NYPD (photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office)
As a business leader, a Democratic candidate for mayor of New York City, and a Black man, I know what it means to have multiple identities. While I may be Mr. McGuire in the boardroom, every time I change into a sweatsuit to run or play basketball, I know that I’m first and foremost a six-foot-four, two-hundred-something-pound Black man.
I am also the father of an 8-year-old son who I fear one day could be the next Tamir or Trayvon. My wife Crystal and I have already given him “The Talk,” just as my mother once gave to me. No parent should have to uproot their own child’s innocence because we live in a world where young Black boys are misconstrued as dangerous. Far too quickly, our boys are forced into the responsibilities of men.
At the same time, our city is facing a disturbing surge in crime. Murders and shootings are up sharply. There’s a palpable sense of fear throughout the city. The NYPD is stretched thin by responding to mental health and substance abuse crises and a COVID-induced budget crisis amplified by a critical need for civil rights reforms. This tension approaches its snapping point every time a cop stops a potential suspect.
I know this tension well. When I’m stopped in the car outside my home, my hands go up just as I was taught. Our city needs a new approach to public safety, one based in a common understanding of that everyday struggle in communities of color. It’s a struggle to survive.
It’s not that Black and brown communities don’t want the police on their streets. On the contrary, it’s that they want the respectful, accountable, and proportionate service they deserve.
My approach to public safety is to not only reduce response times to solve actual crimes, but also to attack the root causes of disorder. It’s a sweeping approach to ensure every child has the support and resources they need. That’s why Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, endorsed me for mayor, saying, “You would know how to get things done.”
Our city faces a real spike in violent crime, largely due to interstate gun trafficking, and if combatting those threats is our police department’s number one priority, as I believe it should be, we must dedicate the resources and personnel to handle the task. The only way to do that is by re-focusing the role of police on what they’re best trained to do: fight crime.
Yet despite being under-trained to handle every problem that falls through the gaps in our social safety net, that's exactly the job they’ve been tasked with for decades.
If things had gone a little differently in my life, I might have fallen through those cracks as well. I was born on the other side of the tracks in Dayton, Ohio to a single mother who was a social worker. I never knew my father. At any one time, my two brothers and I might have a half-dozen foster kids living with us. For the kids, my mother was the safety net.
And yet with a loving community, teachers who supported and challenged me, hard work, and a little luck, I was given the chance to succeed where so many others are denied — making my way to Harvard, then to business and law school. It taught me that justice isn’t just about keeping crime down; it’s also about lifting people up.
Unfortunately, years of neglect have already failed too many of our neighbors.
Take the case of Rigoberto Lopez, who allegedly killed two people on the subway this week. Mr. Lopez has a history of being hospitalized for mental illness and also four prior arrests for drug possession, as well as violent crimes. As a result of his subway attacks, more than 500 police officers were deployed to patrol the subways last Saturday. That’s a 20% increase in police caused by one man.
It doesn’t take a finance executive like me to see that these numbers don’t add up. Under my plan, a person like Mr. Lopez would have received treatment and support to ensure that he did not become violent in the first place. Our goal must be to treat the individual, and not just respond to the incident.
Under my plan, during his first mental health crisis Mr. Lopez would have been met by Emergency Social Services, a 24/7 network of mental health, drug abuse, and homelessness specialists that will replace police intervention for non-criminal behavior. This would have freed the police unit that actually responded to continue to patrol their beat.
These expressly-trained responders would have taken Mr. Lopez to Bellevue to treat the acute crisis and, instead of releasing him back onto the streets to continue his downward spiral, would also follow-up and connect him with the long-term mental health and substance abuse services he required.
Allowing people to go untreated is not humane. It’s not justice. And it’s not safe. We absolutely need to have rigorous safeguards to protect civil rights, but we also need to be able to get people treatment before they harm themselves or others or find themselves caught up in the criminal justice system.
Lastly, beyond the budgets and metrics lies the truth for many New Yorkers: that the police are the day-to-day face of city government. Whether you live in an apartment on the Upper West Side, a NYCHA development, or are suffering from homelessness, you deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Accomplishing this will require renewing the frayed social contract between the police and New Yorkers.
While our city gave me the opportunity to become Mr. McGuire in the business world, the tension that remains between law enforcement and people who look like me is palpable. All New Yorkers, no matter their zip code, deserve a policy of policing that looks at them and sees a person, not a threat. And that’s why I hope to be called “Mr. Mayor.”
Ray McGuire is a Democratic candidate for New York City Mayor. On Twitter @RayForMayor.