New Yorkers uniting for police reform

(Charles Baron, left), Donna Leiberman, N.Y. Civil Liberties Union, at every rally said, “Hardly a day goes by without another story of NYPD abuse hitting the news and undermining the ability of the community to trust the police department.”
Photos by Tequila Minsky
Photo by Tequila Minsky

Council Member Jumaane Williams joined other elected officials and Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) in a campaign to end discriminatory policing practices in New York City last week. They are launching a legislative effort to raise NYPD accountability.

The coalition, seemingly spearheaded by Councilman Williams (at least, legislatively), brings together community groups, city council members and advocacy individuals and organizations who believe “enough is enough” with the erosion of New Yorkers’ civil liberties, particularly for those who are black and brown.

Braving a blustery rain, supporters took shelter under City Hall’s portico as Williams articulated the legislation – three bills – he was about to introduce to the State Council Meeting to protect New Yorkers against discriminatory NYPD practices, including unlawful and seemingly capricious searches.

“We need to empower 90 percent of New Yorkers that are innocent with legal protections, stronger oversight and better policing practices. I am convinced that this legislation will improve community policing by creating stronger relations between the police and the community,” Williams said.

Williams has himself been the target of NYPD profiling, stopped in Williamsburg while driving, last year, and then a month later, detained and handcuffed with Kirstin John Foy of the NYC Public Advocate’s Office, as they tried to pass a police checkpoint to attend a West Indian Day breakfast following the parade.

One bill Williams introduced would create an enforceable ban on bias-based profiling by the NYPD, including a prohibition based on age, sex, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, immigration status, and housing status.

A second bill would require NYPD officers to explain a person’s right to refuse to consent to a search without a warrant and proof of consent when given.

The third would require officers to provide their name and rank to the subjects of law enforcement activity, as well as the reason for the activity including the officer’s business card and a phone number for the Civilian Complaint Review Board.

Among the many City Council members who spoke, Ydandis Rodriguez representing Washington Heights said, “One out of every 12 New Yorkers was stopped and questioned by the NYPD last year. When the vast majority of those stopped are young Black and Latino men, we’re sending the message that our city sees them as criminals.”

“The NYPD needs to be held accountable to New Yorkers just like any other agency,“ said Council Member Margaret Chin who represents lower Manhattan including Chinatown.

Jean Rice, member of Picture the Homeless spoke at length of NYPD harassment because he is homeless.

The Center for Popular Democracy and Center for Constitutional Rights are among the civil liberties organizations supporting Communities United for Police Reform.

“Hardly a day goes by without another story of NYPD abuse hitting the news and undermining the ability of the community to trust the police department,” said New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “The landmark legislation introduced today will put New York City at the forefront nationally in the effort to combat discriminatory policing.”

The legislation is seen as a step toward reforming police policies. Partners involved with CPR include community members, lawyers, researchers and activists working for change. Info: changetheypd.org.

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