Credit: Nayaba Arinde photo

Small wins, like small axes can lead to big changes. The effort to replace the standard Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) with the Elected Civilian Review Board (ECRB), maybe such an effort.

East New York Councilwoman Inez Barron is asking her City Hall colleagues to pass her Community Police Oversight With Elected Review (POWER) Act.

While, the City ruminates over the debated City Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s New York City Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative Plan, activists say that despite prohibiting qualified immunity as a defense against victims of police misconduct––the measures do not go far enough.

In a week where the George Floyd murder trial of now former cop Derrick Chauvin begins in Minneapolis, news that New Yorkers are striving to have a more equitable way of reporting and investigating police brutality and misconduct is not lost.

Proponents for the Campaign for an Elected Civilian Review Board are pushing hard for the installation of this new front against what they see as historically inadequate responses to confronting police abuse.

Speaking against the constant unsolved lynchings of the late 1800s and 1900s journalist and activist educator Ida B. Wells wrote, “Those who commit the murders write the reports, and hence these lasting blots upon the honor of a nation cause but a faint ripple on the outside world.”

Such a sentiment is driving the call to address the pervasive imbalance in in many police brutality cases.

Stoppoliceviolencenyc.org activists state that the Elected Civilian Review Board is to satisfactorily address “Public complaints against members of the police department. The people of the city of New York require a mechanism for the investigation of complaints of misconduct and possible uses of excessive force by officers and employees of the New York Police Department (NYPD) toward members of the public and determination of appropriate disciplinary actions that is comprehensive, thorough and impartial.”

To that end, they continue, “These investigations must be conducted fairly and independently. An independent Elected Civilian Review Board is hereby established as a body comprised solely of members of the public with the authority to investigate allegations of police misconduct…”

If successfully established, the ECRB would be made up of 17 community-elected board members and would have the power to make disciplinary rulings on police officers and pursue investigations on misconduct—in contrast to the CCRB, which only has the ability to review cases.

“We want an independent prosecutor…NOT, a special prosecutor,” Barron insisted, adding that this bill creates an Independent Prosecutor to replace District Attorneys in criminal cases involving the police to ensure prosecution without bias.

Barron pointed out that there is a general lack of confidence in the current Civilian Complaint Review Board that accused officers once found to be liable usually face no real accountability.

“We are living in unprecedented times where we still find unarmed Black men and women killed disproportionately at the hands of NYPD officers,” she said. “As the mother of two Black males, I’m concerned about their safety daily. I sympathize with the families who mourn the loss of loved ones due to police killings only to be re-traumatized when these officers are not charged, convicted or penalized for their crimes.”

Barron told the Amsterdam News that the plan had been in effect for four years, the Campaign for an Elected Civilian Review Board asked several people, as they wanted to find someone in the City Council “who would introduce it, carry it, and keep the integrity of what they wanted it to say.” She added, “They decided that they wanted me because they thought I would be the one to stop it from being watered down and wouldn’t give in. I was very humbled by that.”

Prime co-sponsors are Councilmembers Alicka Ampry-Samuels and Jimmy Van Bramer.

“NYPD’s continued use of excessive force and violence has gone unchecked for far too long,” said Van Bramer as he declared that he was glad to be a co-sponor of the bill.

“I have tried to get justice for my son,” said Juanita Young, whose 23 year-old son Malcolm Ferguson was shot and killed by police March 1, 2000 in the Bronx. “But the CCRB and district attorney did nothing. We need a change. We need an independent, elected review board and independent prosecutor.”

With a nation riveted by the ongoing George Floyd murder case, where then-officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for 8.46 minutes leading to his death. The death on camera led to a summer of violent discontent. Still, despite the thousands of protestors who took to the streets nationwide to protest the many deaths of Black people in police custody, confidence in a guilty verdict does not appear to be that solid.

“There’s not much in our history to think that’s gonna happen,” Barron determined.

With that in mind, the Amsterdam News asked what difference would an elected civilian review board have in a city where police have a notorious history of not being prosecuted in cases of alleged police brutality.

This Community Power Act pushes the ECRB to have real teeth in this process.

“The difference here is in the selection of the members, in the expanse of its authority, and in its relationship with an independent prosecutor––are the three main tenets that make this bill so outstanding,” responded Barron. “Presently, the CCRB has members appointed by the mayor, by the City Council, and members appointed by the Police Commissioner…what?! The Police Commissioner until last month said, ‘I don’t believe that the police don’t treat the Black community, any different than they treat the white community.’ That has been his position for years, but now that the governor is requiring that all the municipalities come up with a police reform package––and people have called out the fact, ‘We can’t have reform, the Police Commissioner doesn’t think that there is nothing wrong.’ So, now he’s had this change of heart, this road to Damascus moment, this epiphany that things need to change? I don’t believe you. I think he’s disingenuous, and that he’s saying it with a wink and a nod, ‘Don’t worry guys, things will be as they’ve always been.’”

The City Hall-elected continued, “The change will be that this body will have an allegiance to the community and not to the police department, not to the mayor. They’ll be independent. They will be elected by their community. That’s a major difference, being elected rather than being appointed.”

The Amsterdam News reached out to, but did not get a response from the mayor’s office, the NYPD and the CCRB.

Barron reiterated that the ECRB will have a significant impact on the social justice call to hold errant police officers accountable.

“In terms of the investigations, the hearings, the subpoenas––the board will do that independent of any entity; and the board will make their determination, they will decide what the consequences are. The commissioner cannot alter what they say.”

When then NYPD officer Peter Liang was prosecuted and convicted of killing an unarmed Akai Gurley who was shot in November 2014 because the officer said he was scared by a noise in the Pink Houses stairwell in East New York, the judge, the DA, police brass, and his rallying community decided that because he didn’t mean to kill the young father, and that because he was decent man, they would give him no jail time––just probation and non-confinement penalties.

Barron replied, “The commissioner will no longer have that authority. He must implement what the findings and the recommendations of the ERCB have decided.”

As Barron’s introduced the bill for the Community POWER Act into the City Council Thursday, March 25, 2021, activists the day before rallied at an “All power to all people” protest, noting several victims of alleged police violence such as Akai Gurley, Sean Bell, Eric Garner, Elinor Bumpers, Amadou Diallo, Mohamed Bah, Ramarley Graham, Kimani Gray and Delrawn Small.

According to cbsnews.com, “Police in the U.S. killed 164 Black people in the first eight months of 2020.” On the heels of a hot 2020 summer of national demonstrations over the deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbrey, Tyree Davis and Tina Marie Davis. Not to mention Sandra Bland, Mike Brown and Daniel Prude. Original grassroots activists continued the pursuit for justice, while the mainstream-promoted Black Lives Matter protests caught the media attention worldwide. U.S. police history with Black people was put on blast.

In New York City, hearings are scheduled on the Community Power Act bill in the Public Safety Committee of the council. Barron told the Amsterdam News that if the bill passes through the City Council, “It would appear as a referendum on the general election ballot for the people to decide, because it would be changing a part of the Charter.”

“The Community POWER Act is the bill we need to finally deal with the police problem. We have had enough of cosmetic changes, listening panels and tinkering. It’s time to act boldly,” said Pamela Monroe, a member of the Campaign for an Elected Civilian Review Board. “We want the power to elect a board we can TRUST, from our own neighborhoods, to independently investigate police misconduct. And that board needs to have the ability to make their decisions on discipline stick. We want the power to win justice for families with an independent prosecutor who will prosecute criminal cops. The time is now.”