A recent hearing was held by the Public Safety Committee of the New York City Council in which elected officials, high ranking members of the NYPD, and community leaders gave testimony regarding the disparity in the enforcement by the NYPD of social distancing and protective face mask requirements.
I participated in that hearing and gave testimony from my perspective as a civil rights attorney who has represented victims of police wrongdoing for over twenty-five years. I have represented Abner Louima tortured in the bathroom of a Brooklyn police precinct, as well as many families who suffered the wrongful death of a loved one at the hands of members of the New York City Police Department including the families of Ousmane Zongo, Sean Bell, Sergeant Noel Polcano, and Eric Garner, just to name a few. In addition, over the years I have also represented numerous injured victims of police brutality.
Most recently I have been asked to represent Donni Wright an innocent bystander thrown to the ground, punched repeatedly, and sat on by a plainclothes officer all captured on video which went viral, the police officer in which according to press reports had seven prior incidents of excessive force which the NYPD was aware of, as well as 22-year-old Kaleemah Rozier a mother thrown to the ground by multiple police officers at the Barclay Center subway station while her 5-year-old son watched in horror.
The testimony at the hearing made it clear to me that the system by which the NYPD disciplines its officers who engage in misconduct while interacting with members of the public is broken. While the Mayor has put an end to the NYPD enforcing social distancing requirements and the wearing of protective face masks, evidence of the brutality by NYPD officers in the videos in the Wright and Rozier cases as well as a number of other recent videos of police officers brutalizing members of the public demonstrate this brutality must end.
There is no excuse for police officers to act like thugs under the color of law. What is demonstrated by those videos is that there are NYPD officers who apparently believe they can act with impunity when brutalizing citizens without concern for being disciplined for their wrongful acts. These videos also demonstrate that under the present system of disciplining police, our Police Commissioner does not have some members of the police force he commands under control.
When all that happens in the Wright case is the officer gets desk duty and continues to be paid his salary and in the Rozier case there is no discipline and officers remain on full salary, it shows there is a structural defect in the manner in which police in New York City are disciplined. In addition, it should not take seven years, as it did in the Eric Garner case, for appropriate discipline of a police officer to be determined.
No longer should the NYPD be permitted to police itself. It has failed in that mission. What is needed is an independent Inspector General elected by the public to determine the appropriate internal discipline for police officers who have committed wrongful acts.
The New York City Charter must be amended to create that position with its purpose to ensure swift discipline of those officers who have violated their oath. This will reinstate the trust and respect which has been badly damaged by acts of brutality recently caught on video. The public needs to have trust in our police restored to enable them to effectively perform the very important mission they have in our society. Sanford Rubenstein, Esq.