Friday, February 21, 2014

The Mayor Skedaddled

It was his first big chance to differentiate himself from Mike Bloomberg, and Bill de Blasio blew it.

Last week, Mayor de Blasio had a chance to show voters that he was, despite his new Upper East Side digs, the same man they voted for. He could have, in one statement, restored our sense that he was, despite his vague and malleable positions on many crucial issues, one of us.

Instead he ran from the conflict.

If you follow the taboids and TV, you know the story: late one night early in the week, Mayor de Blasio picked up the phone to call police officials to find out what was going on with Bishop Orlando Findlayter, a key campaign supporter, who had been pulled over in his car for making a turn without signaling. Then, when records showed several open warrants (apparently for symbolic arrests at protest demonstrations), the clergyman was hauled off to his local precinct. Since he was arrested at almost midnight, he was probably destined to spend the night and the following day, and perhaps even the following evening, at central booking going through the cumbersome and nasty arrest-to-arraignment process.

When the press queried the Mayor about the ethics of pushing for special treatment for a crony, de Blasio defended his phone call by terming Findlayter’s case “unusual.” Then he clammed up, cancelling a press appearance and vanishing from the public eye. He might as well have flown to Bermuda.

Sadly, though, in that one word the Mayor did say about the issue, he misspoke. What happened to Bishop Findlayter was many things—but it was not unusual. Arrests for things that don’t merit arrest happen all the time in New York City. The only two unusual things here are that it happened to an FoB—a friend of Bill—and that it’s being talked about in the press.

Sure it was boneheaded for the Mayor to phone the police and even appear to interfere on behalf of a friend and supporter. But let’s be honest: during the Bloomberg years, it became alarmingly common for New Yorkers to be given tickets, and even to be arrested, for amazingly petty things. Think veering out of a bike lane to avoid a truck that was illegally double-parked. Think walking your dog in a park after dark. Think being accosted by the cops (stop & frisk, anyone?) and not having an ID with you. Think minor automotive things like the Bishop’s supposed infraction (in some circles, that’s called DWB, driving while black.)

This is exactly the tale of two cities that Mayor de Blasio decried in his campaign—that well-connected people like the Bishop get to walk from the precinct, while everyone else is being processed and prosecuted and treated as if they were a violent criminal in punishment for stupid petty violations.

Sorry, Mr. Mayor: if it’s wrong for the bishop, it’s wrong for everyone, and you ought to say so. Arresting people on silly charges like this is a waste of police time, a waste of court time, a waste of the people’s time. And it does nothing to prevent crime. Indeed, it stigmatizes a whole generation—because a kid who finds himself in this situation (you can relate: think of your son, Dante, who featured so mightily in your campaign) might find that that arrest follows him in his computerized records for the rest of his life, potentially blocking him from getting an education or a job.

The Mayor had a chance to be our true elected representative. He had a chance to speak truth to power. He had a chance to say something meaningful: that he had strong reservations about a criminal justice system that would, even temporarily, incarcerate a person—anyone, not just a Bishop and campaign supporter—for spurious and ridiculous violations like making a turn without signaling and getting arrested at demonstrations for engaging in acts of free speech.

And the Mayor ran away.

Monday, February 03, 2014

the last word on art & politics

Art, if you want a definition of it, is criminal action. It conforms to no rules. Not even its own. Anyone who experiences a work of art is as guilty as the artist. It is not a question of sharing the guilt. Each one of us gets all of it.
--John Cage