Ify Ike is in pain. So much so that she was unable to hold her composure enough to stick to the written speech that she prepared for the protest Monday aimed at her former boss, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, for what she says is his failure to protect the black and brown residents he swore he would shield from racist policing.
She thanked all of the staffers of color who showed up at the protest at City Hall, especially those still on the payroll who are risking their jobs. Ike, the former executive director of NYC’s Young Men’s Initiative, has been working behind the scenes organizing the protest and supporting staffers to speak up about the mayor, who told The Root that he failed to protect black and brown bodies.
“We know that black lives matter,” Ike said. “Black lives mattered to slave owners. The question is, ‘Does our humanity matter?’”
A lazy ear would’ve heard Ike’s words, the volume and passion with which she spoke, as anger. Indeed, she was angry at de Blasio over the curfew imposed last week during protests against police brutality that she says should have never been enacted. She is angry that he, in her opinion, is giving in to a police force that will never like him, no matter how many concessions he extends to them. But Ike’s body, her eyes, her movements shook only slightly. She did not display much anger. Ike was disappointed.
She spoke like a woman with a broken heart.
Today’s event was technically a protest. But it felt more like a wake. In more than a dozen conversations with current and former staffers, the mood for de Blasio is so low, it is clear they have given up on him. There is no resuscitating the life back into this administration, as far as they are concerned. None of the speakers really spoke in a tone that suggests de Blasio will suddenly become the mayor that he was on the campaign trail, who touched New Yorkers’ hearts with the campaign ad about his son that said, my dad “is the only one who will end the stop-and-frisk era.”
A federal judge ruled in 2013 that the practice was unconstitutional and the Michael Bloomberg administration that preceded de Blasio significantly scaled it down. Under de Blasio, stops are a fraction of what they used to be, but black and brown people still make up the majority of the stops, a point of contention for many of the staffers who showed up to protest the mayor on Monday morning.
Jeremiah, a current staffer who didn’t want to give his last name or department, expressed frustration at the mayor over the police violence against protesters over the past 12 days of protests.
“Our city is grieving,” he said. “Our city is angry. Our city demands justice. Our city demands accountability. And so do we. Our city is fed up with the cycle of police brutality and government negligence. Our city is fed up with members of our community being oppressed due to the color of their skin. Our city is tired of our neighborhoods and essential programs being defunded. Our city is tired of seeing the funds going to those lacking in their commitment to serve and protect.”
People began gathering around 9:30 a.m. and the group of protesters slowly grew to about 200 to 300 people. Many of the people who appeared were behind the letter provided to The Root written by a coalition of former and current female staffers of color who expressed disappointment with de Blasio over his handling of policing and COVID-19, as well as their own treatment in his administration.
After everyone spoke, they walked over to One Police Plaza, headquarters of the NYPD and on to the Brooklyn Bridge where they walked to Cadman Plaza, in Brooklyn. But Ike, who spoke so passionately earlier didn’t make it. She took a seat at the beginning of the bridge and started breaking down. She didn’t say much but that she was hurting over everything that was happening with the city, with the mayor, with everything.
Another former staffer, Natalie Leary, who worked in the department of special projects and community events, came over to console her with some other ex-staffers. Leary told me that much of the frustration I saw and heard in the speeches was fueled by hurt over broken promises by de Blasio.
“We all came here energized by his energy from his campaign believing in what he said,” Leary told me. “As black and brown people who have worked grueling hours, days, nights, weekends to support him and his vision because what we believed would help this city, he has let us down. He has let his staff down, he has let his former staff down. He has let people of color across the city down and it’s painful.”
While his former and current staff were protesting, the mayor was delivering his daily press conference at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. When a local news outlet asked his reactions to the protests, he said, “I respect that they have heartfelt concerns, but we are changing the city all the time. Anyone who’s watched the work we’ve done so far should know where we’re going, which is [towards] more change quickly.”