Ghislaine Pagès | “How much time do you want for your progress?”

By Ghislaine Pagès

I began writing this in a moment of reflection, thinking about the stories of police violence that have gone unheard, the people who have been killed by police whose stories, for some reason, do not garner national attention. These stories add to the already overwhelming list of names we have chanted in the streets or attached to laws we hope will keep the stories from repeating themselves. The fact that there are too many names to know by heart is damning. The fact that there are any names at all is damning.

But with this draft half finished, police in Philadelphia shot and killed Walter Wallace, Jr. They assassinated a young 27-year-old man who was a father and a twin, in front of his mother. In broad daylight. With community members willing and able to deescalate the situation surrounding him.

Any more analysis seems unnecessary and superfluous. The police have yet again proven the point that I could write about endlessly: Police should be abolished. We cannot and must not accept this any longer. This is what police do. To wait for more data before taking decisive action means to wait for more Black people to be killed by police. What would it now take to radicalize those who shelter in the idea of reform? More grieving mothers, twinless brothers, parentless children, brave but devastated sisters? This is what we are choosing by not working explicitly towards abolition now. We are insisting that more people die before we are satisfied that there is a problem.

But in case it is necessary  to make the point, contextualize it, and render it more personal to those who have been spared the direct trauma of having a loved one assassinated by state agents, here we go:

NYPD has a long history of police violence. It is hard to gauge this but it is the lived experience of many New Yorkers who shout into the void of impotent accountability task forces or internal review boards. Further, the NYPD underreports deaths and Commissioner Shea does not make tracking those deaths a priority. Between 2010 and 2015, 105 people were killed by NYPD officers. The Department only reported 46.[1] This is a problem throughout the state. The Washington Post police shooting database, which has been tracking fatal shootings since 2015, reports that 15 people were fatally shot in New York State so far this year by police. All were men, most were Black, 4 are known to have had mental illnesses, according to the Washington Post. In 2019, 23 people were killed by police in New York State.[2] (Note that this database of fatal police shootings does not collect data on victims of police violence killed in other ways). And the disproportionality of this lethal state violence is staggering. The U.S. Census estimated in 2019 that 70 percent of New York State residents were white,[3] while 34 percent of people fatally shot by police were white.[4]

This month at a rally for Breonna Taylor, we were reminded that even the specific practice of shooting Black women in their homes is all too familiar to New Yorkers. At a recent Until Freedom event, the family of Eleanor Bumpurs spoke on her legacy in the wake of Breonna Taylor’s murder. Ms. Bumpurs was shot in her home in 1984.

Ms. Bumpurs was a Bronx elder who lived with a mental illness. The New York City Housing Authority engaged the police when Ms. Bumpers was less than $100 behind on her rent. The police arrived and, after a confrontation, fatally shot Ms. Bumpurs in her own home.[5] A New York Times article, reflecting on the killing in 2016 after another in-home murder of an elderly Bronx woman, Deborah Danner, said that there was “widespread outrage.” The article describes the NYPD’s response as a “seminal moment” for them and their use-of-force policy. The article quotes the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum as saying “It was a huge case and it had a dramatic impact if [sic] the whole department. What it did was crystallize the challenges of dealing with E.D.P.s.”[6]

Nothing has changed since 1984. Nothing. If there indeed was “outrage”, if it really was a “seminal” and formative moment for NYPD policies and had a “dramatic impact: on the whole department, then what did those reforms accomplish?  The NYPD has proven, every time its police officers have taken another life since 1984, that we do not need more awareness of the issue of police violence and we do not need reform. We know the reality of police violence. We have compiled the data. We have fruitlessly tried to bring attention to the the larger crisis every time a story grabs the nation’s attention. We are living the reality of reform. And it is not acceptable.

Reforms from outside the NYPD are not the answer either. Violence, shooting, total disregard for Black life: that has become a key part of policing. It is endemic to policing. And, so as to not challenge the very existence and authority of police, prosecutors have proven to be a frustrating dead end. Matthew Felix’s family cannot even get the N.Y. Attorney General to release the names of the officers who killed the young, unarmed, 19-year-old in February 2020. Deborah Danner’s killer was aquitted.[7] Eleanor Bumpurs’ killer was acquitted and, when Amadou Diallo was killed years later, in his retirement the officer who killed Ms. Bumpurs sent statements of sympathy not to the Diallo family but to the officers involved. “They’ll survive,” he said.[8] The devastating irony was apparently lost on him.

Unlike the countless New Yorkers whose lives they have taken, the NYPD has survived almost intact. The NYPD’s own actions, and well-proven inability to reform, is an argument for abolishing the NYPD. The very fact that police have a problem with killing people is an argument for abolishing them. What are we waiting for? Why accept the indulgent lie of reform?

James Baldwin identified this for us decades ago: “What is it you wanted me to reconcile myself to? I was born here, almost 60 years ago. I’m not going to live another 60 years. You always told me ‘It takes time.’ It’s taken my father’s time, my mother’s time, my uncle’s time, my brothers’ and my sisters’ time. How much time do you want for your progress?”

Today, this prompt asks reformers, “It’s taken a father’s life, a mother’s life, an uncle’s life, brothers’ and sisters’ lives. How many lives do you want for your progress?”


[1] Mara Gay, “Why Was a Grim Report on Police-Involved Deaths Never Released?,” New York Times, June 19, 2020,

[2] “995 People have been shot and killed by police in the past year,” Washington Post, updated October 27, 2020,

[3] “Quick Facts,” United States Census,

[4]  “995 People have been shot and killed by police in the past year,” Washington Post,

[5] Alan Feuer, “Fatal Police Shooting in the Bronx Echoes One from 32 Years Ago,” New York Times, October 19, 2016,

[6] Alan Feuer, “Fatal Police Shooting in the Bronx Echoes One from 32 Years Ago,”

[7] Joseph Goldstein and James C. McKinley Jr., “Police Sergeant Acquitted in Killing of Mentally Ill Woman,”  New York Times, February 15, 2018,

[8] Alan Feuer, “Fatal Police Shooting in the Bronx Echoes One from 32 Years Ago,”