Demonstrators denouncing systemic racism in law enforcement hang a banner criticizing New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio in the borough of Brooklyn minutes before a citywide curfew went into effect on June 4, 2020 in New York City.
Demonstrators denouncing systemic racism in law enforcement hang a banner criticizing New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio in the borough of Brooklyn minutes before a citywide curfew went into effect on June 4, 2020 in New York City.
Photo: Scott Heins/Getty Images

A small coalition of former and current female staffers of color for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio wrote a letter condemning the former presidential candidate for overseeing years-long marginalization of their voices, which led to many of them feeling ignored as they tried to help the mayor avoid pitfalls in reaction to the national protests over black men and women killed by police, according to the letter provided exclusively to The Root and interviews with current city hall staffers.

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Separately, a wider coalition of current and former de Blasio staffers plan to protest the mayor’s handling of his curfew policies and what they claim are his concessions to the New York Police Department on Monday at 10 a.m.

“We are the dismissed, the unheard. We are the invisible. We are Breonna Taylor. We are Nina Pop. We are Atatiana Jefferson. We are Layleen Cubilette-Polanco. We are Sandra Bland. We are Erica Garner. You may not see us, sir, but we see you,” the letter from the female staffers begins. “Your administration has continually diminished our power, ideas, and value so much so you didn’t even see us coming. We have seen you and your predominantly white inner circle continually shut out diverse and opposing voices when making decisions that affect our lives and the lives of our families. We have seen how slow you were to shut down the city for the pandemic that is disproportionately killing Black and brown people, but how quickly you implemented a curfew when we took to the streets to fight for our right to live. You may not hear us, sir, but we hear you.”

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The women of color who support the letter asked that their names not be published for fear of professional retaliation (some of them spoke anonymously to The Root for the same reason; more female staffers agree with the letter but declined to work behind the scenes in drafting it for fear their participation would be leaked). This letter is different from the one published by the New York Daily News last week in which a separate group of former staffers criticized the mayor for tolerating police violence against the very people of color he claimed he would protect during his first campaign.

Several of de Blasio’s ex and current staffers said that he has a penchant for naming his black wife and children in staff emails and public statements when he wants to shield himself from criticisms from people of color on his staff or external challenges to his policing policies. They also told The Root that the women of color who do have senior roles are often ignored and are shut down by white supervisors and advisers in what they say are the mayor’s white inner circle.

One staffer told The Root that they are at their wits end with de Blasio’s inner-circle of white men whom he listens to while tokenizing and ignoring the people of color on his staff.

“I came to this administration full of enthusiasm to change and address the historical inequities in our human service community network,” the senior staffer said. “You provide the best counsel based on years of working with the community and your thoughts are marginalized and, at worst, second-guessed. There is no support from the administration, but rather a series of demands of what should be done that are not grounded in the needs or realities of people of color. [De Blasio’s administration is] tone deaf. It is exhausting and demoralizing.”

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A junior staffer in de Blasio’s office says that the mayor and his mostly white senior advisers task lower-ranking officials with creating policies to ensure that executive city hall decisions do not negatively impact people of color only for their recommendations to be ignored. She said that she and other staffers warned the mayor’s senior staff against enacting a curfew amid the COVID-19 pandemic when people are already cooped up in their homes and would be targeted by the NYPD.

“My sister is someone’s daughter,” the staffer said. “She went to a protest and saw snipers on a roof. She’s seeing so much militarization than I ever had to. It’s insane. The cops don’t like him. Why is he trying to win them over?”

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The recent protests about police brutality seem to have had some impact, as de Blasio has vowed to defund the NYPD for the first time, according to the New York Times. As late as Friday, he expressed some doubt over cutting the department’s funding, which represents $6 billion of his $90 billion proposed budget. But this action comes too late for some of the women behind the letter.

Another current staffer said the letter was inspired by the protesters on the streets and that she and other members of de Blasio’s team tried to advise the mayor against the curfew and to take a stronger stance against the NYPD and its union.

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“We can no longer be silent,” the staffer said. “We have an obligation to speak out about what is happening because it is not a unique experience and many women of color in different workplaces have similar experiences. We have an opportunity to make real change, if people in power are ready to actually do the work.”

The Root reached out to the de Blasio administration for comment and will update the story if there is a response.

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The protest against de Blasio by former staffers is set to start at 10 a.m. at City Hall and end at Gracie Mansion, the mayor’s residence.

Here is the full text of the letter provided to The Root:

Open Letter Response to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s All-Staff Email:

We are women of color in your administration.

We are the dismissed, the unheard. We are the invisible.

