NYPD misconduct has been inescapable in the news in recent weeks. The beating of a man sleeping inside a Jewish youth center and the unprovoked lethal shooting of an unarmed national guardsman on the side of the highway are only two recent examples of NPYD officers abusing their authority and harming the public. These shocking incidents of violence make only more clear the urgent need for meaningful oversight over the NYPD and legislative action protecting residents from unlawful police stops. Communities United For Police Reform (CPR) has demanded that the city council pass the Community Safety Act, which would appoint an Inspector General to address systemic problems with the NYPD, allow residents to hold officers accountable in the courts for profiling, require officers to identify and explain themselves and obtain documented consent when performing searches.
On Wednesday, October 10, supporters of the Community Safety Act filled the New York City Council chambers to capacity, making sure the the voices of New Yorkers affected by biased policing were heard. The majority of the council members at the hearing spoke out forcefully in favor of the bills, including councilpersons Jumaane Williams, Brad Lander, Letitia James, Helen Foster and Robert Jackson. While the NYPD failed to even send a representative to engage the bills, Mayor Bloomberg sent his counsel, Michael Best to outline the administration's opposition to the bills. The administration argued that the bills unlawfully curtailed the mayor's power over the police department and were preempted by state law. However, Brad Lander, who has advocated for NYPD reform in the press, quickly rattled off an extensive list of municipal codes in New York that have similar regulations of local departments. Letitia James pointed out that Mayor Bloomberg had already signed a less comprehensive bill on racial profiling and it was absurd to now claim that similar legislation was an improper curtailment of the mayor's power. Throughout the hearing, members of the council discussed the lived experience of residing in communities turned into police states by biased stop and frisk enforcement. Council Chair Peter Vallone attempted to dismiss and and silence these discussion as improper speechmaking, prompting Helen foster and others to vocally defend the right to share the stories of their communities.
Members and representatives of a diverse range of community and legal organizations, many a part of Communities United for Police Reform, testified about the necessity of passing the Community Safety Act. Picture the Homeless member, Raul Rodriguez, testified about the devastating personal consequences of an illegal stop and frisk, an encounter which cost him his job and residence. Ramzi Kassem, of CUNY Law School's CLEAR Project, outlined how the NYPD's programs of stop and frisk and Muslim spying stem from similar illegitimate theories that criminalize entire communities based on lawful behavior and identity. Numerous other coalition representatives discussed the far-reaching legal, social and personal consequences of biased policing and outlined the need for change.
Two upcoming hearings will provide a forum for community members to voice their experience with biased policing and their views on the Community Safety Act. The first hearing will be at Brooklyn College on October 23rd and the second will be in Queens at York College on October 24th. For the latest on the movement to pass the Community Safety Act and change the NYPD, search twitter for #ChangetheNYPD, #CommunitySafetyAct and #StopandFrisk, or the Communities United for Police Reform website.