A police line armed with tazers in New York. Photo: Kena Betancur/Getty Images
Show Hide image

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.”

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

Show Hide image

Why Boris Johnson is Theresa May's biggest Brexit liability

The Foreign secretary is loved by Eurosceptics and detested by EU negotiators. 

Boris Johnson is a joke in Brussels but not the funny kind. He is seen as the liar who tricked Britain into leaving the European Union.

Since his election as a MEP in 1999, Nigel Farage has sucked EU money into his campaign to get the UK out of the EU. But the contempt reserved for Boris is of a different order - because he should have known better.

Johnson has impeccable European pedigree. His father Stanley was an MEP and influential European Commission official. Unsurprisingly, Stanley is a Remainer as is Johnson’s brother Jo.  

The fury reserved for Johnson and his betrayal is of a particularly bitter vintage. Johnson was educated in the European School of Brussels in the leafy and well-heeled suburb of Uccle, where, years later, Nick Clegg lived when he was a MEP.

The contempt stems from his time as the Daily Telegraph’s Brussels correspondent. Fake news is now big news. Many in the self-styled “capital of Europe” believe Boris pioneered it.

Johnson was an imaginative reporter. Many still discuss his exclusive about the planned dynamiting of the European Commission. The Berlaymont headquarters stands untouched to this day.

Rival British hacks would receive regular bollockings from irate editors furious to have been beaten to another Boris scoop. They weren’t interested in whether this meant embroidering the truth. 

Johnson invented a uniquely British genre of journalism – the Brussels-basher. It follows a clear template.

Something everyday and faintly ridiculous, like condoms or bananas, fall victim to meddling Brussels bureaucrats. 

The European Commission eventually set up a “Euromyth”website to explode the pervasive belief that Brussels wanted you to eat straight bananas.  Unsurprisingly, it made no difference. Commission staff now insist on being called "European civil servants" rather than bureaucrats.

Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was so worried about negative headlines that he stalled energy efficiency legislation until after the referendum.

When he shelved sensible laws to restrict excessive energy consumption on toasters and hairdryers, he was rewarded with a Hero of the Week award by the German tabloid Bild, which had developed a taste for Boris-style hackery.  

Many in Brussels draw a direct line from Johnson’s stories to the growing Eurosceptism in the Conservatives, and from that to Ukip, and ultimately Brexit.

To make matters worse, Johnson was the star of the Brexit campaign. His performance confirmed the view of him as an opportunistic charlatan.

The infamous £350m a week bus caused outrage in Brussels, but not as much as what Boris did next.

He compared the EU to Adolf Hitler. Boris knows better than most how offensive that is to the many European politicians who believe that the EU has solidified peace on the continent. 

European Council President Donald Tusk was furious. “When I hear the EU being compared to the plans and projects of Adolf Hitler I cannot remain silent,” said Tusk, a Pole.

“Boris Johnson crossed the boundaries of a rational discourse, demonstrating political amnesia,” he declared, and added there was “no excuse for this dangerous blackout”. It was the first time a leading EU figure had intervened in the referendum campaign.

After the vote for Brexit and his failed tilt at the premiership, Johnson was appointed foreign secretary, to widespread disbelief.

When the news broke, I received a text message from my Italian editor. It read: “Your country has gone mad.” It was the first of many similar messages from the Brussels press pack. 

“You know he told a lot of lies to the British people and now it is him who has his back against the wall,” France’s foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said. Germany’s foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier called Johnson “outrageous”.

Could Johnson jeopardise the Brexit negotiations?  He can damage them. In November, he was ridiculed by European ministers after telling Italy at a Brussels meeting that it would have to offer tariff-free trade to sell prosecco to the UK.

European Union chiefs moved earlier this week to quell fears they would punish Britain for Brexit. Prime Minister Theresa May had threatened to lure investment away from the EU by slashing corporation tax rates in her speech last week.

Juncker and Joseph Muscat, the prime minister of Malta, which will chair the first Brexit negotiations, both insisted they was no desire to impose a “punitive deal” on the UK. Donald Tusk compared May’s speech and its “warm words” to Churchill. 

An uneasy peace seemed to have been secured. Enter Boris. 

Asked about comments made by a French aide to President Francois Hollande, he said, "If Monsieur Hollande wants to administer punishment beatings to anybody who chooses to escape, rather in the manner of some World War Two movie, then I don't think that is the way forward.”

The European Parliament will have a vote, and effective veto, on the final Brexit settlement. Its chief negotiator Guy Verhofstadt lashed out at Johnson.

“Yet more abhorrent and deeply unhelpful comments from Boris Johnson which PM May should condemn,” he tweeted.

Downing Street wasn’t listening. A spokeswoman said, “There is not a government policy of not talking about the war.”

And just as quickly as it broke out, the new peace was left looking as shaky as ever. 


James Crisp is a Brussels-based journalist who is the news editor of EurActiv.com