“It’s much easier to frame people who steal baby formula and medicine as monsters to be jailed than acknowledge our politics and economic priorities create conditions where people steal baby formula to survive,” said the New York Democrat.
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Thursday criticized New York City police officers for boasting about arresting a dozen people over stolen necessities, including diapers, baby formula, and medicine.
“This is not public safety. This is cruelty on display.”
In a Wednesday tweet that has since been deleted, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) wrote: “After receiving numerous larceny complaints in the Bronx, officers from the NYPD 44th Precinct recently arrested 12 individuals following an enforcement initiative targeting shoplifters. The arrests made led to the closure of 23 warrants and the recovery of $1,800 worth of merchandise.”
The message was accompanied by an image of confiscated products, including baby formula, diapers, wipes, lotion, shampoo, soap, detergent, and over-the-counter medications.
“When I talk about violent conditions, this is what I mean,” Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said Thursday on social media. “But hey, it’s much easier to frame people who steal baby formula and medicine as monsters to be jailed than acknowledge our politics and economic priorities create conditions where people steal baby formula to survive.”
When I talk about violent conditions, this is what I mean.
But hey, it’s much easier to frame people who steal baby formula and medicine as monsters to be jailed than acknowledge our politics and economic priorities create conditions where people steal baby formula to survive. https://t.co/u5BU8S8nVH
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) February 17, 2022
The progressive champion connected the dots between the expiration of key pandemic relief programs and surging poverty—blasting right-wing lawmakers who helped undermine many people’s ability to afford basic necessities for refusing to take responsibility for their role in pushing some caretakers to steal to keep children fed, bathed, and clothed.
“[The] Child Tax Credit expired [on] December 31 and it was many people’s lifeline to feed and clothe their kids,” said Ocasio-Cortez. “Politicians let it expire overnight with a shrug, but now want to feed into the sensationalism around crime acting like shoplifting has nothing to do with their actions. Wild.”
As Common Dreams reported earlier Friday, child poverty spiked by 41% in the U.S. in January—the first month since July 2021 that eligible families didn’t receive the expanded CTC. Since all 50 Senate Republicans and corporate Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) allowed the popular $300 monthly benefit to lapse, at least 3.7 million children have been plunged into poverty.
Ocasio-Cortez was far from alone in rebuking the NYPD’s recent photo-op.
“This is not public safety,” said Eliza Orlins, a former candidate for Manhattan district attorney. “This is cruelty on display.”
According to Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg, a reporter at The Appeal, two of the people arrested for stealing basic necessities live in homeless shelters, one of whom is a 64-year-old woman.
Alec Karakatsanis, founder and executive director of the Civil Rights Corps, contrasted the image of the NYPD bragging about seizing stolen diapers with an image of “Alabama cops celebrating a fun quilt they made from the signs of unhoused people begging for money,” and said they “reflect the budget priorities of the U.S. police bureaucracy.”
The two images that best describe the budget priorities of the U.S. police bureaucracy: Alabama cops celebrating a fun quilt they made from the signs of unhoused people begging for money and NYPD bragging about executing 23 warrants to seize shoplifted diapers. pic.twitter.com/xCwLy5sbWW
— Alec Karakatsanis (@equalityAlec) February 17, 2022
In his first executive budget proposal, unveiled Wednesday, New York City Mayor Eric Adams, a former police captain, called for reducing the city’s workforce by 10,000 and slashing spending at most agencies by 3%, with no changes in NYPD funding.
Seeing the NYPD tweet about getting stolen diapers, formula, and baby food off our streets, then seeing that Eric Adams’ wants to cut every department budget except the NYPD is a good summary of how we fund police instead of basic human needs.
— Read The Dispossessed by Ursula K. LeGuin (@JoshuaPotash) February 17, 2022
In an interview with The New Yorker earlier this week, Ocasio-Cortez said that “because we run away from substantive discussions about [the relationship between inequality, budgetary priorities, and crime], we don’t want to say some of the things that are obvious, like, Gee, the Child Tax Credit just ran out, on December 31, and now people are stealing baby formula.”
“We don’t want to have that discussion,” she continued. “We want to say these people are criminals or we want to talk about ‘people who are violent,’ instead of ‘environments of violence,’ and what we’re doing to either contribute to that or dismantle that.”
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