Hola mi Gente,
I probably shouldn’t share this, since it could come back to bite me in the ass in my job search, but — fuck it — I’m going to share it anyway…
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The opposite for courage is not cowardice, it is conformity. Even a dead fish can go with the flow. — Jim Hightower
Some years ago, before he was mayor, Bill de Blasio was a Brooklyn politician. At the time I was the program director for a re-entry project offering supportive services to the men and women returning to their communities after incarceration.
At the time, the organization that housed my project was looking to develop transitional housing for the elderly and people with mental health needs. A very few may have had some criminal justice involvement, which isn’t unusual since cages have become the norm for addressing the needs of people with mental health issues (same with poverty, lack of education, structural racism — well, you get the idea). In any case, I had created a poster that said, in part:
Have You Ever Been Convicted of a Crime? Do you need help with education, employment, substance abuse treatment, blah blah blah… These posters were distributed in a gentrified neighborhood in Brooklyn which will remain nameless.
Enter Bill de Blasio who was lending his support for the development of supportive housing, again in a much gentrified community in Brooklyn. Somehow, a merchant got a hold of one my posters offering to help formerly incarcerated persons and used it to rally other merchants to protest developing the supportive housing project. Now, mind you, whether you help those coming home from prison or not, the fact remains that these human beings (not super predators) are going to be in the neighborhood. You cannot keep people away from their communities. The real issue is whether the community will support giving these people the services they need in order to reintegrate and become fully functioning members of their communities.
Mistake one was committed by my then executive director who, a terrible public speaker, fucked up during a community meeting. No shade meant, but she’s just not a good public speaker. I heard she stood up to those “liberal” merchants and landed gentry, but… She should’ve had me and the people who had gone through my program representing. I believe she had issues with me because I spoke easily about structural racism and racialized social control.
Anyway, she didn’t want me near the meeting and the campaign by the merchants became very ugly. Eventually Bill de Blasio, who had initially supported our project very publicly, not only withdrew his support, but did a 180 and sided with the merchants. Yeah, the phrase moral cowardice comes to mind. I never spoke to him again. I mean, he doesn’t know me from a whole in the wall, but every time he would visit our offices, he would shake all our hands and act as if he was down.
We were able to get approval for the project and today it’s one of the better things in that gentrified community. No crimes have been committed by any of the residents of the supportive housing project and the property has enhanced the values of the surrounding real estate.
Years later, I ran into de Blasio shaking hands at a Sunset Park subway train station when he was running for mayor. I went up to him and asked, “Mr. de Blasio, are you for criminal justice reform and for offering supportive services to the many men and women returning to our communities?” Of course, de Blasio said, enthusiastically. That’s when I looked him in the eye and asked, “Then why did you abandon us at the Organization-which-will-remain-nameless when we needed your support? Remember?”
I wish I could have taken a photo in order to preserve the look of shock on his face. I mean, the man was at a loss for words. By now there was a small crowd gathering and I kept at it: “You haven’t answered my question, Mr. de Blasio. How do I know you won’t flip flop again when I need your leadership on criminal justice reform? Will you change your position if too many constituents put pressure on you, or are you truly committed to combatting racist practices such as stop and frisk and the mass incarceration of mostly blacks and Latina/os?”
By now, some in the crowd, sensing blood in the water, were echoing my concerns. That’s when one of his goons tried to steer me away. I let it go because I just wanted to see the coward squirm.
Now, you might say that all politicians are cowards but that’s just not true. I have worked with some really courageous politicians who have been true allies in the cause for years. Velmanette Montgomery and Jeffrion Aubrey come to mind. But bill de Blasio? We Puerto Ricans have a technical term for people like de Blasio. He’s what we call a come mierda. I don’t vote for come mierdas or conservatives.
My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…