Racial Justice and Policing

This moment is about accountability as we come to terms with the harsh reality that police brutality is not about good or bad cops but a corrupt, racist system. In shifting this conversation, we begin the work that will make sure that the police get their knees off the necks of Black and brown people and ensure racial justice. Police brutality can not be defeated alone, however. It must be part of a greater transformative economic program to truly eliminate it.

Redistribute 3 billion dollars from NYPD into social programs that have been proven to reduce crime

Public education, mental health and addiction services, as well as jobs programs, are what we need to prioritize, fund and make accessible to all, especially people in underserved communities.  These social investments are the most effective way to prevent and reduce crime, on top of the vital social welfare benefits that they provide directly. Recent sensationalized reports of shootings actually help make the case that we should shift resources away from our current reactive and ineffective police-dominated approach to crime, and toward policies that genuinely reduce crime by meeting basic human needs and getting at the true root of the violence.

New York is one of the most over-policed cities in the nation, with 417 officers per 100k population. Simply reducing our “officer density” to that of Los Angeles would shrink the NYPD operating budget by nearly $2 billion, and that’s before making qualitative changes like using community responders to answer calls or removing police from schools. So the challenge in redistributing $3 billion from the NYPD is not about public safety and it is not about accounting or “finding” the cuts; it is about political will. We simply need to decide to do it.

Demilitarize the NYPD

Militarization of the NYPD stems largely from two federal programs: Urban Area Security Initiatives, for terrorism prevention, and the 1033 program by which police departments get surplus military equipment from DoD. Terrorism is certainly a threat, especially domestic white supremacist terrorism, but the militarization of police invariably leads to violence against Black and brown communities. We must end NYPD participation in these programs; we can prevent terrorism without militarizing our city.

End the school-to-prison pipeline

Exclusionary discipline (suspension and expulsion) and police presence in schools are the primary drivers of the school-to-prison pipeline, by which students are channeled toward crime and incarceration by the very institution that should be protecting them and supporting their socialization. Sadly but unsurprisingly, these harmful policies are disproportionately applied to students of color, especially Black students.

NYC DOE is encouraging restorative justice practices as an alternative to exclusionary discipline. This effort is welcome, and must be supported and expanded. The next step is to get police officers out of our schools and replace them with social workers, mental health professionals, and other care workers. This emphasis on student care would bring schools back into alignment with their core educational mission.

Finally, we need to guarantee the basic rights outlined in S4980B (2019): that when a minor is taken into police custody a parent or guardian is notified immediately, before the minor is transported anywhere including to a police station, and that minors may not be interrogated until they have consulted with legal counsel.

Ensure that social workers trained in de-escalation become the first responders for all cases involving someone who is mentally ill or homeless

Police simply aren’t trained to deal with mental health crises, so it only makes sense to let social workers trained in de-escalation handle such situations. Analyses of 911 calls in multiple cities have found that fewer than 2% of calls involve violent crime, and typically ⅔ of calls can be handled either administratively (collecting insurance information after an auto accident, for example) or by community responders. Eugene, OR has been using community responders for over 30 years, and their program is now serving as a model for programs in Portland, Denver and Oakland.

Elect our Civilian Complaint Review Board, and put it in charge of the NYPD

Currently, our Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) are, like our Community Boards, appointed and serve merely an advisory role. Turning the CCRB into elected positions, and having a stipend to support the campaigns of low income folks who want to run, will make the process more equitable and more democratic. Once we do this, turning the CCRB into a real check on the police unions would help ensure that their recommendations are given more weight. Power for enforcing punishment for officer misconduct will move from the police commissioner to the CCRB. Once this is achieved, they, not the unions, will be in charge of the police.

Ensure no rollbacks of the chokehold ban

Currently, an amendment is being proposed at the City Council to rethink the “diaphragm” section of the bill to ban police. We need to stop this, and ensure that we do not fall behind on what progress we have already made in the fight against police brutality. To make the language of the chokehold bill more vague, calling for no “reckless” compression of someone’s diaphragm, simply provides another legal protection for officers who kill someone in the middle of an arrest.

Decriminalize sex work, non-violent drug offenses, and crimes of poverty

More than ¾  of petit larceny cases in NYC are committed by older Black and brown people, and the majority of cases end with a guilty plea. ¼ of petit larceny defendants are given jail time, according to an article in The City. The majority of these crimes (the theft of items worth less than 1000 dollars) are crimes of poverty borne of desperation. Decriminalizing such crimes lessens the targeting of Black and brown communities that are overpoliced. Criminalizing sex work only serves to make the worker more vulnerable, according to Human Rights Watch, and exposes them to assault as well as health risks (the mere presence of a condom on a sex worker can be used as evidence against them). In 2018, there were 1.6 million+ drug related arrests. 80% were for simple possession. It’s long past time to decriminalize all non-violent drug offenses.

No new jails

Legislators have tried to argue for the building of four new “community” based jails in exchange for closing Rikers, mainly in heavily Black and brown neighborhoods. This is not a compromise we should have to make. These community-based jails, while they are a plus for families of the incarcerated who would have an easier commute for visits, should not be built just so that we can fill them with more people of color. Instead, we should be building community-based health centers and permanent supportive housing.

No special treatment for police officers

Residency requirements for police officers have not been shown to improve policing, but there is also no justification to give officers special exemptions from standard requirements. Civilian employees of the NYPD, like most city employees, are required to live in the city for the first two years of their employment, while police officers are exempted from this requirement. It’s not high priority, but if we are going to address officer residency then the sensible thing is to have them meet the same requirement as other city employees.

Statement on the police reform package of legislation introduced to the Council in February

The primary motivation for these bills seems to be to meet Gov. Cuomo’s deadline to “reinvent and modernize” police by April 2021 or else lose state funding.  (2% of NYPD’s operating budget is state funded.) There is some good in the bills, such as removing police from schools and ending qualified immunity, but there is a crucial omission: no reduction in the size of NYPD. Progress is of course welcome, but we must not let it forestall the transformational change that we need.


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