NYCHA Leaders Organize to Protect the Next Generation and Fight for New Laws: ‘People Will Remember This’


NYCHA leaders moved boxes of food to deliver to seniors before discussing recent protests. Cynthia Tibbs, at left, stands with Carmen Quiñones, at center, in an Occupy NYCHA shirt.

By Michael McDowell

Thousands of protestors have traversed the streets of the Upper West Side this week, responding to the killing of George Floyd on May 25 while he was in the custody of the Minneapolis Police Department.

Chants of “George Floyd!” and “Black Lives Matter!” have shattered the silence of the coronavirus pandemic, along with the incessant harassment of buzzing helicopters and the brief burst of occasional police sirens. Outside Douglass Houses, a New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) complex on the Upper West Side, resident leaders grappled with a city that feels as if it is on the verge of collapse.

“We are here today to talk about what happened with George Floyd,” began Carmen Quiñones, president of the tenant association at Douglass Houses. “Among the other people that have gotten killed by police brutality. We are definitely against police brutality.”

“Last night, I didn’t go to sleep until six in the morning. I also have police officers in my family. We could not find out where they were.”

Quiñones’ son is a member of Harlem’s 32nd Precinct.

“I understand that we have bad cops, and we got to get ‘em out. The blue wall of silence has to come down,” she said. “That is a must. We must take the KKK out of the police department. We also have to make sure that our children get the same opportunities to become police officers, so that we can change this narrative.”

According to publicly available data, 57 percent of the city’s police force—or 20,613 officers—have received at least one Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) complaint. Slightly more than half of all NYPD officers are white (51 percent), 27 percent are Hispanic, 15 percent are Black, 7 percent are Asian, and less than 1 percent are American Indian. Almost 80% of the NYPD’s upper ranks are classified as “non-Hispanic white.”

Claudia Perez, president of the tenant association at Washington Houses, in East Harlem, had ridden crosstown with Manhattan District Attorney candidate Tahanie Aboushi, who was delivering boxes of produce by truck to New Yorkers in need across the city. Quiñones has been organizing the delivery of food to seniors at Douglass since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Good old boy camaraderie must be replaced with de-escalation and accountability,” said Perez. “We are no longer happy with just the low-hanging fruit legislation that’s being pushed to calm us down.”

Cory Ortega, who told the Rag he represents public housing in Manhattanville, agreed.

“Cuomo says he’ll sign to legislation to repeal 50-a,” Ortega said, referring to a law which effectively seals the personnel records of police officers, firefighters, and corrections officers. “We need to put that before the governor.”

“We need to keep up the momentum,” Perez nodded.

“Everyone can do something,” Ortega said. “People will remember this. Where were you during COVID and Floyd? What action did you take? I’m older now, and I can’t walk all the way from 134th Street to City Hall. I can’t do that.”

“I’ve done enough marching,” Quiñones interrupted. “I’m tired of marching. It’s time for legislation. We need legislation, and we need those cops to go to jail so that the cops that are doing the right thing don’t have to be in harms way like they are now.”

“Remember, we too have family in the police department.”

Cynthia Tibbs, president of the tenant association at the WSUR Brownstones, reflected on her own experience.

“I am the product of a biracial family. I have witnessed racism since the day I was born. My father delivered me in the house because the ambulance attendants refused to touch a nigger baby,” she said.

“The cops came just in time to guide my father into how to cut the umbilical cord, and forced the ambulance guys to take me and my mother to the hospital, while the police drove my father to the hospital.”

Tibbs continued.

“I’ve witnessed racism all my life. I get scared every time my grown son leaves the house. He got stopped one time when he was helping my mother, who is a white woman, and elderly, in a wheelchair. They thought he was trying to attack her. I never thought I would have to run down the street and put myself in between my son and the cops because they wouldn’t listen to my mother. They thought he had intimated her,” Tibbs said. “This has got to stop.”

In May, an NYPD officer, Francisco Garcia, put his knee on Donni Wright’s neck. Fortunately, Wright survived, and plans to file a lawsuit. It will be the eighth such suit brought against Garcia, whose actions have led to over $200,000 in settlements.

“I understand the fuel and the anger, but we must stop looting. We must stop all of that right now,” Quiñones said. “Our kids are tired, and they have nothing. From a pandemic, to a riot,” she shook her head.

“Black on black crime is rampant, and we must do something about it. We cannot just keep coming out when it’s somebody else,” she said. “Our own children are killing each other. I’m asking for every mother to start standing up. I am willing stand with every mother around. Because it takes the women to clean this up.”

The muggy morning broke. Rain was imminent.

“Now more than ever, it is time to hit the ballot box,” Quiñones said. “We need to vote. We need to vote on June 23rd. If you don’t have an absentee ballot application, come see me, I’ll be handing them out at Douglass. Vote, vote, vote!,” she roared.

Wednesday afternoon, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison upgraded charges against the Minneapolis police officer who pressed his knee into George Floyd’s neck, and charged the three other officers at the scene with aiding and abetting murder. All four officers have been fired.

“It’s about time,” Tibbs, reached by phone, told the Rag. “I don’t think they would have done it had there not been so much pressure put on them by America’s voice.”

That evening, Quiñones was optimistic.

“When I saw, I thought, hallelujah. I’ll get excited when they’re convicted. I want all four of them convicted,” she emphasized.

“In New York City, we need to start coming together. It is time for unity. We have to start at home.”

NEWS | 6 comments | permalink
    1. babrarus says:

      Go to sleep earlier and get up refreshed.
      Thanks for what you do.

    2. Libby Bias says:

      Edit: Incessant, harrassing chants of “George Floyd!” and “Black Lives Matter!” have shattered the silence of the coronavirus pandemic, along with the buzzing of helicopters and the brief burst of occasional police sirens.

      Fixed.

      • C says:

        “Incessant, harassing. . ”

        Feeling threatened, are we now?

      • Sarah says:

        Harassing?

        Why is it you feel that demands that cops stop murdering people are directed at you?

        • gs says:

          Stop buying into the false narrative. “Murders” by cops is rare and when it happens more white people are killed. Check the facts (Washington Post).

    3. Livable City says:

      Thanks for sharing the voices of NYCHA leaders. More informative than reading this in the NYT.