Opinion: Lack of diversity reveals a lack of leadership

Assemblymember Catalina Cruz represents District 39, which includes Jackson Heights, Corona and Elmhurst.  Eagle  file photo by Phineas Rueckert.

Assemblymember Catalina Cruz represents District 39, which includes Jackson Heights, Corona and Elmhurst. Eagle file photo by Phineas Rueckert.

By Catalina Cruz 

Special to the Eagle

Mayor Bill de Blasio missed a great opportunity. He was elected on the promise of being a progressive mayor, but we have not progressed nearly enough on police-community relations. 

On Monday, I bluntly criticized the mayor’s decision to not hire a person of color as the next Police Commissioner on social media. In retrospect, I didn’t state it as eloquently as I should have. While it was met with understandably passionate responses, it’s important that we have these tough conversations and tackle head-on the injustices that continue to exist in our society.

While I received support from unexpected places during this conversation, I also upset some constituents and allies who care about our community. This was not in any way my intent. Even the best of intentions sometimes falter because of poor execution. I want to take this opportunity to elaborate on why I am so disappointed in the mayor’s failure to demonstrate leadership by appointing a person of color as police commissioner. 

In the last decade, the trust between the community and the NYPD has seriously deteriorated. From the way in which officers are trained to handle mental health calls, to interactions with street vendors, or the most recent response to turnstile jumpers, one thing is a constant: too many people of color are afraid of the police. We must do better to serve and protect everyone. 

I represent a community where over 60 percent of our residents are foreign-born. But I also have a family member in the NYPD and I understand the sacrifice officers and their families make every day when they go to work. 

I repeatedly heard from NYPD personnel that unless you have a “hook” (a personal connection to the higher NYPD officials that can help your career) a promotion beyond captain won’t happen; that an assignment to a particular shift or precinct won’t materialize. These opportunities are rarely accessible to officers of color. So, it isn’t a surprise so few have little faith in the mayor and his policies. 

A 2016 Department of Justice study showed that more diversity in the police force can lead to better community-police relations. Although the NYPD has made improvements in recruiting people of color to serve, not enough has been done to raise them up through the ranks. 

Top NYPD brass should also be as diverse as our communities. As documented earlier this year by the online publication, THE CITY, “commanding officers in 48 of the city’s 77 neighborhood precincts are non-Hispanic white. That includes 13 white commanding officers running precincts where the population is at least 80 percent non-white.” 

I represent one of those precincts. Also, according to reporting in The City, “fraternal groups representing Black and Hispanic officers say they face an internal ceiling that inhibits promotions to the top echelons — because attaining a rank above captain is a purely discretionary choice of the NYPD’s predominantly white top brass.”

I am a forward-facing public servant and I see my role as engaging in productive (and sometimes difficult) conversations that help ensure the well-being of my constituents. 

Despite my disappointment with the selection process, I wish the new commissioner success. We must build diverse coalitions and work together to improve police-community relations and build a better city for everyone. One of the best ways to accomplish this, is to make the leadership of the NYPD reflect the diversity of New York City. 

Catalina Cruz is a state assemblymember representing Assembly District 39 , which includes Corona, Elmhurst and Jackson Heights.