A story about Jumaane that I haven’t told you yet
It's no secret that I'm a long-time supporter of Jumaane Williams. Though the neighborhoods we represent are pretty different, he’s one of my closest friends in the City Council. Being his partner on the Community Safety Act -- establishing the NYPD Inspector General's office and strengthening the city's ban on discriminatory profiling in the wake of the stop-and-frisk crisis -- is one of the things I’m proudest of in my career in public service.
He is one of the most fearless voices for justice that I've seen in elected office, and he follows it up with hard work.
But here’s a story I haven’t told most of you before.
On Saturday afternoon, February 2nd, Jumaane and I were part of the delegation of elected officials than went inside the Metropolitan Detention Center to see conditions and talk to inmates, who had been freezing and without power for a week.
When we came outside after the visit, Congress Members Nadler and Velazquez began to address the crowd of activists and family members. The restive crowd soon began chanting repeatedly, "Let Jumaane speak!"
Jumaane quickly quieted the crowd, gave praise to the Members of Congress for leading the delegation, and asked people to listen to them so they could give their report. When he did speak a few minutes later, he was the most impassioned speaker. But in some ways, his voice was most critical in that first moment of helping these activists put some trust in their government (at a moment when there was a lot of reason not to).
What was even more telling was what happened on the inside of the prison.
As we walked onto the prison floors, on several occasions, prisoners themselves, seeing our group through the windows from their cells into the common area, shouted out "Jumaane!" and asked him to come talk to them. Which he did.
In those interactions, Jumaane heard stories about two prisoners facing retaliation for small acts of resistance (e.g. taping paper up over their window to disrupt the daily count), as a way of protesting the horrific conditions. He got their names, and relayed them to Congress Member Velazquez. She went back on Monday evening to follow up -- and sure enough, those two prisoners were in the Special Housing Unit. She made sure they were being treated adequately, and relayed the information to their lawyers.
Together, they played an important part in calling attention to retaliation against a number of prisoners at MDC, as The Intercept reported earlier this week -- and as will now be part of the Justice Department Inspector General's investigation.
Before that day at MDC, I did not have occasion to think about it in quite this way.
With a little reflection, here’s what I want in a NYC Public Advocate: The person that prisoners facing abuse most trust to tell their stories. Who follows up to make sure they are not forgotten. The one racial justice activists count on for a little more faith in the system. And to make sure that broader justice is sought.
You've got a lot of good candidates to consider for Public Advocate. And, of course, Jumaane would not be perfect for every job in government.
But for this one, he really is.
Please join me in helping elect him to it on February 26th.
If you’ve got a little time to help get out the vote for Jumaane, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contribute to help him spread the word in the closing days.
And please share this story with your friends by e-mail or on social media. I’m thinking it might be what they are looking for in a public advocate, too.