Activists gathered at a press conference called to announce the introduction of a bill that would create an Inspector General for the NYPD (Photo: Alex Kane)
Squeezed and huddled on top of the steps of City Hall to escape the light rain, a diverse group of activists gathered to denounce New York Police Department (NYPD) practices that violate civil rights on June 13. There was the South Asian group Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), activists from the homeless advocacy group Picture the Homeless, Latino activists with Make the Road and black leaders working to end the practice of “stop and frisk.”
But for all the diversity that resembled New York’s ethnic panoply, the message at the press conference was singular: the NYPD needed to be reined in. And now there’s action to try and make that need a reality.
City Council members Brad Lander and Jumaane Williams, both representing parts of Brooklyn, have introduced a bill that would create an Inspector General for the NYPD, much like what the FBI and other major police departments have. The bill, introduced yesterday, would create a mechanism to oversee NYPD operations and issue reports and recommendations on police practices. The Inspector General would be appointed by the mayor, and cannot be someone who served the NYPD within the last 10 years, according to the bill’s text.
“True accountability is impossible without effective independent oversight,” said Williams, a prominent critic of the NYPD who was arrested at the city’s West Indian Day Parade last year, in a statement. “This is what the NYPD lacks, and that is what an Inspector General will provide.”
Still, an Inspector General would be no panacea, as it would not have the power to prosecute.
Calls for an independent mechanism to hold the police accountable have been growing in recent months, as the scope of surveillance of Muslim communities became known and widespread harassment of people of color continued. Many activists at the press conference focused on the NYPD’s “stop and frisk” tactics, which ars overwhelmingly targeted at blacks and Latinos.
The bill was introduced at a critical time, as a Sunday march organized by the NAACP, a silent action against “stop and frisk,” is expected to attract thousands. Muslim groups and activists will participate as well in an effort to address how “stop and frisk” impacts their communities and to show solidarity with those bearing the brunt of the tactic.
“Whether it is stop and frisk [or] surveillance of Muslim communities,” said Fahd Ahmed, legal and policy director of DRUM, “it is the same pattern of broad suspicion and mass policing of our communities.” Speaking to reporters, Ahmed told of how Bangladeshi and Indian members of DRUM have reported being stopped and frisked dozens of times in Jackson Heights, where DRUM is based.
In an interview after the press conference, Ahmed explained why the bill was needed. “This is a police department that’s out of control,” he said. “We know these battles are not won in City Hall, but it’s an important step.”
The wide coalition, which also includes progressive Jewish groups, is up against the ardent opposition of the NYPD to the bill. Paul Browne, an NYPD spokesman, told the New York Times that the NYPD was already scrutinized enough. But critics say the oversight mechanisms he points to, like the Civilian Complaint Review Board, lack teeth.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a close ally of the police department and its chief, Ray Kelly, is likely to oppose the bill. But City Council members say that 24 members of the council have already signed on to the bill, and that they would have a veto-proof majority.
“The rights of individuals in the city have been violated,” City Councilwoman Letitia James, a fiery progressive from Brooklyn who is supporting the bill, told me in an interview. “This is a growing movement and two people [Kelly and Bloomberg] can’t stop it.”