Motorists who are worried about being stopped for having a broken brake light, need no longer worry.
To help reduce these traffic stops, the Mid-Hudson Valley Chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) is hosting an event open to residents with broken brake lights. On June 8, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., anyone with a broken brake light in their car is invited to go to the municipal parking lot on Ann Street, between Liberty St. and Johnston St. to get it replaced for free.
The DSA has existed since 1982, although it considerably grew after the 2016 election. It boasts a membership of around 55,000 people, including 300 hundred members of the Mid-Hudson Valley Chapter. The DSA is an organization dedicated to making sure that members of the community have their basic needs met for things like food, housing, education, transportation, and healthcare.
According to Peter Frase, a leader of the DSA’s Mid-Hudson Valley Chapter, the brake light clinic began in New Orleans. “Having a brake light out is one of the most common reasons that people often get pulled over by the police, which leads to interactions with law enforcement. When you’re talking about communities of color or working class communities, it often leads to bad interactions and really serious life consequences,” he said. This is the first brake light clinic in Newburgh, but the DSA recently hosted clinics in Poughkeepsie and Kingston.
The DSA’s goal is to “free oppression and all types of discrimination that currently exist in our system. Part of that is making sure that people get what they need and are not unfairly harassed or policed,” said Niklas Moran, another leader of the DSA’s Mid-Hudson Valley Chapter.
Anthony Grice, City Council Member At Large, is also involved in planning the brake light clinic.
“Joining those efforts are Community Voices Heard, the Civic Engagement Table, Rise Up Kingston, Nu-Voters Movement, the Working Families Party, other volunteers, and myself,” he said. Grice knows what it is like to have a broken brake light, as it has happened to him. He knows “the safety risk it poses to other drivers, the difficulty in finding time or money to replace it, and the concern of being pulled over.”
Omari Shakur, the local coordinator for the Nu-Voters Movement who is also running for City Council, teamed up with the DSA to put on this event. He believes that this brake light clinic will help destress certain members of Newburgh’s community.
“There are a lot of minority communities where they are overburdened already with high rents, and lack of jobs, and other stuff. So, that little thing of getting a brake light fixed, would be a big help [to them],” he said
Shakur indicated that Robinson Avenue “is where the highest presence of minorities are located and is where a lot of traffic stops generate.” He believes that a lot of traffic stops are occurring because police are seeing broken brake lights in the cars that drive around the area. “That’s why we became a part of this effort. If we could alleviate that problem, we can work on other things [in the community],” he said.
Grice also understands the potential economic impact on people who get pulled over for a broken brake light and then “may have a ticket, court appearance and fine.” According to Grice, “at this event, there will not be any questions asked, any income level requirements, any ID requirements, nor anything else that would hinder a person from receiving this service. We will have a mechanic from Top Notch Mechanics assisting us as well.”
According to Frase, the DSA is “interested in having sort of conversations about the intersections between poverty [along with] people’s interactions with the police and police abuse of power. And, we see the brake light clinic as a way to have conversations about all of these different things.” Both Frase and Moran believe that this is a common issue that doesn’t singularly affect Newburgh. “People are coming in contact with police namely thinking that they’ve been unfairly stopped or that they are being treated in a disrespectful manner by basically not having their rights respected,” Frase said.
Though it isn’t known if Newburgh police are actually targeting residents, Frase believes one thing is clear: “What you look like, what your skin color is, and maybe what your car looks like-- these are things that do disproportionately affect who gets stopped and who doesn’t.”