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Council speaker’s Right to Know position not sitting well with activists

Stephon Johnson | 7/21/2016, 11:22 a.m.
The City Council speaker has left it up to the police to fix themselves.
Melissa Mark-Viverito

The City Council speaker has left it up to the police to fix themselves.

Despite having significant support, the bills that make up the Right to Know Act won’t be brought to the floor for a vote. New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito told her colleagues that any proposed changes should be handled internally by the New York Police Department and not by legislators.

“Speaker Mark-Viverito has long promoted herself as an elected official who is down with the people,” said Loyda Colon, co-director of the activist group Justice Committee. “She has stood with the mothers of Anthony Baez, Jayson Tirado, Iman Morales and others who have been killed unjustly by the NYPD, at rallies organized by the Justice Committee (formerly known as the National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights’ NYC chapter), and yet in this moment where she has the power to help end the most common daily abuses by the NYPD, she has chosen instead to align herself with Commissioner Bratton instead of the communities she is supposed to represent. She is selling out Puerto Ricans and all New Yorkers who are abused by the police for her own political gain.”

According to an agreement made by City Council leaders, police officials and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, the procedures in the Right to Know Act would required officers to hand out business cards when asked during an interaction with civilians and officers who want to conduct a search without a legal basis to ask for consent and to walk away if consent is not given. Activists and elected officials wanted these reform to be enforced via legislation. With Mark-Viverito’s decision, the NYPD is responsible for implementing changes in how it interacts with the public.

“This powerful coalition of over 200 organizations is going nowhere, and the speaker’s efforts to prevent the democratic process from advancing meaningful police reform in this moment of national crisis has only broadened and strengthened our support,” said Anthonine Pierre, a spokesperson for Communities United for Police Reform and lead community organizer for Brooklyn Movement Center, in a statement. “Now that true intentions to oppose real reform have been revealed, we will outwork and out-organize political obstruction with the benefit of the moral high ground that we are working to protect our communities, just like we did on the Community Safety Act and on the executive order for a special prosecutor for police killings.”

The Council speaker immediately defended herself last week during a news conference.

“Let me be clear,” Mark-Viverito said. “I’m extremely transparent and responsible to my workers. The sponsors of the bills have been consistently engaged. Any time we’ve had a conversation with the administration, any time that we’ve talked about the bill. We have facilitated meetings between sponsors of the bills and representatives of the administration.”

But the decision is hard to swallow for the mothers of two men who died at the hands of police. They voiced their displeasure with Mark-Viverito’s direction.

“It’s approaching two years since Eric was killed, and yet we’ve seen no reforms to advance police accountability from the mayor or the City