I live the pain and stress of being black in America every day: I am a black woman; the mother of a black son; sister to black men; aunt to my black nephews. I remember what it was like as a young girl to be afraid to go to Howard Beach for fear of being chased out. I know what it’s like to walk on Liberty Avenue and be called “nigga” and being so young that I didn’t understand what the word meant, I had to ask my mother. I know too well that feeling in the pit of your stomach when a police car pulls up behind you and even though you know you haven’t done anything wrong you fear that your life may be in danger from what should be a simple encounter. Like all African Americans I am tired of this burden.
African Americans have a long history of having to fight for our humanity in America. We had to fight for freedom, we have had to fight for equality and fight for our lives. The fight continues to go on. I have often quoted that line from the character Sophia in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, “All my life I had to fight.” When I say it to my white counterparts it is sometimes uncomfortable because it’s clear they don’t get it. They view it as melodramatic. But it’s not. It’s part of the black experience and it is the part of the black experience that black people don’t want.
While I was out yesterday, passing out PPE and talking to people, a woman asked me, “What is it going to take for this to change?” I told her that I think peaceful protesting is a good start. But it’s just the start. We can’t elect the same people for the past 20-30 years, some in the same positions, and then talk about how nothing has changed in the past 30 years.
This injustice, inequality, and inequity will not spontaneously disappear. It will take bold, outspoken, unafraid leadership to eradicate the systemic racism in our city and our country. To address the violence at the hands of a police force paid to serve and protect us; the recurring experience of black people being passed over for a position and asked to train the white person who was hired; the inequities in contract opportunities available to black businesses who are repeatedly deemed to lack the capacity; the disparity in the quality of education provided to black students; the right to a living wage, health care and sick pay. While we like to regard the system as broken, I’ve come to believe the system is working exactly as it was meant to for the people who are benefiting from it. We need a new system. One that works for all New Yorkers. I’m running for mayor because I can’t assume there’s another person who has the courage to do the work that needs to be done to create a fair and just city.
There are some things we may not be able to change in people, but at this moment I think that whether you are black, white, purple or yellow we all should be looking internally to see what is one thing that you can do to change this dynamic. Here’s where we can start.
If we want change we need a total reform of police departments throughout this country. That is going to require taking a hard look at our requirements to become a police officer, our disciplinary procedures when civilian complaints are filed and a review of WHAT and HOW we police. No one deserves to lose their life based upon the accusation of carrying counterfeit cash. We also need to hold police officers accountable for their actions. While it is their duty to protect and serve they should not be above the law. Even in this moment police officers are overstepping their boundaries.
If we want change, we have to build a sense of camaraderie between the police and community. A sense of working together and creating positive experiences. We have to be honest about the fact that we haven’t allowed that to happen because we have utilized our police department as a revenue generating entity. We are more concerned with cops writing tickets than protecting and serving. Even during these moments of protest we are witness to the differences made when the police supported the protesters and stood hand in hand with them or took a knee. It resulted in less violence and more peaceful protest. People felt heard, people felt respected, people felt like they mattered.
If we want change we have to be willing to clean house. And that means that some of YOU are going to have to step up to the plate and take roles of leadership. There are 35 NY City Council seats that are term limited in 2021. There are some that aren’t termed but maybe their term should be up. Step up to the plate and run. If nothing else it will let our elected officials see that they need to stop being comfortable and do more. We don’t need you out in the street taking selfies or reporting the problems to us. We need solutions. We need you in a room implementing policies that will ensure that these things don’t continue to happen.
If we want change then support grass roots candidates that are not in corporate pockets, who are not taking PAC money and really want to make a difference. Candidates that know first-hand the experiences that many of us are going through and can relate.
We are at a pivotal moment. It is inspiring to see people from all races and backgrounds in the streets protesting, standing up for justice and wanting to see change. We must seize this moment, but we must also be mindful that change requires more.
People often ask me why I decided to run for office? I am running for me. I am running for the little girl that was called nigger on Liberty Avenue. For the woman who has been pulled over for no reason. For my nephew who was consistently stopped during the stop and frisk era. I am running for your son, your brother and your nephew. I am running so that the next generation will never have to say, “All my life I had to fight.” Because although we won’t stop until we see justice, until we see changes addressing inequality and inequity, this fight is exhausting.