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City Council hears public testimony about police actions

CYRIL JOSH BARKER Amsterdam News Staff | 11/9/2012, 1:06 p.m.
Stop and scan? NYPD hopes new tactic works

Hundreds of New Yorkers showed up at Brooklyn College's student center Tuesday night for the second hearing on the passage of the Community Safety Act. Speakers at the hearing testified to a panel of City Council members that included Councilwoman Debi Rose and Councilman Jumaane Williams, giving detailed accounts about negative interactions with the NYPD.

The hearing was the second of three that the City Council is holding. The final one took place Wednesday night at York College in Queens.

About 35 people from diverse backgrounds, age groups and neighborhoods across the city testified. While many shared testimonies of being stopped and frisked by NYPD officers, several said they had even been physically assaulted and threatened by the officers for no reason at all.

"We're not anti-police," said Williams. "We are not for no policing--we are for better policing."

The Community Safety Act is comprised of four bills that would require NYPD officers to explain a person's right not to consent to a search, prohibit bias-based profiling, require an explanation for a search and create an office of the inspector general.

Several organizations and groups were represented at the hearing as well, most notably Communities United for Police Reform. The organization is a coalition of several community groups trying to bring reform to the NYPD through passage of the act.

"Despite the mayor and police commissioner's assertions that their illegal, discriminatory use of stop-and-frisk has made us safer, the data and facts relating to gun violence contradict their claims," said Djibril Toure, a spokesperson for Communities United for Police Reform and resident of Bedford-Stuyvesant.

"Bloomberg and Kelly's out-of-control use of this practice has real consequences that are negatively impacting New Yorkers and their safety. The time for reform has never been more urgent, and we need the City Council to pass the Community Safety Act," Toure said.

Among those who testified was a woman who served as a tenant association president of a Brooklyn NYCHA development. She told of how NYPD officers beat a man in front of other residents. The officers threatened that if any witnesses recorded the incident, they would be arrested, she said.

A 15-year-old male told council members that he and his friends were playing football in a public park when a police officer drove up and questioned them. The teen alleged that when he asked the officer why he was being questioned, the officer said, "Because you are young, out of control and colored."

A number of people who provided testimony disputed that stops were being conducted based on reasonable suspicion--the legal threshold that allows them.

"I have been stopped and frisked about 20 times over the last four years," said Romale Johnson, a youth leader at Make the Road New York and resident of East New York. "This has happened so much to me that I don't believe anymore that police officers are here to keep me safe. I feel like we are targeted only because of how we look and the color of our skin, and I hope this hearing today has allowed you to hear the voices of those most impacted from our communities."