By Arthur Z. Schwartz
I was born in the 1950s, part of a family tree which had escaped Czarist Russia even before World War I. But we had family members who were not so lucky. I was a child when the full details of the Holocaust were coming into focus, as the book “Night” by the late Elie Wiesel saw the light of day, and slowly the world learned about the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps, and the efforts to extinguish all European Jews in the most brutal, heartless and cruel ways imaginable. It is easy now for the world to move on, 76 years after World War Two ended, but the Holocaust must always be remembered, in part because of how it demonstrates the extent to which human beings in our society can commit atrocities, and in part because while the death camps killed 6 million, much of the world was indifferent.
When I was in college one of the most profound books that I read drew a parallel between American slavery and the Holocaust. American slavery was, like the Holocaust, one of most profoundly horrific chapters in the history of the world. I bring this up, because one of the reasons why racism, and the effects of slavery, remain so profound, is widespread indifference, the same indifference which allowed the Nazi’s to do what they did.
Holocaust Remembrance Day occurred this year in the midst of the trial of the police officer who inhumanely killed George Floyd. As I watched the video, and saw the inhumane expression on the officer’s face as he choked the life out of George, I flashed to images of the Nazi’s killing Jews. And on January 6, as the Trump hordes invaded the Capital, one of the leaders was a man wearing a shirt with the words “Camp Auschwitz.”
I decided to run for City Council as a result of George Floyd’s death. While few would ever call my 50 years of activism “indifferent” I felt a need to step up even more. We have so far to go. Maybe I can get us a few inches closer.
Derek Chauvin has been convicted, and we all breathed a sigh of relief. But after the jury went to deliberate, another young Black man was shot 10 miles away, when an officer, doing a routine traffic stop, ulled out what she “thought” was a Taser and shot him dead. In the 24 hours after the Chauvin verdict other Black men were victims—one was Isaiah Brown, 32, who was making a 911 call to police when he was shot—10 times—because the North Carolina cop who had responded thought the phone was a gun.
These shootings are not a coincidence. And they reflect an attitude and climate which exists in the NYPD as well. It must stop.
But the answer is not to “defund” the police. We need public safety. I had someone present a phony check, with my signature, at my bank last week, and I called the police who met me there as the guy ran out the door. Ironically the cop remembered that I had sued another officer in his precinct eight years ago for injuring George Capsis’ eye socket. But he also knew that I represent people in law enforcement, and go to precinct community council meetings.
The police need to be reformed—I like the words “reimagine the NYPD.” Yes, it will take a lot of creativity, and a lot of hard work. But we have to try. We need to make sure that there are no more senseless killings of Black men in NYC.
Arthur Schwartz is the Democratic District Leader in Greenwich Village and is a candidate for City Council in the district which includes the Village, Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen. He has been endorsed by Black Lives Matter of Greater NY, the Black Leadership Action Caucus, the NYC Court Officers Association, and the Bridge and Tunnel Officers Association.