We are Breonna Taylor. We are Nina Pop. We are Atatiana Jefferson. We are Layleen Cubilette-Polanco. We are Sandra Bland. We are Erica Garner.

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You may not see us, sir, but we see you.

Your administration has continually diminished our power, ideas, and value so much so you didn’t even see us coming.

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We have seen you and your predominantly white inner circle continually shut out diverse and opposing voices when making decisions that affect our lives and the lives of our families.

We have seen how slow you were to shut down the city for the pandemic that is disproportionately killing Black and brown people, but how quickly you implemented a curfew when we took to the streets to fight for our right to live.

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You may not hear us, sir, but we hear you.

We have heard you publicly acknowledge your gaps in understanding due to your white male privilege, but we know those are just talking points because we wrote them. And when the show is over, the cards go in the trash, and you never do the work.

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We hear the way in which you assert that white male privilege over the few women of color in leadership – dismissing degrees, expertise, and lived experiences – to uphold the shortcomings of your tone-deaf politicos.

And, we hear the way that your white senior staff has adopted those tactics, abusing their power to exploit our nonunion labor, relying on us to handle the work, but refusing to pay us what we deserve.

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Although we appreciate the four-sentence paragraph in your all-staff email, your very late attempt to acknowledge the pain of people of color, particularly Black staffers in your administration, simply wasn’t enough. We have sat on these micro and macro aggressions for far too long, and refuse to be silenced when our lives and the lives of our communities are at stake. Your leadership has caused Black women and women of color, many of whom have led key City efforts under your tenure, to leave in silence due to a toxic workplace environment, abuse, and discrimination. We honor their efforts to make this City a livable one for our communities and we want them to know they’re not forgotten.

So now that we finally have your attention, we want you and those in your administration that continue to protect the culture of white supremacy within the institution that you lead to listen.

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It is not enough to say you are committed to doing the work. People of color need to be at the table so we can help shape these decisions and hold you accountable.

It is not enough to call out the structural racism that exists in the country, without putting in place anti-racist policies to ensure you are not further contributing to it.

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It is not enough to acknowledge our pain, but not hold those who inflicted that pain, including those in your administration, accountable for the trauma they have caused us and our communities.

It is not enough to say you are committed to a diverse workforce, and not pay us the same as our white counterparts.

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And with all due respect, sir, the problem is not that we don’t recognize our power, and the power we hold together. The problem is you and your white inner circle don’t.

Are you listening now?

Signed,

Fed Up Women of Color in Your Administration and Allies

Update: 6/8/20, 9:26 a.m. E.T.: De Blasio press secretary Freddi Goldstein sent the following comment: “This administration has strived to be a place of equity and inclusion, where people from all walks of life get a seat at the table to bring their experiences into policy discussions and decisions. If members of the team feel they haven’t been heard, we must do better—period.”

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The female staffers who penned the letter were responding to an email obtained by The Root that Mayor de Blasio sent on Saturday, which read:

Dear Colleagues:

We are all carrying a lot of pain right now.

If one thing unites our team, it’s a commitment to social justice. And how can anyone who cares about justice not feel torn apart by what we’ve seen across this country?

We say their names and we remember: George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor.

Their deaths have added to the weight carried every day by Black New Yorkers and communities of color across our city, to the pain and loss from COVID-19, to the frustration and anger over the rising inequality on display all around us.

Over these last three months of crisis, you’ve sacrificed your time, your energy and your health and you’ve done it because you believe in public service.

And over the past week, so many of you have marched in the streets and raised your voices against injustice.

I could not be more proud of you.

There are two things I think it’s important to say to all of you right now.

First, we need to take care of each other. In more normal times, we’d all pull strength from being near our colleagues. We’re not all together in one place, so it’s more important than ever to reach out.

To every person of color on this team in particular, I want you to know that Chirlane and I see what you are going through and feel how deeply this moment hurts. We are here for you. We will never stop fighting for you. Black Lives Matter in New York City.

Second, take pride that we are each in a place where we can make a difference right now. Recognize your own power, and the power we hold together, to change this city and this country. It’s a gift. We have all worked hard to be here. We cannot—we won’t—let this moment pass. We will act together to make this city fairer and more just for communities of color.

We have 19 months left together as a team. And I promise to use every second of that time to fight for something better, to fighting to dismantle structural racism.

You are part of the team that ended a broken stop and frisk policy, created Neighborhood Policing and is ending the era of mass incarceration by closing Rikers Island.

We will NOT go back to the way things were. We will take this city forward.

Thank you for being who you are and for fighting for a better future. Your city needs you.

Yours,

Bill de Blasio

Terrell Jermaine Starr is a senior reporter at The Root. He is currently writing a book proposal that analyzes US-Russia relations from a black perspective.

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