Civil Rights, Criminal Justice, New York

De Blasio’s perfect storm

Mayor Bill de Blasio won’t get a break. This week could be characterized as his worst since he took office.

Not because he did something wrong or didn’t do enough, but because his campaign banner, the civil rights of New Yorkers, has been trampled by a number of perfectly timed events.

The main one of all is the ongoing case of Eric Garner, the Staten Island man who died after a police officer applied a chokehold on him. The case is as white-hot as ever.

The Rev. Al Sharpton isn’t pleased. Police unions aren’t pleased. The Garner family is asking for justice. The young man who recorded the video, Ramsey Orta, and his wife, Chrissie Ortiz, were both arrested in separate incidents. The case is a media relations mess.

De Blasio, for his part, hasn’t said much.

Two reports that came to light on Monday did have much to say. The first one has to do with the NYPD’s controversial “broken windows” program, which targets minor offenses in hopes of deterring major crimes.

The findings of the report, published by the Daily News with the help of the New York Civil Liberties Union, revealed that the policy largely affects blacks and Latinos. Of the 7.3 million people who were cited or sanctioned for violations between 2001 and 2013, around 81 percent were minority residents.

Bill Bratton, the city police chief, has defended the practice. He himself implemented in 1990 when he headed the New York City Transit Authority, and later expanded it as commissioner under Rudy Giuliani. De Blasio has backed Bratton. And Sharpton, not to be outdone, has opposed both: he’s planning a march across the Verrazano Bridge to express his disapproval.

The other report was issued by the office of Preet Bharara, the Manhattan federal prosecutor. Bharara and his team investigated widespread abuses suffered by minors while in confinement at Rikers Island. Among the most egregious findings: Excessive use of force by guards; hundreds of youth treated for serious injuries; disproportionate use of solitary confinement; and lack of adequate supervision and resources to work with and tend to the needs of youth, many of whom suffer mental illness.

In other words, there is no rest for de Blasio in terms of civil-rights problems.

So far the mayor has received praise for how he handled the closing of the landmark stop-and-frisk and Central Park Five cases. But those were inherited conflicts. How he handles these new crises could very well end up defining the de Blasio era.

(A version of this column was originally published in Spanish in the print and online editions of New York’s El Diario.)

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