Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has announced that he will settle the city’s long pending civil suit with the Central Park Five. This moment has been a very long time coming. Most of the young men were released in 2002.
Could this be seen partly as a symbolic move? Of course. Will the money make up for more than a decade behind bars. No way. But to understand the courage of de Blasio’s move, consider that many people who have been exonerated, even through supposedly sacrosanct DNA evidence, have had district attorneys threaten to refile charges. Or they’ve been allowed to languish in prison on technicalities.
De Blasio will pay a price for this. Outgoing police commissioner Ray Kelly had this to say in The New York Times:
Mr. Kelly, 72, spent a substantial portion of the interview defending the stop-and-frisk policy, which Mr. de Blasio has been especially critical of and has vowed to halt.
“Look, I’m not bragging, but I have the highest job-approval rating of any public official in the city — and I’ve had it consistently,” he said. “The approval rating for the Police Department is 70 percent. This notion that stop-and-frisk has torn the community apart is false.”
Evidently you can only be Commissioner Kelly’s friend if you are an unquestioning supporter. And by extension …
de Blasio also has to put up with crap like this from the supposedly liberal media.
Today’s GOP is not racist, as Harry Belafonte alleged about the tea party, but it is deeply troubled — about the expansion of government, about immigration, about secularism, about the mainstreaming of what used to be the avant-garde. People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York — a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children. (Should I mention that Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?) This family represents the cultural changes that have enveloped parts — but not all — of America. To cultural conservatives, this doesn’t look like their country at all.
So for me, the mayor-elect’s decision to settle is another reminder of the crucial importance of allies. Civil rights strategist Bayard Rustin said “we [blacks] need friends.” This has never been more true. The media bias against African Americans, even from fellow African Americans seems particularly pointed these days.
And I am struck by a deep irony. An Italian mayor-elect, albeit one in an interracial marriage, may be able to improve the climate and living conditions of black New Yorkers far more than President Obama has been able to impact the lives of black Chicagoans. Think we don’t need allies? Think again and cue Tim Wise. Combined efforts of our great men and women with solid allies looks like the only way forward to me.
N.B. Link for the Burns’ Central Park Five documentary can be found here: http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/centralparkfive/