With police brutality protests erupting across the country and neighborhoods across Queens, several officials running for re-election in the city have vowed to redistribute campaign donations from police association groups to protest bail and support other organizations fighting for race equality.
“I am donating all contributions received from police [political action committees] for my re-election to bail funds and mutual aid organizations, and I will not accept them going forward. We need to call out injustice, but most of all we must act,” state Sen. Majority Leader Mike Gianaris (D-Astoria) tweeted the morning of May 31 after sharing a video of a peaceful protest in Jackson Heights the day before. “No more violence. We deserve a police force that acts with empathy. And we deserve a police force that is held accountable for racist behavior.”
According to a rapidly circulating spreadsheet created by Queens resident Aaron Fernando that displays how much funding city elected officials received from police, corrections and court officer associations, Gianaris has returned all $16,650. With information collected from the Board of Elections, the spreadsheet cites only seven other elected officials here as accepting more money from law enforcement PACs, two being Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz, who accepted $31,000 but has not made any pledges to redistribute the funding, and Assemblyman Michael Den Dekker (D-East Elmhurst), who accepted $18,925.
On June 3, Den Dekker announced that he would donate $10,000 donation to Elmcor Youth and Adult Activities, Inc. and $3,000 to Marguerite’s Food Pantry so that “contributions from police associations to [his] campaign will go back into the community.” Despite the declaration, Make the Road New York and community members marched to Den Dekker’s office that afternoon to demand state action for police accountability and to vow never to accept law enforcement contributions again.
Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria) was the first to publicly announce funding redistribution, pledging to send $5,350 to the NYC Bail Fund and organizations working to end mass incarceration. Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz (D-Corona) and Councilmember Francisco Moya (D-Corona) followed suit, each pledging $1,000.
“I stand with our community, there won’t be peace until we all draw a clear line in the sand and fight for whats right,” Cruz tweeted.
For some elected officials, redistributing donation funds doesn’t seem like a viable response to the protests.
“I’ve proven in the past that money cannot influence my vote or my work. I’m not influenced by money so I don’t see myself returning funds,” state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) told the Chronicle Monday. According to Fernando’s research, Addabbo accepted $7,200 from police PACs. “I think PBA represents the officers as well so I don’t view [funding] as bad.”
Addabbo said that he’s been making donations to frontline and essential organizations during the pandemic, which remains his top priority. He said that he does support the protests in their messaging, but believes the violence is getting out of hand.
“The protests are unfortunate. I don’t believe in violence, I believe in justice … There was a tragedy — that should not happen to any human being,” he said of George Floyd’s death. “I’m all for peaceful protests with the right messaging … I’d refrain from doing larger gatherings because of the pandemic … Keep to the messaging of fair and equitable justice and refrain from violence.”
Elected officials such as Assemblymember Nily Rozic (D-Fresh Meadows), who is recorded as having accepted $750 from police officer associations, have not announced intentions to redistribute the funds, but instead have voiced support for Assembly Bill A3333. The bill, sponsored by Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell (D-Manhattan), would repeal Civil Rights Law 50-a to allow for the public disclosure of police records relating to alleged misconduct.
“Rooting out systemic racism in our institutions and communities will not be achieved overnight but there is action that can be taken now to move us forward,” Rozic said in a June 1 tweet.