Justin Brannan is a member of the New York City Council currently serving the neighborhoods of Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst, and Bath Beach.
To celebrate the relaunch of the Bay Ridge Courier, we’re “checkin’ in” with each of the area’s representatives to discuss a topic of their choosing. This week, we caught up with Brannan about some of the contentious protests and counter-protests enveloping the city — and how he hopes his community can come together to move forward.
Brooklyn Paper: There have been several contentious protests and counter-protests in your district throughout the past month or so, some of which got heated. Why do you believe this is happening right now?
Justin Brannan: I believe the media has taken a long overdue and incredibly complex national reckoning with racial justice and police accountability and turned it into an all-or-nothing war of Black Lives Matter vs. the police. And because of this, there are some who think saying “Black Lives Matter” is the same as saying “I hate cops.” This is a false choice.
My stance on the police has never changed. I respect our local cops. I work closely with our local precincts every single day to help keep our neighborhoods safe. I’ve always said it takes an extraordinary amount of courage to stare down the unknown each day as a New York City cop and they deserve respect. Cops have a tough and dangerous job, but they also have an enormous amount of power. And that’s why accountability and transparency are critical. I also strongly believe that Black lives matter. I know we have a lot of work to do to make sure that Black people are treated with the same dignity and respect as everyone else, and that doesn’t just mean in terms of policing, it means across the board. This needs to be a priority for our city, state, and country.
We are an ethnically, culturally, religiously, and politically diverse neighborhood. We are not always going to agree on everything and that’s fine; but racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and sexism are not disagreements, but fundamental devaluing of fellow human beings and our neighbors.
BP: What are some ways that we can start communicating more effectively with each other on these issues?
JB: It is incendiary to suggest that all police officers, and the people who support them, are racists or white supremacists. I don’t believe that and I’ve never said it. Language like this leaves no room for discourse. We have lots of work to do but I believe an all-or-nothing mindset will prevent us from making real progress and it will not help us heal or move forward together. I also do not believe the majority of my constituents agree with “abolishing” the police department. Yes, we absolutely need real reform to end inequality and police brutality. At the same time, we should not demonize good cops who help keep our neighborhoods safe every day. Those are not contradictory thoughts. No one is beyond reproach.
BP: You’ve called for your colleagues across the aisle to condemn some of the violence that took place at recent protests. Why was that important to you? Do you feel you’ve done your part in addressing the issue within your district?
JB: In order to rebuild and restore respect and trust between the police and the communities they serve, there needs to be equal application of the law under all circumstances. And actions must have consequences. If a cop uses excessive force, there must be accountability. If you throw rocks at a cop, you must face consequences. If a “pro-cop” protester punches someone in the face, the cops still need to make an arrest. As elected officials, we cannot pick and choose what we call out because all of it is wrong, and unacceptable. We all must condemn violence, vitriol, and property destruction at all protests, no matter the cause.
I know many attend pro-police marches in good faith to show support for their friends and family members who put their lives on the line everyday as cops. But when some people start getting violent, spewing aggressive and racist vitriol at women, waving Trump flags, and giving raging political speeches, it becomes something else entirely. As an elected official, it’s my job to promote, protect, and defend this great community and sometimes that means calling things out that do not reflect who we truly are. We’ve come a long way but we still have a long way to go. But I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let the media or anyone else portray my district as rotten and racist. The only way to counter that narrative is by condemning ugly behavior and immediately calling out violence, ignorance, hatred, and racism in all its manifestations. Too often it seems our leaders struggle to find the words and that is not leadership but cowardice. It’s not divisive to call out injustice, it’s divisive to ignore it and let it fester.
The people elected me to solve problems. They didn’t elect me to stick my head in the sand and look the other way when things got tough. I am ready to roll up my sleeves and work with anyone who wants to work with me to ensure our community is a place where everyone can feel safe and respected no matter what they look like, how much money they have, who they love, how long they’ve been here, or what they believe. We’ve gotta move forward and we’ve gotta do it together.
BP: How should we as a city and as a community move forward from here?
JB: This is an extremely anxious time for all of us. Everyone’s on edge. This time, the challenges we face are extraordinary and they are not exclusive to our community. What’s happening here is happening in every neighborhood across the nation. But make no mistake there are demagogues at work who want us at each other’s throats during this highly combustible time. They want us to be divided, angry at each other, and locked in these cycles of judgement and cruelty. We cannot let them win. We can make progress, we can make a more just and equitable city, but we must maintain respect for one another in the process.
Our community has always come together like a small town when things get tough. When our neighbors fall down, we pick them up. We need to dig deep and find that same spirit now because the challenges we face today are real, they are serious and they are many. We need to look out for each other, not tear each other down. What brought us here didn’t happen overnight and it won’t be solved by sunrise. But while all of it may seem insurmountable, I know that if we are united through love, patience, empathy, and understanding, there is nothing we cannot overcome together.