June 26th was a big day for those who care about equality and justice. It began with news that the Supreme Court overturned a federal law discriminating against LGBTQ married couples. And then at around 2:30am the following morning NYC City Council adopted – by an overwhelming margin – the most expansive police accountability reforms for the NYPD in years.
Shapriece Townsend, a 21-year Harlem resident, is one of the hundreds of VOCAL-NY members who have marched, rallied, lobbied and organized against biased policing, like the NYPD’s abuse of stop and frisk.
He described an encounter with the NYPD last year that motivated him to become involved: “After visiting my grandmother, I was rushing back to a shelter before the curfew when a police car rolled up on the sidewalk and officers jumped out with their guns drawn. I explained I wasn’t doing anything wrong, but they searched my pockets without my permission, found a small amount of marijuana and held me in jail for three days before I was released. It feels like I can’t even step out on the sidewalk sometimes without being stopped by the police and have them go through my pockets.”
The police stopped over half a million New Yorkers last year and 87% of those stopped were Black or Latino. Nine in ten were totally innocent, and nearly all of the arrests or summons were for non-serious offenses, including illegal searches that found small amounts of marijuana.
The City Council legislation passed last night will establish an independent Inspector General for the NYPD and strengthen a ban on profiling based on race, sexual orientation, housing status, disability, immigration status and other categories. Both are part of the Community Safety Act, a package of reforms that will help ensure better police accountability. As the New York Times said in a recent editorial endorsing both bills, “Given the Police Department’s long history of abusive conduct, that’s just what the doctor ordered.”
Mayor Bloomberg is expected to veto the legislation, although there were enough City Council votes last night to override his veto. But our work can’t stop now. The mayor and police unions will go into overdrive to intimidate Council Members to switch their votes and break our veto-proof majority. We need to thank the 34 Council Members who had the courage to vote for fair and just policing by backing both bills, while working to convince those who voted against these reforms to join us.
As VOCAL-NY’s Civil Rights community organizer Alfredo Carrasquillo said on the steps of City Hall during a celebratory rally this afternoon, “Mayor Bloomberg, when you veto this bill the New York City Council will stand on the right side of justice and override your veto. We say no to fear-mongering, no to intimidation, we say yes to justice and equality, yes to dignity and respect, and yes to rebuilding trust between communities of color and the NYPD.”
To be clear, there’s no evidence stop and frisk has reduced gun violence in New York City. And criticism of the Community Safety Act bills coming from Mayor Bloomberg and the police unions is easily discredited (see this fact check by Council Member Lander).
But there is plenty of evidence the NYPD’s biased policing strategies like stop and frisk have resulted in tens of thousands of unlawful marijuana arrests. They have humiliated and alienated hundreds of thousands of Black and Latino New Yorkers. They have eroded the trust and confidence many in our communities have in the police.
That’s why VOCAL-NY has spent years challenging biased policing practices that undermine public health and criminalize HIV prevention, discriminate against communities of color and people who are LGBTQ, and help fuel the war on drugs and mass incarceration that hold our communities back
We’re proud to be a part of the Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) coalition and all of our allies that helped build support for these NYPD reforms and grateful for the superb leadership of Council Members Jumaane Williams and Brand Lander, who sponsored the bills.
Please stay tuned and stay active. There’s so much to celebrate, but so much to keep fighting for this summer and beyond.