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City Council must pass police reform before year ends

Carl Stubbs | 10/12/2017, 4:15 p.m.
The people in my community of Flushing, Queens, like New Yorkers in various other neighborhoods across the city, are tired ...

The people in my community of Flushing, Queens, like New Yorkers in various other neighborhoods across the city, are tired of getting targeted and harassed by the NYPD. Police frequently approach people without identifying themselves or providing any justification. Despite the decline in the number of reported stops by the NYPD, there are many policing interactions initiated by officers that are going unrecorded. In these incidents, officers just do whatever they want without any accountability or transparency.

I want to stop this activity, which is why I have advocated for the Right to Know Act for the past three years.

The Right to Know Act would help protect the civil and human rights of New Yorkers in everyday encounters with the NYPD by improving transparency and accountability. It would require officers to identify themselves and explain the reason during non-emergency encounters, and help end unconstitutional searches. Despite it being supported by the majority of City Council members and more than 200 organizations across the city, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito made a deal with then-Commissioner Bill Bratton and Mayor de Blasio more than a year ago that said she would solve the problems the Right to Know Act would address.

The problem is that the deal has not made any difference.

At VOCAL-NY, we have heard from people who continue to have negative interactions with the police and face the abuses that the Right to Know Act aims to end. Our members are in the crosshairs of the NYPD’s misguided Broken Windows policies. Recently, four of our members had separate interactions with the NYPD in Brooklyn that expose the continuing need for the Right to Know Act.

In one case, our members were stopped and eventually searched without cause or consent before being released. In another interaction, a member was accused of making a drug sale, searched by police and after no drugs or money was found, was let go. Another member was pulled out of a convenience store by an officer who had followed her there from a drug treatment program. He stopped her, asked if she was selling drugs and told her if she showed him inside her purse she could leave; she did, and he let her go. Another member was stopped by police who said they “wanted to talk,” but refused to provide any justification until our staff intervened.

In none of these interactions were our members informed of the names of the officers, provided a justification for the police interaction, or given any information about how to make a complaint about the police harassment. Local action to curb harmful police practices is essential to vulnerable communities, especially as abuses continue to go unaddressed and the Trump administration enables and encourages such abuses.

Last week, City Council members took a knee on the steps of City Hall. Their gesture acknowledging the original intent of Colin Kaepernick’s protest—addressing police abuses and racial injustice—is welcomed, but it’s beyond time they also stand up and pass the Right to Know Act to actually move us toward the goal of ending police abuses.

Carl Stubbs is a leader at VOCAL-NY, a statewide grassroots membership organization building power among low-income people affected by HIV/AIDS, the drug war and mass incarceration to create healthy and just communities.