Socialist brake light new deal in Kingston

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KINGSTON – A free brake light repair clinic was held Saturday in Midtown Kingston to help poor people avoid unnecessary police stops, which sometimes leads to expensive fines, suspended licenses, lost work days, and more serious problems.

“In Kingston, there have been over 550 brake light traffic stops in the last four years total, and in Newburgh, it’s at least double that,” said Alex Panagiotopoulos, of the Mid-Hudson Valley chapter of Democratic Socialists of America, who organized the event with Rise Up! Kingston and the Kingston Tenants Union.

Statewide, there were 288,000 pull-overs for brake lights, during the same time period, according to New York public databases.

“For black and brown people, and those without papers, a police stop poses a distinct threat,” reads an explanatory pamphlet titled “Why Fix Brake Lights.” In some cases, like Philandro Castile and Walter Scott, stops for a broken brake light can lead to murder at the hands of police, the pamphlet noted.

In 2017, 89 of the 1,147 Americans killed by police were stopped for traffic violations, according to .

“It’s in the tradition of the Black Panther movement, where we combine advocacy with doing something directly for people,” Panagiotopoulos said. “We combine advocacy with doing something directly for people and the point of today is to help people avoid unnecessary police stops and harassment and fines. Low income people getting a brake light ticket can result in a lot of hassles and missed work and other problems.”

Local Black Panther leader Ismail Shabazz visited with the activists, and approved of their efforts.

“God knows what can happen, and if police aren’t being held accountable for their actions, they’re pretty much able to do anything they want to do,” said Lisa Royer of Rise Up! Kingston, a group working to reform the Kingston Police Commission, and curb official misconduct.  

Activists are also fighting to repeal state Civil Rights Law Sec. 50(a), which currently protects the identity cops convicted of brutality, Royer added.

“When people talk about socialism and get scared about it, they’re really scared about top-down control from a higher government power,” Panagiotopoulos said. “Socialism to us is about people volunteering to help each other out, mutual aid, everyone has something to contribute, everyone is equally valid, everyone’s democratically involved in helping each other.”