NYC City Council passes historic NYPD reformsSaturday, June 29, 2013 at 12:14 pm by Michael Figura
The passage of the bills is important both for the added protection they bring to New Yorkers and because it shows the power of the broad based organizing model employed by the coalition promoting the bill, Communities United for Police Reform. The legislative victory builds on decades of courageous work in the movements for police accountability and racial justice.
Both pieces of legislation passed by 34 or more votes, assuring that if the votes stay the same a threatened veto by Mayor Bloomberg can be overridden by the city council.
actual or perceived race, national origin, color, creed, age, alienage or citizenship status, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or housing status as the determinative factor in initiating law enforcement action against an individual, rather than an individual’s behavior or other information or circumstances that links a person or persons to suspected unlawful activity.
The expansion of categories not only serve to protect individuals targeted by the police, but also allows protected groups to sue in state court for policy change, if they can show that police practices disparately impact them. Many of the groups who will be protected under the new law have found themselves unfairly targeted by the NYPD in the past, and will now have a mechanism to challenge these practices if they continue.
The second bill would require that the New York CIty’s Department of Investigations:
investigate, review, study, audit and make recommendations relating to the operations, policies, programs and practices, including ongoing partnerships with other law enforcement agencies, of the new york city police department with the goal of enhancing the effectiveness of the department, increasing public safety, protecting civil liberties and civil rights, and increasing the public’s confidence in the police force, thus building stronger police-community relations.
Empowered oversight of the NYPD will be crucial to addressing illegal and unconstitutional NYPD policies, such as the race-based use of stop and frisk and spying on Muslim Americans in collaboration with the CIA. Indeed on the night of the council vote, reports arose shedding new light on the CIA’s illegal and unchecked domestic spying partnership with the NYPD.
A late night for police reform
In the hours leading up to the beginning of the session on Wednesday night, advocates for police reform waited on the steps of City Hall, chanting for the bills passage and cheering the arrival of co-sponsors of the legislation.
As the debate on the bills opened, lead co-sponsor of the bills, Councilman Jumaane Williams made an impassioned speech to his fellow legislators to consider their vote for police reform. He implored his colleagues who were not from communities subject to stop and frisk tactics to listen to the recommendations of those who understood the impacts of such policing first hand.
Councilmember Daniel Dromm reflected on his personal experience of being targeted, as a gay man, during his youth on false prostitution charges. He reflected on the legal victory for federal recognition of marriage equality and stated that the bills would be a step forward for minority communities in New York, particularly Muslim Communities. Then in a welcome moment of levity in otherwise tense and serious hearing, he called for protections against NYPD infiltration into Muslims mosques, and with a slip of the tongue, bars, drawing laughter from the crowd.
Opponents of the bill, including Councilmembers Peter Vallone and Eric Ulrich, drew on hyperbole and scare tactics to justify opposition to the bills, asserting they would cause children to die and make New York City unsafe.
Ultimately 34 of the 51 members of the council voted in favor of expanding profiling protections and 40 in favor of expanded oversight. The vote finished at 2:30 in the morning, the balcony still packed with advocates and community members. Advocates will now turn their attention to assuring that councilmembers hold their votes in face of pressure, distortions and lies from the Bloomberg administration.