A Personal Statement on Why Accountability and Take Back The Bronx

In January I learned that Najieb Isaac (aka Gem) of Why Accountability (WA, aka Bronxites for NYPD Accountability), one of the groups organizing NYC’s branded FTP actions, is a parole officer with a badge, a gun, and a mandate to put humans into cages. I have known this person for some years although not closely, and I was made aware that I was quite late in gaining this knowledge. The information that this person has been an active-duty sworn law enforcement officer is a matter of public record, based on voluntary testimony at a city hearing (p. 35), among many ways that many people in NYC movement spaces have been aware of this fact. I informed a number of my comrades in No New Jails NYC (NNJ) the same day I learned it via a Signal thread, in the context of an ongoing internal conversation about whether we should endorse these FTP actions. My position was already against actions resulting in mass arrests for unclear gains, and this knowledge of police affiliation (directly contrary to their stated principles of unity, p. 4) within the FTP formation solidified it. This set off immediate disagreement that continued for the next week, including with members of Take Back The Bronx (TBBx) who had been participating in NNJ. The next day after I shared what I had learned with NNJ organizers, I spoke directly with this parole officer and another member of WA on the phone, who verified directly to me that she remained a law enforcement officer to that day, and claimed that this information had always been “transparent” and my “untimely critique” was invalid because I should have made it years ago. While WA has consistently been anything but transparent with a huge number of people, I do not dispute that this is one of multiple occasions when I have been insufficiently knowledgeable about people in spaces where I have shared responsibility.

The following week at a private internal meeting that NNJ called to discuss this situation, we were interrupted by two members of WA including Officer Najieb Isaac, and two members of TBBx, all cis Black women. They got up in several people’s faces including mine, screaming and cursing, throwing highly transphobic, misogynistic, and revealing personal insults at people present and not present, proving that people I formerly considered comrades were sharing intimate information with them. Among other things, they demanded an apology from me, claiming that I had endangered a Black woman’s safety by referring to a parole officer as a cop on a private Signal organizing thread. They also deployed hypocritical rhetoric about lack of respect for Black women, while attacking several Black women present that evening who are significantly younger than them. Some of us continued to meet after the four people who raided our meeting left. Shamefully, their abusive tactics worked and I agreed to apologize to them. After doing so, I never received a reply. Other people’s attempts to mediate were equally fruitless. NNJ split and mostly fell off the public radar as we dealt with the fallout of being betrayed in favor of a cop and her collaborators by ex-NNJ organizers more recently of We Keep Us Safe, and other serious issues. I am in solidarity with others telling some of those stories at the same time as I tell this one.

In March, I learned that a member of WA was messaging another comrade saying I had failed to present for accountability, NNJ should be suspended from public organizing, I/we needed to pay them reparations, and I should give to WA a list of people I had sent my “blind item smears” – a strange name for the public information this person volunteered about their status as a parole officer, which WA directly confirmed to me when I reached out to them less than 24 hours after I learned it. I had proved only too willing to swallow my personal pride and principles in a futile attempt to de-escalate this situation, but I would never hand over information about my contacts and comrades to law enforcement. This was around the same time as the pandemic hit, and despite having more conversations with comrades about the shadiness of WA’s behavior, other matters took priority and I did little more to try and affirmatively resolve the situation for the next several months.

After the Queer Liberation March on June 28th, I was with a group of queer and trans comrades of color hanging out near the Christopher St Pier. One of the same TBBx members who had interrupted the NNJ meeting in January approached us and physically assaulted members of our group in broad daylight in full view of everyone nearby including the police, laying hands on several people, intentionally misgendering them, threatening people who not only were not present but who they did not even know, telling working class queer and trans people of color they were gentrifiers who should go back to where they came from, and various other insults. When one comrade tried to engage in a de-escalating conversation with one of the attacker’s companions, the attacker deliberately prevented it from occurring by pulling back her companion and whispering in their ear. No one attempted to lay hands on me; I was only directly addressed with the words “see what your mouth did”, implying that I was ultimately responsible for this situation because I had caused dissension by informing my NNJ comrades that there was a cop in WA. I understood this as an attempt to silence me once again, as they had been largely successful in silencing me before. I recognize now that my silence has not protected me or anyone else I care for. Let this overdue public statement be the beginning of an ongoing demonstration that I will not be silenced again. I apologize to everyone I have failed to protect by failing to speak out, particularly the survivors of gender violence who endured abuse within NNJ, and members of all groups who have suffered from the active disorganizing that WA and certain of their allies have committed for years.

The weaponization of identity is a crucial element of this violent episode. For all my physical training, and irrespective of my Black queer and nonbinary identity, I felt powerless as a masculine person to physically intervene and protect my comrades, in large part because my own person was not violated. I didn’t learn boxing so I could beat up Black women 10 or 20 years my senior. But my hesitance to overpower and harm a person in such a category does not release me from my responsibility to defend my comrades from assault, regardless of the assaulter’s age, gender, or other aspect of identity. Members of virtually every oppressed group including Black women are also paid agents of state violence, as I’ve already repeatedly referenced here, in a mere fraction of all I could say. And I have found truly remarkable the lengths that some people who claim to be abolitionists will go, in order to defend the participation of one such law enforcement officer in their organizing spaces.

I could perhaps have been persuaded that in the progressive movement from here to abolition, there is some space for cops to turn against their own role, and be in some kind of communication with abolitionist organizers, if it were possible to somehow ensure safety, transparency and consent among criminalized people affected by such a relationship. However, that type of substantive political conversation has been systematically suppressed at every turn by unprincipled interpersonal violence. And I will never be persuaded that the level of hostility my comrades and I have faced, simply for choosing not to affiliate with spaces where a parole officer is intimately welcomed, is remotely acceptable. Attempts to equate such a decision by abolitionists to avoid law enforcement with disposability and misogynoir are laughable. I have never agreed to protect the participation of any cop in our movement. If there are continued consequences to bear for “what my mouth did”, and is still doing, I will accept my share of them, and try to prevent my trans and/or women comrades who are survivors of gender violence from continuing to bear so much of the brunt that they already have. Longstanding state tactics of transantagonism, misogyny, intimidation and violence against organizers have no place within the abolitionist movement, no matter who employs them. I call for an accounting to the movement from individuals and groups who have tacitly condoned or outright endorsed any of these deeply harmful actions, notably including Decolonize This Place, who I personally addressed about police affiliation in FTP multiple times in January, only to find myself among many others utterly unsupported over the past six months.

WA and TBBx could have just let us go our own way, organizing separately from them. Instead they continued to escalate the situation by picking a literal fight with us, in the midst of an anti-police uprising, during Pride, steps from a trans memorial, not only in front of community but also before the watchful eyes of the NYPD. Others can draw their own conclusions as to the source of such confidence that the carceral state will allow them to act with impunity, all while they repeatedly deliver hundreds of people into the hands of the police in traumatizing actions that bring no political advancement or material benefit. Regardless of the answers to those questions, and despite my safety concerns based on having previously welcomed into my home ex-comrades who continue to stand with the people who engaged in the behavior described here, I sign this statement with my own name. Let it be publicly known that anyone who knowingly and willingly continues to support the hopelessly compromised cop organization Why Accountability, or Take Back The Bronx while their members continue to act in these ways and refuse accountability, is not a comrade or a friend of mine.

In solidarity and struggle,
Nabil Hassein
July 5th 2020