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Black New Yorkers Describe Racism as ‘Inescapable’ in Quietly Released Human Rights Report

The Commission recommends education and outreach to protect black New Yorkers’ rights.
The Commission recommends education and outreach to protect black New Yorkers’ rights.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Anti-black racism is present in almost every facet of New York City life, charges a new City Commission on Human Rights report — a timely but quietly released indictment of systemic discrimination and the de Blasio administration’s response to it.

The 74-page document — which features accounts from black New Yorkers who have experienced racism in education, housing, health care, work and interactions with law enforcement and the criminal justice system — was not trumpeted by City Hall, or even with a press release. It was simply posted to the Commission’s website Monday.

“At the Commission, we also recognize the importance of naming the particular role that anti-black racism has played in the history of the nation and in New York City,” CCHR Chair and Commissioner Carmelyn P. Malalis wrote in the report’s introduction. “History is rife with examples of violence, discrimination and harassment targeted at black people and communities. We attempt to chart some of that history here.”

From insights shared in the focus groups, the Commission found a broad swath of black New Yorkers — longtime residents and recent immigrants, young and older, and from each borough — who described racism as “inescapable and emotionally taxing.”

“The substantive findings indicate that while much has changed in the lives of Black New Yorkers over the years, a great deal remains the same,” the report reads. “Anti-Black racism continues to manifest in meaningful ways across major domains of life.”

One person surveyed reported being called a “n----- b----” and a “black b----” on the subway. Another told researchers that during an apartment search an agent said a particular owner “didn’t want Black tenants.”

“We used to have staff meetings,” one participant said of a workplace, adding, “We’d sit and she [my boss] would go, ‘We need to hire another supervisor.’ And she goes, ‘It can’t be Black.’”

The participant added: “And so I’m sitting there, going, ‘Damn.’ I’m looking at my skin color. But, see, I’m at the table. It’s almost like I’m not there.”

Another Misstep?

The report’s low-key debut came as Mayor Bill de Blasio has faced criticism — even from within City Hall — for his handling of local protests following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

The mayor has largely defended the NYPD, even after videos showing police attacking protesters surfaced.

A Black Lives Matter march on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, May 31, 2020.
Anti-police brutality protesters march along Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, May 31, 2020.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

A spokesperson for the mayor, who has consistently described New York as the “fairest big city,” referred THE CITY to the CCHR for comment.

The CCHR, an independent city agency charged with enforcing city human rights law, began research on the report two years ago.

Officials there declined to comment on the new report.

Action Items

Among the Commission’s recommendations to combat anti-black racism:

  • Develop legislation and policies to “protect black New Yorkers and other groups targeted for discrimination.”
  • Hold public hearings, in predominantly black neighborhoods, on discrimination.
  • Work closer with organizations serving black New Yorkers to build awareness of the Commission and City Human Rights Law protections.
  • Develop new strategies for addressing race-based discrimination and harassment.
  • Train city workers to combat race and color discrimination.
  • Educate people in gentrifying neighborhoods on how anti-Black racism operates in “modern-day New York City” and “the harm that it causes.”

Officials at the agency have long been working to address racist incidents, said CCHR spokesperson Alicia McCauley.

Earlier this year, the Commission launched an discriminatory harassment investigation into the actions of Amy Cooper, who called the police while in Central Park last month to make a false report that a black man threatened her, McCauley said.

But Christian Cooper, the man involved in the incident, has not joined the Commission’s investigation, the spokesperson added.

How to Report Discrimination

And while black New Yorkers can report incidents of race-based discrimination by calling 311, the CCHR notes that does not happen frequently.

Between July 2019 and May 2020, McCauley said, the Commission received 199 reports of anti-black discrimination.

“It is likely that the Commission’s own failure to be explicit, clear and consistent about its commitment to addressing anti-Black racism is also partially responsible for lack of reporting to the agency,” said the report.

Lack of clarity around the process of reporting and the possible outcomes “appear to discourage Black New Yorkers from reporting experiences to entities — like the Commission — that are responsible for protecting them from discrimination and harassment,” according to the report.

The Commission writes that the report reflects their “growing concern about our national political climate, in which leaders at the highest levels of government have endorsed white supremacy and stoked racialized hate and fears.”

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