Back in the last millennium, when Al and I were young, we young ‘uns enjoyed a good protest march. Well, not me, but that’s because I grew up in San Diego. We were busier playing “freeway tag” (don’t ask) than protesting. Al was in the Bronx, and in the Bronx, protesting was a form of public celebration. Everyone’s favorite protesters were the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers. They had the best uniforms, the best quasi-military dance moves, and the best chants. Al’s favorite was “Arriba! Abajo! Los Yankees par Carajo!” You can google translate that, but maybe not at work. News flash to my southern friends: surprise! A few miles further south, and you’re a Yankee too.
After a while, “Big Protest” went out of style. Now it’s back. Street protests are front and center in New York City, “big league”. Today, for example – with Trump coming back to Manhattan, the citizenry is fired up. Expect traffic trouble, at a minimum. Last week, there was both a science march AND an immigrants rights march in NYC. I’m not the marching type, though I probably would have appreciated the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers Organization back in the day. I do enjoy great slogans, and here’s one from the science march:
In general, though, I’d rather stay home and watch “Secrets of the Dead” on PBS.
But these are strange times. Last week, I corralled the hub, a few stalwart neighborhood friends, and a couple of random teenagers to join the uptown immigrant’s rights march. Turned out to be a lot of fun! I schmoozed the sidelines, the friends and the girls chatted and marched, and Al got to chant the classic mentioned above.
My favorite schmoozes:
• A nun in full “The hills are alive with the sound of music” regalia.
• A large man playing chess in the Wright Brothers Playground who has a plan to solve all racial tension: Black folk move to Africa, White folk move to Europe, and return the Americas to the Native Americans. In theory, I am not opposed, but there are some logistical challenges that I wish to bring up—oops, too late – have to rejoin the march…
• A twelve year old who was horrified that her mother might well be a candidate for deportation even though she has a green card in good standing.
The real heroes (besides the organizers, of course) turned out to be the NYPD Bureau of Community Affairs. They are great! They worked closely with the rally organizers to issue permits to shut down the avenue (in this case, it was Saint Nicks) for a few hours. They had posted “no parking” signs and towed offending cars out of the way. They rode herd on the marchers, shooing me back into the main group when I was schmoozing too much on the other side of the street. They offered protection and help (none needed, fortunately), and they helped disperse us marchers peacefully at the end.
New York has enjoyed effective community outreach for many years. The NYPD Community Affairs Desk was established in 1966, and they’ve gained ground steadily ever since. It’s now the Community Affairs Bureau. The purpose of Community Affairs is to involve the community in law enforcement. Is it perfect? No. Are there still injustices? Yes. However, having a large and well-funded community affairs group is probably the difference between places like New York City and Ferguson. The police are not always welcome, and they don’t always make the right decisions – but they aren’t here driving tanks like an occupying army.
What do the community affairs officers do? Marches are only part of the story.
- They involve neighborhood councils in policing matters.
- They work with community mediators who help defuse tense situations between the police and the community.
- They organize civilian “neighborhood watch” programs.
- They protect first amendment rights of public assembly.
- They organize “ride along” programs, so that ordinary citizens can ride for 2 hours in a patrol car to see what police work is like.
- They are the ones who the school crossing guards report to.
- They organize “Play Streets” (it’s a NYC thing)
- They do gun buy-backs, which is one of the reasons NYC murder rate has dropped steadily over the years.
Next time you see a community affairs officer, say “thank you”.