Teaching Community Activism

bobgangiIn 2014, Career Gear began implementing more programming on social issues with the goal of encouraging participants to become more proactive in their communities, as mentors and leaders. In an effort to empower program participants to take an active role in the issues and policies that directly impact their lives and the lives of their friends, families and communities, we have invited a variety of community activists to facilitate workshops in our Professional Development Series program.

On March 18th, we were pleased to invite Robert Gangi, director of the Urban Justice Center’s PROP (the Police Reform Organizing Project) to facilitate a workshop in our Professional Development Series program. Robert discussed the prospect of police reform with our participants in a passionate back-and-forth.

PROP principally argues against the NYPD’s broken windows policing policy because of its correlation with racially driven judicial prejudice. Broken Windows policing is a stringent police response to minor offenses, ranging from bicycling on the sidewalk, being in a park after dark, to public drinking or public urination. The rationale is that fixing one ‘broken window’ negates the likelihood of ‘broken window’ proliferation because of experiential deterrence. The problem with such policing is that it is executed seemingly disproportionately and it allows excessive punishment in an already racially skewed judicial setting.

Robert discussed the concerns with current NYPD policy, elaborating on broken windows policing and how PROP would like to see it dis-established, inviting feedback and discussion throughout. By the end, participants had unanimously signed PROP’s petition to reform broken windows policing.

Robert invited participants (most of whom are men of color) to share personal experiences with broken window policing policies. One shared that for minor offenses he had received “over 200 tickets in 20 years,” which he doesn’t think he would have received had he been white.

Another participant, Mike, a Latin American, told the group about an incident which occurred right after he started his recovery from substance abuse. He had just finished a Narcotics Anonymous session and was going to take the subway home with a friend – when he decided he wanted to grab a meal in the area instead and, knowing his friend didn’t have cash on him to buy a metro card, lent his pal his metro card. Subsequently the cops took him aside in the station and arrested him for selling a metro card even though it wasn’t a monetary transaction with a stranger and had simply been an act of lending between friends. Mike summarized his experience in jail that night succinctly: “It was all Hispanic and blacks, no white people.”

It’s stories like this that portray the racist lean of our law enforcement, and we hope that through facilitated conversations with those aiming to adjust the laws we enforce and those most disproportionately affected by such enforcement, we can maybe make some progress.