policies such as the Black Code. After Emancipation, racialized laws influenced countless systemic discriminatory measures of the late 19th and mid-20th century Jim Crow era.
In New York, the likes of the repeatedly disproven Broken Windows Theory and Stop and Frisk have resulted. The implications of which have led to countless police misconduct cases and unnecessary civilian deaths such as Sean Bell or Eric Garner. Although task-forces and annual reports are produced to monitor and prevent said bad behavior, an ultimately weary, distrustful relationship between these communities and police has formed.
Post summer 2020, the social prestige for police officers among specific social groups has taken another devastating hit. Recently, a Rhode Island Republican police officer running for state senate, punched his Black woman political opponent in the face at an abortion rally. Indeed, so bad is the reputation that some politicians may downplay their previous careers in law enforcement once in office, explained Prof. Sidman.
“One can see how electing former police officers can look like an NYPD ‘takeover’ of politics. We tend not to see this because the U.S. has a long tradition of successful politicians eschewing these aspects of their backgrounds,” he wrote in a statement to Ark Republic.
While communities of color have a longstanding tense relationship with police, NYC elected a retired cop in 2021. Mayor Adams is a Black former police captain from Brooklyn, a-near oxymoron to say the least. His election proves to be even more interesting because less than two years ago, much of the public called for more police accountability, and possible defunding. Plus, Mayor Adams openly opposes the Black Lives Matter movement.
The infamous Rudy Guiliani-era Stop and Frisk–a measure when used legally, is supported by Mayor Adams. The policy, found to be unconstitutional in 2013 by Southern District of New York Judge Shira Scheindlin, “criminaliz[ed] young Black men for being young Black men because [they were] basically who [was] targeted,” according to Kang.
Indeed, Black South Bronx native and former acquaintance of Mayor Adams, Ron Johnson agrees. To Ark Republic, the former financial professional, now a local community fixture, detailed at least three harrowing incidents of police brutality and profiling while living in the late 1980s New York City, right before Stop and Frisk.
Speaking of the officers who assaulted him, Johnson recalls, “They were assholes, man. Kicking me off of my bike, crushing up my food–looking for drugs. All the time–they always had a war on drugs, but never seem[ed] to take the drugs out [of the neighborhood].”
Even Mayor Adams has recounted numerous times of his dealings with abusive police when he was teen. According to the Brooklyn native, an unfortunate encounter played a major role in him deciding to join the NYPD. While there, he said he battled police brutality. But, when he ran for the mayoral position in 2021, he called for more funding to local law enforcement. His position clashed with New York elected officials who wanted to redirect parts of the police budget to other social programs.
Mayor Adams used his Black experience to buffer criticisms regarding his stance on police accountability. Because NYC is still rocking from protests around racism, those public critiques of him have tampered. How can someone who is not Black tell a Black man about their experiences with and within the NYPD?
Kang said that his identity was part of the reason why voters connected to him and other candidates. Albeit, Mayor Adams was just able to nab more ballots. Yet and still, he is redesigning the mold for police officers planning to enter into the political arena.
The NYPD does not have the best social reputation. Some were even implicated in the January 6 riots, which has increased racial tensions. Like former New York Mayor Guiliana who is considered a central figure in Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 elections.
Now with new redistricting lines, another type of segregation blurs the strictly white districts with minority ones. White districts’ oft-mutually exclusive political interests with law enforcement are poised to strengthen in the coming elections. However, rising crime is cause for concern for all New Yorkers’ safety.
“[P]eople don’t want their family members and…their community harassed by police, but they also want safety. So, I think it’s like figuring out a way to identify risk without violating people’s human rights, their civil rights. That’s something police need to figure out how to do,” elucidates Kang.
Although some could see the change into politics as a natural, even welcomed progression, others cite the contentious relationship Black and Brown communities have historically negotiated with both law enforcement and politics as institutions.
Yet, Johnson relayed that the true power lies with, and continues to be maintained by, politicians. Those of whom were sending police into their neighborhoods in the first place. “[Politicians] changed [cop-community relations].”
Johnson continued, “Guiliani and Bloomberg…[did it for] shock [value]. [If a m]otherfucker tripped on the street, next thing you know, you got 100 cop cars flooding the block. It’s meant to intimidate, it’s meant to show force.”
This story is part two of, Politicking, a 4-part series that is part of a fellowship funded by Center for Community Media at the Newmark J-School.
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