Councilmembers Tiffany Cabán, Alexa Avilés and Sandy Nurse rallied with activists against the NYPD’s gang database last Wednesday at Brooklyn Borough Hall. The trio are co-sponsoring Int 0360-2022, a recently introduced bill which would not only abolish the classified list, but prevent the city from implementing future replacements. 

“I’m here today to join you in calling for the abolition of the gang database,” said Cabán. “Why? Because it is a tool in a failed toolbox as part of a system that is selling us false safety. Why? Because they are measuring safety by the wrong metrics. 

“When you have systems of policing and prosecution and incarceration that measure safety by numbers of convictions, arrest lengths of sentences, things like the gang database or what you get—dragnets that pull in Black and brown young people, surveil them over police centers and set up risk to incarceration.”

In 2019, ex-Police Commissioner Dermot Shea admitted 99% of the database was composed of Black and brown New Yorkers while he was still serving as NYPD Chief of Detectives. 

“It is not an accident that the gang database is 99% non-white,” said The Legal Aid Society’s supervising attorney Anthony Posada. “It is by design that a prosecutor relied on that label to request higher bill so that somebody can be sent to Rikers Island to languish and be treated in that dehumanizing system. It is also not a coincidence that you do not need to commit a crime to be entered into the gang database.”

According to Posada, he’s seen over 500 people submit public records requests to find out if they’re labeled as gang-involved. He says every single one was denied. El Grito de Sunset Park co-founder Dennis Flores says he was placed on a gang database in the ’90s due to his affiliation, not to organized crime, but with grassroots advocacy groups. 

“We began to get active in social justice, in protesting against police brutality,” he said. “And because of that, we began to get surveilled by the police. Our lives were turned upside down. There wasn’t surveillance by the police prior to us becoming active in social justice. It was because we got involved. It was because of the activism that then we became a threat. 

“They didn’t give a sh— about us if we were out there fighting each other, killing each other. But when we began to organize against police abuse, and support parents [whose] kids were murdered by police, that’s when the surveillance intensified.”

“It’s operated without due process, due diligence, or transparency,” said Public Advocate Jumaane Williams over email. “The gang database is a black box built on racial profiling that creates lifelong and serious consequences. It does not fundamentally enhance public safety, and it has no place in our fight to end gun violence and keep our city safe.”

At Brooklyn Borough Hall, the activists were operating with a home court advantage. Current Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso penned a bill attempting to abolish the gang database last year while he was still a council member. This past Tuesday, the NYPD promoted Oleg Chernyavsky, a proponent of the gang database, to chief of staff. 

During the rally, Council Member Avilés called the database useless and said the time, money and energy would be better spent towards quality education, health and well-being. Plus, she’s not a fan of lists.

“I don’t really know what the fascination is in our country with lists,” she said. “Everytime we make lists, they’re definitely for nefarious purposes—they’re to isolate people, they’re to stigmatize people, they’re to imprison people, they’re to keep them down.

“So we need to make sure we get rid of all these arbitrary lists that ensures our oppression. And the gang database is definitely one of those things.”
Tandy Lau is a Report for America corps member and writes about public safety for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep him writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w

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