She Ran on a Platform of “Radical Love.” Now She’s Facing Radical Hate.

She Ran on a Platform of “Radical Love.” Now She’s Facing Radical Hate.

She Ran on a Platform of “Radical Love.” Now She’s Facing Radical Hate.

Harlem’s new city councilwoman is finally getting media attention—and death threats—for sending condolences to the family of a man accused of murdering two cops.

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Harlem, New York City—Welcome to the hot, punishing glare of New York media, Kristin Richardson Jordan!

The 35-year-old political newcomer shocked Harlem’s Democratic Party machine last year, defeating longtime City Council member Bill Perkins, 71—he served two terms, totaling 11 years, with a 10-year stint in the state Senate—by only 100 votes. That was thanks largely to the city’s new ranked-choice local voting system, in which being enough voters’ second choice pushed her ahead of Perkins, who led by 500 votes in the first-choice tally.

But the victory of this self-described “Black, queer” democratic socialist, who ran on a platform of “radical love,” got almost no media attention, outside of a few hyper-local news outlets. I pretty much had the story to myself when I profiled her early last July.

All that changed when two New York Police Department officers were shot responding to a domestic violence complaint in Jordan’s district. One, 22-year-old Officer Jason Rivera, died at the scene; his partner, Officer Wilbert Mora, succumbed to his wounds a few days later. The alleged killer, mentally ill felon Lashawn McNeil, also died of gunshot wounds from a third officer’s gun after a brief hospitalization.

Jordan happens to be an advocate of prison and police abolition—which she described to me in July as “long-term views, but I actually believe in moving towards a world without cops.” She helped run some of the neighborhood’s Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis Officer Derek Chauvin in the spring of 2020. Suddenly, Rupert Murdoch’s empire found her. The New York Post (which, to be fair, had briefly profiled Jordan and her views on policing after her primary win) immediately pilloried the newcomer for tweeting about a district community garden controversy the day the officers were shot. She said she was told not to tweet about the crime, later sent her condolences to both officers’ families, and headed to Harlem Hospital with the city’s new mayor, Eric Adams—a Black former cop—and other elected officials that night, as Mora fought for his life.

A right-wing Post columnist even depicted her as a would-be cop killer herself. “It’s really, really hard not to picture a thought bubble over this bitter woman’s head: ‘One cop down, 35,999 to go,’” he opined.

But the paper really began its attack when she sent condolences to McNeil’s family, along with the slain officers’ families, after Mora and McNeil died of their gunshot wounds. “My deepest condolences to the families of Officer [Jason] Rivera, Officer [Wilbert] Mora and Lashawn McNeil,” she wrote on Twitter. “Lives lost due to broken public safety & mental health systems that spare nobody. Harlem stands with the families of the fallen and we will not stop fighting for a safer world for all.” The Post piece quoted three NYPD officers, anonymously, blasting Jordan for putting “the names of our dead cops with their killer in the same breath she wishes condolences,” in the words of one of them.

Fox News also piled on. “How ludicrous this is. How many of her constituents want to abolish the police and eliminate the police? The police are needed more than ever by communities of color, which this person represents,” former New York City Police commissioner Ray Kelly told Fox News (where his son Greg is an anchor).

When Jordan included McNeil’s family along with Rivera’s and Mora’s in her condolence message, former George W. Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer turned rabid. “This is what’s happening when you abandon morality, and then you try to find justifications for the killing of police…. For anybody in public life to express sympathy to her killer? I wish we had recalls, that person should be thrown out of office.” (Fleischer, of course, doesn’t live in Jordan’s Harlem district, or in New York City, but in wealthy suburban Westchester County.)

Then came maybe the most stinging media blow: Jordan wound up on the front page of The New York Times on Wednesday, the first time the paper of record had covered her except for a brief mention of her upset victory over Perkins. Of course, the shootings were an irresistible news hook, but the Times seemed to make up for ignoring Jordan’s unlikely win by paying attention almost exclusively to her views on policing, which Jordan acknowledges are radical, and her including McNeil’s family in her condolence wishes—“messaging that is vastly out-of-step with many of her fellow Democrats,” the paper wrote.

