A police line armed with tazers in New York. Photo: Kena Betancur/Getty Images
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The NYPD blues: From Eric Garner to broken windows, activist Josmar Trujillo says enough

Meet the co-founder of New Yorkers Against Bratton, who wants New York cops to clean up their act.

On a recent Thursday evening in downtown Brooklyn, as late-night shoppers shivered outside Macy’s department store, a small group of campaigners snacked on pizza as they folded paper pamphlets. The activists – black, white, Latino, mostly in their twenties or thirties – were discussing the best way to bring change to the New York City Police Department, an organisation continually accused of brutality and racism.

Standing at the front, Josmar Trujillo, 32, wears his hair shaved close to his head and his beard neatly sculpted along his jaw. His biceps pulled up the sleeves of his T-shirt, giving a glimpse of a Wu-Tang Clan tattoo as he scribbled the group’s suggestions on to a piece of paper on the wall.

“I’m not a career organiser,” he told me later over a coffee at a nearby diner. “I don’t work for a non-profit. I’m a personal trainer, a single dad with kids.”

Trujillo is a co-founder of New Yorkers Against Bratton, part of a new generation of activists shaking up the civil rights movement in the US. The group’s target is Bill Bratton, the city’s police commissioner, who launched a policy of zero-tolerance policing in the mid-1990s when first in the job. Yet this group meeting in the offices of a legal NGO is new: the Coalition Against Broken Windows.

Eight years ago while travelling home on the subway, Trujillo stretched out his feet. As the train pulled in to the next station, he heard a tap at the window. Two police officers beckoned him out, explaining that he looked like a suspect they were hunting. Lacking ID or a phone, he was forced to spend a night in the cells. “This is how it works,” he says. “It was a foot in the door to fish for something else.”

Trujillo was a victim of the New York police’s “broken windows” policy. Officers arrest anyone loitering in a park after dusk, smoking in a no-smoking zone or with their feet on a subway seat, hoping to find useful evidence in their pockets. Trujillo soon realised he wasn’t the only Latino who’d been singled out.

Supporters say that broken windows cleaned up New York City. In the 1980s and 1990s the murder rate could be as high as six per day; in February 2015, there were 12 consecutive days with no murders. But Trujillo points to the catalogue of unarmed black men killed by police to show how the policy brutalises officers.

Last year, protests coalesced around two deaths in New York. In July, Eric Garner died in a chokehold as police tried to arrest him on suspicion of selling “loosies” – slang for individual cigarettes. Video footage showed him shouting, “I can’t breathe!” while officers forced him to the ground. And Akai Gurley died in November, shot in a dimly lit stairwell by an officer opening a door with a firearm in one hand. Bratton later described the incident as an “accidental discharge”.

But the biggest change, according to Trujillo, came from Ferguson, Missouri, where an officer shot and killed Michael Brown last August. The response was rapid and at times violent. Thousands of people protested night after night in a largely spontaneous outpouring. “It’s not leaderless, it’s leaderful,” Trujillo said – a democratic form of protest. Campaigners participate in “die-ins”, simulating dead bodies, or in guerrilla media campaigns to spread the word.

Above all, there has been a rejection of the old ways of doing things and the previous generation of leaders. When the veteran civil rights campaigner Al Sharpton announced that he wanted to deliver the eulogy at the funeral of Akai Gurley, he was told he was not welcome.

“For them, it’s about lawsuits, settlements, prestige and camera time,” Trujillo says. “This has to be about more than that. This has to be about more than a law, a case, a candidate. The get-out-the-vote stuff is pathetic.”

Sharpton being Sharpton, he didn’t mince his words. He has accused his critics of trying to divide the civil rights movement and has dismissed their obsession with youth as the language of pimps.

“It’s the disconnect that is the strategy to break the movement,” he said in one of his regular Saturday-morning addresses to supporters. “And they play on your ego. ‘Oh, [you’re] young and hip, you’re full of fire. You’re the new face.’ All the stuff that they know will titillate your ears. That’s what a pimp says to a ho.”

But none of it washes. The upstarts talk about the old guard as a “non-profit industrial complex”, staffed by campaigners on comfortable salaries, out of touch with life on the street.

“We need regular people involved, whether it’s a single dad, a grandmother in Harlem, a street performer, a person who can’t speak English,” Trujillo says. “That’s what we learned in Ferguson.”

Rob Crilly is a foreign correspondent and writes about US politics.

This article first appeared in the 27 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Russia vs the west

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The Brexit Beartraps, #2: Could dropping out of the open skies agreement cancel your holiday?

Flying to Europe is about to get a lot more difficult.

So what is it this time, eh? Brexit is going to wipe out every banana planet on the entire planet? Brexit will get the Last Night of the Proms cancelled? Brexit will bring about World War Three?

To be honest, I think we’re pretty well covered already on that last score, but no, this week it’s nothing so terrifying. It’s just that Brexit might get your holiday cancelled.

What are you blithering about now?

Well, only if you want to holiday in Europe, I suppose. If you’re going to Blackpool you’ll be fine. Or Pakistan, according to some people...

You’re making this up.

