Barry Posner asks: Bill, when you became mayor of New York the officials throughout the city government and agencies were from earlier times and in most cases didn’t have aims like yours, or were overtly hostile to your aims. How did you handle that?
Partly it was simple. I made new appointments to the political bureaucracy and we organized to win other elected positions. The hardest part wasn’t that, but instead dealing with residual people still holding jobs, for example, the police. They were fearful and hostile and often outright opponents of ours and we knew that and so we cultivated their support.
We began a series of meetings with rank and file officers explaining, discussing, debating. We instituted meetings of police with neighborhood citizens. We continued the pursuit of community control of police and of new training regimens and norms, that movements had initiated, but also made perfectly clear that we also had the interests of the rank in file police in mind, not only the interests of those not in the police.
In a way, it was all about mindset. In essence we said we can work with you if you can work with us where working with us means not only sensibly seeking your safety but seeking social justice. It means uprooting corruption and, as well, eliminating the clubhouse mentality of the police and the incredible hierarchical domination of a few police officials over all the rest of the police including restructuring police toward self managing their work, having balanced job complexes, and serving communities – not occupying them. Police can be respected members of each community in New York, like all other citizens, or police can serve elite interests and try to aggrandize only their bosses and themselves. A choice has to be made. We didn’t prevaricate about it. Make that choice, and we work together.
At the same time, we urged many RPS members to join police departments, quite a few already had, to help the renovation to fruition. Ultimately, it was just another instance of RPS’s general approach. Keep organizing and serving the base of RPS and the constituencies inclined to respect and join RPS – but at the same time put as much or even more energy into reaching out to those outside our base and even, initially, hostile to our agenda. Addressing police and other city workers was just another instance of that overall agenda.
In contrast, dealing with high officials was different. We told them you either change, or lose your job. And in any case your job is going to change, drastically. Simple as that. Change included respectful dialog, but change happening was not negotiable .