All of the criticism ignored that rookie Officer Rivera was himself a critic of the NYPD’s historic approach to communities of color, particularly its now-abolished “stop and frisk” program, a version of which Adams is considering reviving, under another name. “Growing up in Inwood, Manhattan, the…relationship between the police and the community was not great. I remember one day when I witnessed my brother being stopped and frisked,” he wrote in his letter applying to the Police Academy. “My perspective on police and the way they police really bothered me,” he added, though he said he saw the relationship changing. “This was when I realized that I wanted to be part of the men in blue; better the relationship between the community and the police,” the letter concluded.

The Times’ evident disapproval stung, Jordan said—but the Fox News attacks brought the death threats. “I’ve never really felt safe,” she told me, as a Black lesbian socialist domestic violence survivor. But she’s paying more attention to safety issues, she admitted, concerned about her staff as well as about Harlemites who visit the community center where she’s based her office.

Personally, I’m not a police or prison abolitionist; I’m in favor of reforming and reimagining but not defunding the police. As one of Jordan’s constituents, I’m also worried about the recent spike in gun violence; a teenager shot and gravely wounded two other teens a few doors down from where I was having dinner in September; I watched the wiry young shooter tear past the restaurant (he was quickly apprehended by police). Still, the media pile-on seemed disproportionate to this political neophyte’s power. In our conversation, I asked about whether the hike in gun violence is shifting her views at all (“Absolutely not!”) and whether she sees the potential for backlash dooming her push for greater attention to poverty and mental health issues (“I understand on an intellectual level that when people feel unsafe, that’s what typically happens,” she admitted).

Our interview, on the eve of a Friday Mass for Rivera at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, thronged by thousands of cops from around the country and which Jordan also attended, has been lightly condensed and edited.

How are you doing?

Hangin’ in there.

This is the first piece about you in the Times, right?

Yeah, this is the first time we’ve seen anything, and there’s plenty to report on in our district.… To be perfectly honest I feel that it was very irresponsible reporting. We had a two-hour conversation about the vision and purpose of abolition and about how at its core, it’s about radical love, which is the platform I ran on. Which is about valuing human life. Personally, I see nothing inconsistent between mourning the loss of human life that is caused by our violent police state, and mourning these two officers as well. For me, it’s all about the loss of human life.

You got pushback for expressing condolences to the family of the accused killer, who was shot by a third officer during the attack and later died…

Not only have I gotten pushback, I’ve gotten straight-up white supremacist threats, including threats of physical violence and harm, for showing condolences and sympathies to Lashawn’s mother and his family. It really says something about our current state… three mothers lost a son in this incident.

Can you say any more about the threats?

They came vastly from white people with white supremacist views who do not live in Harlem and by and large don’t live in the city of New York either. Because Fox News did a segment—another example of irresponsible reporting—the alarm was sounded in the spaces and places of white supremacist thought.

Fox got the story from the Times?

Nope. Fox actually reported it first.

Ah, somehow I missed that. But I’m wondering: Has the recent uptick in violence here in Harlem, and elsewhere, has given you any pause in your thinking about abolition of police and prisons?

Absolutely not!

We have these cycles of violence…and [eventually] we realize we need to address the root causes of crime itself. Then we have an uptick in crime again, and we’re back in the cycle. What I’ve been articulating: This is where we need to disrupt the pattern of violence. We need to look at how poverty and violence are inextricably linked. What are we doing to address poverty? Mental health and wellness and violence are inextricably linked—what are we doing to invest in mental health? What we need to do is invest in solutions and prevention, which I’ve been saying from day one.

The mayor wants to change policy so that if juveniles are arrested in gun crimes, and they give up whoever provided the gun, they’ll be tried in family court—but if they won’t, they’re tried as adults. What do you think about that?

I’m very concerned about that. I’m very concerned about the criminalization of our youth. I stood in solidarity with our public advocate Jumaane Williams when he talked about changes to the mayor’s plan. One of the things he was putting forward was to target high-level gun traffickers, instead of 16- and 17-year-olds. To trace guns instead of tracing gangs. What we need is an approach that doesn’t see people as the problem, but sees gun violence as the problem.

