The NYPD’s Jim Crow gang suppression

VICTOR DEMPSEY AND ANTHONY POSADA Legal Aid Society, Criminal Justice Unit | 11/22/2018, midnight
The NYPD has deep racial disparities in its gang suppression enforcement, and recent group violence has shown the stark differences ...

The NYPD has deep racial disparities in its gang suppression enforcement, and recent group violence has shown the stark differences of their two-tiered system. Although some attention has been given to the 99 percent people of color NYPD gang database, a lesser known NYPD initiative called CeaseFire is being deployed in that background without much public information and accountability as to what it does and how it functions.

The NYPD’s CeaseFire program does not work together with the community. The program was not created with community input. It’s run by law enforcement and their crony agencies, and more importantly, it casts a dragnet over communities of color using the same stereotypical criteria as the gang database, in which people are labeled guilty by association based on how they look and where they live. The program involves sending coercive letters and conducting home visits to people who are gang-labeled, many of whom are re-entering society after having served prison sentences and are already struggling with the hardships and stigmas of having a criminal conviction. As a result, the program is a continuation of the “scared straight” tactic that dominates the “lock em up” attitude that is largely concentrated in communities of color.

Police precincts claim they are “connecting” people with social services without acknowledging that the program perpetuates racial bias and further stigmatizes youth of color. There are also no available details on how people are provided services by being intimidated. If anything, the NYPD’s gang database and its companion program CeaseFire teach us that the easiest way to be labeled gang-affiliated in New York City is to be Black or Latinx. If you are white, you do not have to worry about being labeled and about the heavy consequences that label brings.

The tragic murder of Lesandro “Junior” Guzman-Feliz in the Bronx and the mob beating by the Proud Boys in Manhattan showed the profound differences in how these matters were policed based on the people involved and the neighborhoods in which they occurred. The tragedy of Junior was met with the full militarized force of the NYPD, who exploited the incident into a public relations campaign to promote and justify the use of their racially disparate gang database and their so-called precision policing techniques. At the same time, during the vicious racist attack of the neo-Nazi Proud Boys on Antifa-protesters in Manhattan, police were caught on camera idly standing by even as some of the assailants were wielding swords and other weapons. There were no floodlights, increased police presence, checkpoints, helicopters or coordinated raids surrounding the latter. On the contrary, only after a public outcry and a press conference by elected officials did the police begin an investigation into the incident.

White gangs aren’t listed on the database because the NYPD does not want to negatively affect their daily lives. The leader of the Proud Boys gang, Gavin McInnes, even thanked the NYPD for its support after the incident. McInnes, a white immigrant living in New York, who asks his gang members to be violent towards people of color, is held to a different standard than Black and Latinx youth who might not even be gang-involved. If McInnes were a person of color, just imagine what Donald Trump would be saying about him and the gang he runs. Whereas Trump calls immigrant youth who are members of MS-13 “animals,” he condones the white supremacy of the Charlottesville violence and the Proud Boys acts of terrorism around the country.