What Does New York's 'Blue Lives Matter' Bill Mean For 'Black Lives Matter'?!
In front of a small gathering of members of the press yesterday (Aug. 4) at the 122nd Precinct in the New Dorp section of Staten Island, Assemblyman Ronald Castorina introduced legislation that promises to change how the assault of a police officer is defined. Designated as a "Blue Lives Matter" bill, Castorina is urging that an attack on a police officer would be considered a hate crime and heightens the penalty of the charge, as well as changes the class of felony. For instance, a Class C felony under the "Blue Lives Matter" bill would be considered a Class B, and so on. According to Assemblyman Castorina, "The impetus for this bill is a climate in this country and this city and state where police officers are targeted merely because they wear the uniform. This bill also has the added benefit of protecting the public." He continued, "At protests where people assemble in a peaceful way, unfortunately, there are some that are rabble-rousers and they throw bottles or punches or they throw rocks, and they create a chaotic situation and we have pandemonium."
He went on to say that he promotes the First Amendment rights of Americans and that this bill would do that as well as protect the police officers.
New York City Council member Joe Borelli also joined Mr. Castorina on stage to talk about the "Blue Lives Matter" bill. Reading a Facebook post from the late Baton Rouge police officer, Montell Jackson, who was killed in an attack after the Alton Sterling killing that happened in the same city — the council member thought that Jackson was an example of an even-keeled person in a time of polarization. Pointing out that he was African American and a police offer, Borelli mentioned that he was targeted because he was in a different group, one that wears a badge. He then went on to state statistics of officers assaulted in the last two years. He made absolutely no effort to explain how they came to acknowledge these states or even what context these assaults took place. Lastly, he explained to all those in attendance that this law would not be taking away from any existing law or any developing or in-place movement, just adding a classification that he believes the "Blue Lives Matter" bill will protect cops.
Up next, after Borelli finished speaking, Joe Imperatrice, a founder of "Blue Lives Matter NYC," rose to address the audience. Imperatrice began the organization after officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were killed in New York City on December 20, 2014. He told the crowd that he believes that no matter what race you are this [bill] will help you if you "wear that uniform." He, too, went on to list the officers in Staten Island killed throughout the years . It wasn't clear why this was relevant since the bill, as I understand it, is relegated to assault (no one else could explain or verify this distinction for me). And he also emphasized that [this bill] is not about "black and white," which was a running theme at the event. The Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, or PBA, was on-hand at the "Blue Lives Matter" event, as George E. Winkler spoke at the assembly.
Urging those in attendance, plus the senate and the governor to see the importance of this legislation, Winkler, who is a towering man at well-over 6-feet-tall, wanted us all to see the importance of this act and pass it as a bill. Earlier, before the event, Mr. Winkler came up to me to inquire where I was from. After telling him that I was from Staten Island and that my uncle, the late Frank Dudley was a Sargent at the 120th precinct, George noted that he knew him well, called him a "good man" and the tension that I initially felt went away. I then asked Mr. Castorina what was the level of support he had for the bill in the Assembly, of which he said that he hopes it would be widely supported, but didn't have any commitments yet. He also said that this bill is not targeting #BlackLivesMatter and has "absolutely nothing to do with them." The organization has had many peaceful events with no incident and "we're not taking anything away from them," he said.
Mr. Borelli then acknowledged that in the past we've seen incidents where black people have been targeted [by police] and that those incidents have happened in great numbers. But they are saying that now police officers are facing the same issues due to their membership is this fraternal order of men and women who wear the police officer badge. When asked if there would be stiffer penalties for officers who participate in hate crimes, such as the murder of unarmed citizens, Borelli said that those groups are already protected under the hate crime statutes.
From my perspective, this "Blue Lives Matter" event was staged to get Assemblyman Ronald Castorina Jr.'s "support" of law enforcement on the record. There were no citizens who attended this conference, very little press and there weren't any African American's present in any capacity save myself and another reporter. Mr. Castorina told me directly that the New York State Assembly's next session isn't happening until January 2017, so this bill actually couldn't be introduced until then. This seemed to be political grandstanding during an election year for a bill they pretty much know is dead-on-arrival in a Democratic-controlled assembly and senate. In June, Castorina, the freshman assemblyman, opposed a bill that attempted to codify Roe v. Wade. He called abortion "African American genocide," as he tried to use the high rate of abortion by African American women as a means of slander. Thankfully, the bill died in the Senate, as there is no need to codify Roe v. Wade because the measure is in no danger of being overturned at the federal level.
With stunts like these, Ronald Castorina Jr. seems to be trying to rise in prominence in the local Republican Party by backing legislation that will never pass but will secure his conservative record. In fact, many New Yorkers are unaware that Staten Island is an extremely right-wing borough. It is the only borough in New York City that votes consistently Republican in all national elections. It is one of the most segregated parts of the city, and the district that Castorina represents is almost all white and is home to a large number of police officers. This "Blue Lives Matter" bill is much ado about nothing for now, but I believe you will see more legislation like this being offered nationwide as the post-Obama backlash continues from the right and the fight for the end of state-sponsored murder of unarmed black people continues. As the assemblyman said himself, "I can't see why anyone wouldn't support a bill to protect the police," which means he is trying to force the public to take a side or else run the risk of being labeled as anti-law enforcement.
When it was all said and done, I asked an officer standing nearby, "In light of this, do you also have a better understanding of why folks say 'Black Lives Matter'...?" He smiled and said, "Well, yes, but 'All Lives Matter,' in my opinion." And there you have it, folks, "Blue Lives Matter" in a nutshell.