Most of the comments I received from people who read last week’s story, “The 5 Towns Non-Riot,” had agreeable and supportive things to say. But the letters — whoa! Some of them called into question the value of my existence. When I showed a friend some of these letters, he responded by asking if I expected anything different.
Of course, most of the negative correspondence was anonymous, which is to be expected when people express cruel and hurtful sentiments. Here’s one brief note I received.
“Your article on the black problem was disgusting and a chillul Hashem to be published. If this is what you have to contribute, please stop. You disgrace the Torah and bring shame to our people.”
I have a few thoughts about those comments. The first one that occurred to me was that it is a good thing I’m the one who makes the decisions about what gets published.
Secondly, I reread the article, and I do not see any reference to what the letter refers to as “the black problem.” No wonder the letter was written anonymously.
The demonstration or rally called last week by African American leaders in Far Rockaway was a model protest from which the rest of the country and other black leaders can learn a great deal. All involved were sensitive to the possibility that events of this sort have proven to have the potential to turn violent and destructive, as was the case not so far away in Brooklyn and Manhattan.
Donovan Richards is the 37-year-old New York City council member representing Far Rockaway. We spoke on Sunday about the dynamics of last week’s Far Rockaway protest, the Jewish community’s involvement, and the plans going forward.
He says that while he was not a planner of the protest march, he quickly made contact with the organizers and told them that they have the opportunity to teach New York and the wider country a lesson about how to proceed in expressing the community’s angst and displeasure regarding what happened to George Floyd in Minnesota, but to do it properly and responsibly.
“I told those assembled that we can be an example to the community, and that if you step out of line, don’t worry about the police — we are going to take care of you.”
Councilman Richards is chairman of the Committee on Public Safety that oversees the New York City Police Department. He says he is in touch with all the precinct captains around the city and monitors relations between communities and their police departments. The importance of that position became clear when the Far Rockaway protest was planned, because the councilman was able to connect the organizers with the local police so that they could work together with the objective of making the march the effective and peaceful protest it was.
Regarding the violence out there on the street, Councilman Richards says that what occurred is a result of a combination of circumstances. He said that COVID-19 hit his community with intensity, and an inordinate amount of people were furloughed or lost their jobs, so that some of what took place in other parts of the city was an outgrowth of deep frustration.
I pointed out that Mayor de Blasio cannot seem to find his footing on this matter and is being buffeted and roundly condemned by all sides.
“He’s playing both sides, and this is an issue that you cannot play down the middle,” Mr. Richards said.
Like leadership in Minnesota, Mr. de Blasio said that he, too, is in favor of defunding the NYPD. Now, it is important to note that “defunding,” in the context that it is being used by the mayor, does not necessarily mean the elimination of funding, which means that there will be no more police. It means reallocating those funds to better help communities.
Councilman Richards says he is well aware of what the police budget comprises. Last year, the NYPD budget was $6 billion. Mr. Richards says that there is room to reduce the police budget, and he cites as an example that last year over $1 billion was paid to police for overtime. Certainly it would be fiscally responsible for city government to try to reduce the cost of all that overtime.
By saying he wants to reduce police funding, Mayor de Blasio is being intellectually dishonest. The mayor wants you to think that he is serious about cutting policing in New York, but it’s a deception. That, by the way, is not something that Donovan Richards said — I am saying that.
Morning radio host Sid Rosenberg on WABC said on Monday “The mayor is an ineffective, anti-police creep,” about the de Blasio zig-zagging.
I asked Councilman Richards why last week in Far Rockaway and in other protests there was Jewish participation but when there are attacks on Jews — antisemitic and otherwise — there is almost no voice heard from the African American leadership or community objecting or protesting.
“I have to disagree with you about that,” Mr. Richards said. The councilman said that over those few months when Jews were being punched or pushed to the ground violently in places like Crown Heights, Boro Park, and Williamsburg, in his capacity as public safety chairman he worked closely with other council members, like Chaim Deutsch in Midwood, so as to coordinate with police management to deploy and prevent these types of attacks. He adds that he passed legislation in the city council that labeled these types of assaults serious hate crimes.
On the matter of protesters who committed crimes being arrested but then immediately released without bail or not being charged at all, Councilman Richards said that most of these people were teenagers. He added that he would not like to see the lives of these kids ruined with a criminal record because of actions in their youth. “I think community service as opposed to a prison term with a rap sheet that will follow them for the rest of their lives is preferable,” he said.
Donovan Richards said that as a youngster growing up in Far Rockaway, he has firsthand knowledge of what it means to be stopped by police for no reason while just walking down the street. This type of procedure was common and known as Stop and Frisk, a procedure introduced widely during the mayoral terms of Rudy Giuliani and a process that was even accelerated during Michael Bloomberg’s 12 years as mayor of New York.
I had one last question for the councilman to explain. Why is the term “All Lives Matter” so offensive to the African-American community? I asked because I was fundamentally curious — aren’t blacks included in “All Lives?”
“White supremacists started that phrase in the midst of other police brutality incidents,” Mr. Richards said. “The term was meant to slight the black community in the midst of our pain,” he added.
“Sociologist David Theo Goldberg explained some years ago that the slogan ‘All Lives Matter’ indicates that everyone is equally at risk, and that is just not so.”
Former President Barack Obama said, “No one is suggesting that all lives don’t matter. There is, however, a specific problem that is happening in the African American community that does not happen in other communities.”
Donovan Richards is a young, up-and-coming political leader in Far Rockaway who seems to have a great career ahead of him. It starts with the primary election for Queens Borough president on June 23, and from there the only direction for this talented young man is up.