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Bill de Blasio Can't Run for President as a Progressive If He Doesn't Fire Daniel Pantaleo

This level of moral cowardice is disqualifying for a would-be president

Bill de Blasio on the campaign trail before being elected mayor of New York, November 2013.

Bill de Blasio on the campaign trail before being elected mayor of New York, November 2013. (Photo: Kevin Case, Flickr)

Bill de Blasio cannot possibly run for president as a progressive. In 2014, after years of Republican mayors, de Blasio ran on a criminal justice platform, was elected, and promised to be a transformational, progressive mayor for America's largest and most diverse city. In my 25 years as a criminal justice reformer and organizer, I can tell you that he has not lived up to that promise.

When de Blasio started as mayor, there was hope that he would enact meaningful criminal justice reform in New York City. But de Blasio slowly but surely backpedalled on this promise over the years. Nothing is more representative of this than how de Blasio has handled the case of Officer Daniel Pantaleo.

Despite knowing we have a criminal justice system that refuses to punish white officers and having seen indisputable video evidence that Eric Garner was killed by a chokehold, the mayor has not yet fired Daniel Pantaleo, instead waiting on the CCRB to make that decision for him. Pantaleo is a City Employee and under the mayor's jurisdiction. He has and has always had the legal authority and moral obligation to fire Daniel Pantaleo.

When politicians like de Blasio refuse to use the authority granted to them by voters, they betray the very organizers that have worked with them to promote their agenda and elect them into office. Grassroots organizers at the Pantaleo hearings are the bedrock of the progressive base de Blasio claims to serve. I'm one of them.

At The Gathering for Justice, we have worked with our criminal justice task force, Justice League NYC, to live up to our moral obligation to address ongoing problems like police brutality and spur action. This builds on the legacy our organization started when we took our actions into the streets and the halls of congress when Officer Daniel Pantaleo was non-indicted - holding police, and politicians, accountable.

We have done our job. But politicians like de Blasio have yet to hold up their end of the bargain.

Ever since the NYPD's disgraceful work stoppage in 2014, de Blasio has been too scared of the power of the NYPD to make the difficult, principled decisions which his office demands of him. He is a man who campaigned on criminal justice reform and ending stop-and-frisk yet has done nothing for the formerly incarcerated, the currently incarcerated, or the millions of people of color in this city subject to discriminatory policing. And now he won't even fire a man the NYPD's own Internal Affairs Division recommended be terminated.

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Bill de Blasio has made many unfulfilled promises to people of color in NYC. Instead, the mayor has chosen out of fear and convenience to prioritize his relationship with the NYPD. Where is the progressive leader our city voted for in 2013 and re-elected in 2017? What does de Blasio want his legacy as mayor to be? He can be a mayor who fulfills his promises to people of color, or he can be a mayor remembered for his lack of commitment on issues like NYCHA, gentrification, and solving police brutality, while using his platform as the mayor of New York to run for the nation's presidency.

Civil rights icon John Lewis famously asked "If not us, then who? If not now, then when?" For de Blasio, the answer is that it's not him and it's never time to act. No situation more clearly illustrates de Blasio's lack of moral courage than his foot-dragging over Officer Daniel Pantaleo.

This level of moral cowardice is disqualifying for a would-be president.

How can someone run for president who can't even handle the responsibilities which come with using the power of a mayor? If de Blasio wants to be the moral leader of the United States, he has to be capable of moral leadership in the five boroughs first.

We know that sometimes the use of executive power to protect minority rights and enact civil rights reform is necessary. In this case, de Blasio has a golden opportunity to prove himself to be not just a capable progressive democratic candidate, but a true leader who is willing to say that "the buck stops with me." I can't support de Blasio given his track record, but I do still believe that New York's mayor can make a return to the form that he showed in 2014.

If he wants to be president, de Blasio must do the right thing and fire Pantaleo.

Carmen Perez

Carmen Perez is President/Chief Executive Officer of The Gathering for Justice, a nonprofit founded by legendary artist and activist Harry Belafonte. Carmen has crossed the globe promoting peace through civil and human rights, building alternatives to incarceration and violence, and providing commentary and guidance for state and federal policy creation. Follow her on Twitter: @msladyjustice1

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