I’m honestly not, though we can’t entirely rule out the possibility somebody is. Last month Michael O’Leary, the Ryanair boss who attracts headlines the way certain other things attract flies, warned that, “There is a real prospect... that there are going to be no flights between the UK and Europe for a period of weeks, months beyond March 2019... We will be cancelling people’s holidays for summer of 2019.”

He’s just trying to block Brexit, the bloody saboteur.

Well, yes, he’s been quite explicit about that, and says we should just ignore the referendum result. Honestly, he’s so Remainiac he makes me look like Dan Hannan.

But he’s not wrong that there are issues: please fasten your seatbelt, and brace yourself for some turbulence.

Not so long ago, aviation was a very national sort of a business: many of the big airports were owned by nation states, and the airline industry was dominated by the state-backed national flag carriers (British Airways, Air France and so on). Since governments set airline regulations too, that meant those airlines were given all sorts of competitive advantages in their own country, and pretty much everyone faced barriers to entry in others. 

The EU changed all that. Since 1994, the European Single Aviation Market (ESAM) has allowed free movement of people and cargo; established common rules over safety, security, the environment and so on; and ensured fair competition between European airlines. It also means that an AOC – an Air Operator Certificate, the bit of paper an airline needs to fly – from any European country would be enough to operate in all of them. 

Do we really need all these acronyms?

No, alas, we need more of them. There’s also ECAA, the European Common Aviation Area – that’s the area ESAM covers; basically, ESAM is the aviation bit of the single market, and ECAA the aviation bit of the European Economic Area, or EEA. Then there’s ESAA, the European Aviation Safety Agency, which regulates, well, you can probably guess what it regulates to be honest.

All this may sound a bit dry-

It is.

-it is a bit dry, yes. But it’s also the thing that made it much easier to travel around Europe. It made the European aviation industry much more competitive, which is where the whole cheap flights thing came from.

In a speech last December, Andrew Haines, the boss of Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority said that, since 2000, the number of destinations served from UK airports has doubled; since 1993, fares have dropped by a third. Which is brilliant.

Brexit, though, means we’re probably going to have to pull out of these arrangements.

Stop talking Britain down.

Don’t tell me, tell Brexit secretary David Davis. To monitor and enforce all these international agreements, you need an international court system. That’s the European Court of Justice, which ministers have repeatedly made clear that we’re leaving.

So: last March, when Davis was asked by a select committee whether the open skies system would persist, he replied: “One would presume that would not apply to us” – although he promised he’d fight for a successor, which is very reassuring. 

We can always holiday elsewhere. 

Perhaps you can – O’Leary also claimed (I’m still not making this up) that a senior Brexit minister had told him that lost European airline traffic could be made up for through a bilateral agreement with Pakistan. Which seems a bit optimistic to me, but what do I know.

Intercontinental flights are still likely to be more difficult, though. Since 2007, flights between Europe and the US have operated under a separate open skies agreement, and leaving the EU means we’re we’re about to fall out of that, too.  

Surely we’ll just revert to whatever rules there were before.

Apparently not. Airlines for America – a trade body for... well, you can probably guess that, too – has pointed out that, if we do, there are no historic rules to fall back on: there’s no aviation equivalent of the WTO.

The claim that flights are going to just stop is definitely a worst case scenario: in practice, we can probably negotiate a bunch of new agreements. But we’re already negotiating a lot of other things, and we’re on a deadline, so we’re tight for time.

In fact, we’re really tight for time. Airlines for America has also argued that – because so many tickets are sold a year or more in advance – airlines really need a new deal in place by March 2018, if they’re to have faith they can keep flying. So it’s asking for aviation to be prioritised in negotiations.

The only problem is, we can’t negotiate anything else until the EU decides we’ve made enough progress on the divorce bill and the rights of EU nationals. And the clock’s ticking.

This is just remoaning. Brexit will set us free.

A little bit, maybe. CAA’s Haines has also said he believes “talk of significant retrenchment is very much over-stated, and Brexit offers potential opportunities in other areas”. Falling out of Europe means falling out of European ownership rules, so itcould bring foreign capital into the UK aviation industry (assuming anyone still wants to invest, of course). It would also mean more flexibility on “slot rules”, by which airports have to hand out landing times, and which are I gather a source of some contention at the moment.

But Haines also pointed out that the UK has been one of the most influential contributors to European aviation regulations: leaving the European system will mean we lose that influence. And let’s not forget that it was European law that gave passengers the right to redress when things go wrong: if you’ve ever had a refund after long delays, you’ve got the EU to thank.

So: the planes may not stop flying. But the UK will have less influence over the future of aviation; passengers might have fewer consumer rights; and while it’s not clear that Brexit will mean vastly fewer flights, it’s hard to see how it will mean more, so between that and the slide in sterling, prices are likely to rise, too.

It’s not that Brexit is inevitably going to mean disaster. It’s just that it’ll take a lot of effort for very little obvious reward. Which is becoming something of a theme.

Still, we’ll be free of those bureaucrats at the ECJ, won’t be?

This’ll be a great comfort when we’re all holidaying in Grimsby.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Brexit. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.