Two Important Meetings, One City, One Day
There were two important meetings this past Friday. The first was the African American Clergy and Elected Officials (AACEO), a regular first Friday of every month breakfast meeting at Antioch Baptist Church, where Rev. Robert Waterman is the Pastor. A must-stop for politicians, the church community room pulsates with the energy of Black Brooklyn’s movers and shakers, clergy, and community people who care about issues, each with constituencies far beyond the church door. It is the ideal setting for officials to report and interact with voter influencers at the grassroots level.
Deputy Chief Scott Henderson, Commanding Officer Brooklyn North, said Brooklyn was the only borough where there have been “two years of shooting reductions, two years of less people getting shot.” And then speaking on how important it has been to maintain close ties with the community on how he does policing, Chief Henderson said, “I know you have my back because I need you.” And then he added, to extended applause, “And next week, I’m getting a second star put on my shoulder.”
New York State Senator Zellnor Myrie put the day, the second anniversary of the January 6 insurrection, into the context of our time. In 1856, with the slavery debate front and center, the 34th Congress required 133 votes over two months to elect a Speaker, exposing divisions that were only solved by the Civil War. “We’re seeing what’s happening in DC, what we saw happening 160 years ago, and that is not an accident.” Myrie said to look at the congressional sympathizers with the storming of the Capitol and their attempt to decide an election violently, and the group paralyzing the House now, and you’ll see they are the same. “January 6th was a preview of the confusion and the chaos we’re witnessing in DC right now.”
And then alluding to Abraham Lincoln, “But there is another skinny lawyer from humble beginnings, that God has put in the breach,” he said, speaking of Democratic leader Congressman Hakeem Jeffries. “A young man from Crown Heights who is the man for the moment,” he asked the assembled to “Pray for Hakeem.”
Speaking of Democratic Leader Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, when Republican congress members act as a-sucker-born-every-minute fundraisers, who are not interested in governing, they give Hakeem Jeffries the opportunity to become the most powerful minority leader in history as he makes bipartisan deals with the non-crazies to keep the country running.
New York State Attorney General Letitia James was there. We approached her as she was getting coffee to ask about the previous day’s anticrime meeting convened by Rev. Sharpton at the NAN offices in Harlem. James said the meeting was about more than bail reform. “There were a number of Black elected officials, including our great District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, Darcel Clark, District attorney of the Bronx; Lieutenant Governor Antonio Delgado, Speaker Carl Heastie, Majority Leader Andre Stewart-Cousins, myself, advocates like Mama Hazel Dukes of the NAACP, and Jennifer Jones Austin, who heads several human services organizations as well. We decided to come together with our mayor of New York, Eric Adams.” The assembled talked about public safety and what a holistic approach to reducing crime would look like. Aside from the buzzy topic of bail reform, they discussed a wide range of issues, including housing, mental health, jobs, and more. “We want to come together a develop a plan of action.
“There were divergent opinions, but at the end of the day, all of us are focused on public safety, one; and two, reforming our broken criminal justice system.”
Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez was there and noted that “shootings in Brooklyn are down by 32%. What does 32% mean? It means 160 people were not shot last year. Homicides are down 22% since the pandemic.” Gonzalez feels these are statistics the media does not emphasize, using fear as an exploiting narrative to garner public attention in readership and ratings. And the history of the success in public safety by the mayor and his team is ignored.
This day’s keynote speaker was the Reverend Al Sharpton, straight from his WNBC appearance on Morning Joe and back home to a church in Brooklyn, like the many he’s preached at as a child and over time.
In his keynote, Reverend Sharpton said, “many of us don’t appreciate the time we’re in” or the shoulders we stand on. Reiterating what he has expressed before, some folks have titles and offices and believe they got by their efforts, forgetting those who took the pain and made the present possible. Weaving in biblical metaphors of Moses, Joshua, and the Blood of the Lamb, Sharpton made the case that the past represents the roots of who we are. If we forget the past and lose the stability that deep roots give, we will be washed away as a people in the surging currents of today.
The second meeting of the day was at City Hall, where Mayor Eric Adams met with the press; not unusual, but this was the ethnic media, and this time the room was not full of white reporters, but reflected the vast diversity of press in the city, with Africans, African Americans, Koreans, Chinese, Caribbean, Spanish, from print, digital and radio filling the conference room.