Those of us who want to see structural police reform often say we want to see social workers, not cops, responding to domestic violence calls. But when I heard about this recent shooting, I had to acknowledge that sometimes domestic violence calls involve guns, and I had to wonder what would have happened if two social workers wandered down that hall…

The first thing I want to say is that what I think this recent tragedy shows us is no one is able to escape the violence of the system we’ve currently created. Even those we think are protectors and are somehow immune from it or safe from it, are not. No one is safe in this system. The second thing, and it goes to what you’re expressing: I do believe social workers are needed in situations like this and are a better response to domestic violence—but not just in a crisis moment, or inconsistently. We need community-based public safety models, where we’ve set up networks of care, and we’ve set up ongoing relationships. So that way it’s not a stranger barging in.

I’m also hearing from people who work with community-based “violence interrupter” programs that some of their staff and volunteers are falling victim to this surge in gun violence. They’re being hit by the violence they’re trying to interrupt. This is not like the ’80s or ’90s, but in recent memory, we’ve seen a big jump in gun violence.

I can definitely empathize with feeling discouraged because our current climate hasn’t made it easy. But I think the uptick in violence is connected to the state that we’re in: the pandemic, economic deprivation, no universal health care. In this moment I would point to the evils of capitalism, and say that until we eliminate poverty, we’re going to be in situations like this, where the most vulnerable are left with no options…

But because I’m old, and I’ve lived through these cycles before, I do know that times like this often lead to backlash politics—when people are afraid, and you know it’s not just white people, or white supremacists…

Yes…

And then it becomes hard to marshal the political will to spend on the kind of programs you’re talking about. Even Eric Adams, a former cop, is being criticized for not being aggressive enough on crime, and he hasn’t been in office even a month yet.

I think there’s a leaning toward a crackdown in crime that is dangerous. I think some of the mayor’s proposals, like a residency requirement for police and funding for cure-violence initiatives, are a step in the right direction. But I don’t think rolling back bail reforms [which Adams is proposing]… that has nothing to do with this recent high-profile incident, and it’s not connected with stopping gun violence. It’s a step backward.

Mental health issues are at an all-time high. We’re in an extremely stressful climate and there’s been nothing to address that. I am genuinely concerned about what I see and feel is a lack of empathy and compassion. I understand on an intellectual level that when people feel unsafe, that’s what typically happens.

Have you spoken one-on-one to the mayor?

I was at Harlem Hospital with him on the night this violence occurred, but I haven’t gotten to sit down and have a longer conversation. I would welcome that. But I don’t know if that’s going to be an option, to be honest. There’s been an attempt to reach out that hasn’t been reciprocated.

You have reached out?

Yes—not recently; we did very early on, without reciprocation. It’s hard in our current political climate. But we don’t have to agree on everything to have a working relationship around the basics.

Do you feel unsafe, personally, because of all this?

[Long pause]… I have never felt safe.

Less safe?

Even the question gives me pause because I think the combination of my identities—being a Black queer woman in America, being a survivor of domestic violence myself, safety has always felt like a privilege I don’t have.

Yes, but there are degrees of being unsafe…

I definitely feel more unsafe, if we think about it as a spectrum. I can say that. I do feel like I’m in a position that has heightened the unsafety that was already there. I’m a very spiritual person, so for me I’ve been taking comfort in leaning on faith and praying with friends and family and staff. We’ve also talked concretely about what we can do in terms of a safety plan. I pride myself in being accessible and that’s something I don’t plan on stopping. But I do think about what we can do, especially in terms of staff. We’ve rented space in a community center. Which is great—I’m very excited about the space, and what it says about the resources and presence I can bring—but we have to look at it creatively and intentionally to make sure it’s safe for everyone.

Have you thought about going to the services at St. Patrick’s Cathedral tomorrow?

Oh yes. I plan to go… Even with my views on abolition, my grandfather was a police officer and my great aunt was a corrections officer. Beyond that suit is a human being. One of the things I believe the most in terms of having a transformative public safety system, and making police as we know them now obsolete, is that everyone is a human being and there’s one human family. I mourn the loss of literally all human life. I don’t see it as contradictory to mourn the life lost of Lashawn as well as the lives of Officer Rivera and Officer Mora.

It seems they both went into policing for the right reasons.

I teared up when I heard some of what Officer Rivera wrote. He was really for a different type of policing—it’s not exactly my view—but he was clearly for reforming the police department. But some of these people are trying to manipulate his death, as a reason to go backward. He was against stop-and-frisk, but some are leveraging this as a reason to bring back stop-and-frisk, in some form.

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