The Mayor explained how this came to pass in answering the first question about his expectations when he took office. Adams said that his vision and expectations for the mayor’s office were not things he came by recently. “Mine has been a 28-year journey,” he says, “I came here with a clear agenda of what I would do as mayor. And one of the items on the agenda was José.” José Bayona, seated at the mayor’s right hand, is the Executive Director of the Mayor’s Office of Ethnic and Community Media. “The ethnic media has been locked out; they’re not allowed to sit in the room and ask questions. I said, José, we need to change that. He put the blueprint in place, and you’ll have access to me more than any other mayor in the history of this city.”
A question was asked as to why Adams did not mention immigration in his recent column and what he expected to be happening with immigration. The mayor said New York is a city of immigrants and highlighted his many deputy mayors who are the “First” of their ethnicity to have the position. First Indian mayor, first Dreamer, first Filipina, first Muslim; this is the evidence the mayor gave when he said, “You can see the reflection of the city in my administration.”
The mayor noted that many businesses open during the pandemic could operate because of immigrants, and the issues they have are the same as all New Yorkers’: housing, education, jobs, and personal fulfillment.
However, with 36,000 arriving quickly, he has real situations to deal with in delivering services. Adams said he has no time or inclination to listen to district leaders, assembly, or senate members complaining that they don’t want housing in their district when his first responsibility is “to make sure that no one is sleeping on our streets.”
The then-looming nurse strike was brought up, and he was asked if he was involved in those discussions. “I’ve been communicating with everyone involved. I’m happy to see some hospitals have settled; a few have not.” Since this meeting, nurses at two unsettled hospitals, Mount Sinai on the Upper East Side in Manhattan and three Bronx locations of the Montefiore Medical Center, have gone on strike, citing staffing shortages. “The goal is, we can’t lose our nurses. And when you’re talking about nurses, you’re talking immigrants, my Black and Brown community. When you walked into the hospitals during covid, that is who you saw.” The mayor said there is a shortage, and a pipeline has to be created to answer that need. But the shortage is not only of nurses but of labor in general. He said that when he speaks to his counterparts across the country, he finds they all have similar staffing needs in their administrations.
On the topic of housing, the question was raised about giving developers tax breaks, etc., to build housing that the developers own rather than provide a pathway to permanent home ownership.
“The answer to a housing crisis is to build more housing,” the mayor responded. Listing several 100% affordable housing projects, he said, “We need the developers to play their role, put the risk in place, to make sure we build more housing, market, middle and low income.” Our goal is to build 500,000 units.” He says it’s the city’s “Moonshot” moment and that “The real crisis we’re having in housing is that some of the strongest advocates are yelling ‘we need more housing’ and then in the next breath say, ‘Don’t build it on my block, don’t build it in my district,’ you can’t have it both ways.”
Adrian Council from Positive Community asked about mental health, drill music, and how cultural and spiritual crises are addressed. Adams spoke about his meeting in City Hall with Drill rappers, and the rappers agreed that the problem was not the music but the way “Our social media is being used to promote violence in our community. The person who shot the ten supermarket shoppers in the buffalo supermarket was radicalized through social media.” Adams said that the hate shown on social media was responsible for the three officers being attacked by machete. “By someone radicalized on social media.”
We took the mayor back to when he was a columnist with Our Time Press. He wrote about a series of parent workshops on violence his group, 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement, was doing with parent workshops in schools. “yes, parent empowerment, we did it in borough hall, we did it in the state senate, and we want to do it again. We did it once a year to empower parents to navigate the public school system. We used to give out computers, laptops, and other items to parents. We want to reinstitute that, to empower parents.”
A question was raised regarding governor Kathy Hochul’s nominating Hector D. LaSalle to lead the state Court of Appeals. There was concern that LaSalle was too conservative, and that concern is being widely championed. Adams said he believed that LaSalle looks qualified and that final judgment should wait until after senate hearings when the nomination will be examined from all sides.
There were many issues and concerns raised at this conference of ethnic and community media, and they echoed across the many languages and colors: sanitation, homelessness, immigration, mental health, crime, the usual things that bedevil New Yorkers, although some more than others.
On this Martin Luther King, Jr. Anniversary, it is good for all to remember that the many “Firsts” in the administration and even the Office of Ethnic Media rest on the shoulders of the marchers and leaders of the Civil Right Movement and did not, as Rev. Sharpton reminded clergy and leaders earlier, get there on their own.