By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
It's not a groundswell yet, but there are growing signs of an eventual campaign to anoint Police Commissioner Ray Kelly as the successor to Michael Bloomberg. The incumbent, while envisioning himself in the Oval Office, has said of Kelly that he's a "phenomenally competent guy," and added in an aside to the commissioner: "If you want it and you're willing to . . . stand the scrutiny of the press, take the shot."
In August, after Kelly made a pilgrimage to Al Sharpton's National Action Network, the kingmaker, after hearing Kelly speak, told the New York Post (August 19) that "after eight years of Rudy Giuliani and two commissioners that haven't talked [to us] at all, [Kelly] is refreshing."
A month later, the police commissioner met with Scott Reed, a Virginia-based Republican strategist who managed the 1996 presidential run of Bob Dole. Kelly is a registered independent, but as Bloomberg proved, a mayoral candidate can convert to any political party.
I do agree with Bloomberg that if Kelly does decide to take a shot (a July 25 Quinnipiac poll gives him a 64 percent approval rating), he will indeed have to be prepared for "the scrutiny of the press." The Voice has had its eye on the commissioner, as recently as in Graham Rayman's "Bloomberg Charges the Homeless Rent" (August 28) and Sean Gardiner's "NYPD Blew It" (September 4).
Whether or not Kelly runs for mayor, it's worth scrutinizing his consistent and abundant disregard for many New Yorkers' fundamental constitutional rights and liberties. Among Rudy Giuliani's acts of contempt for the Fourth Amendment (protecting us from "unreasonable searches and seizures" by the government) was his strong encouragement of the NYPD's stop-and-frisk searches.
As I wrote in the Voice at the time, some officers in the NYPD's Street Crime Unit unabashedly displayed their intentions by wearing T-shirts emblazoned with such slogans as "We Own the Night," as well as an Ernest Hemingway quote: "There is no hunting like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted armed men long enough and like it never care for anything else." Giuliani never objected.
Rudy's presidential-campaign strategists are e-mailing former members of his administration, urging them to appear in videos to extol the glories of his tenure as "America's Mayor" (according to a report in the Daily News on September 11). I doubt if those T-shirts will appear on the screen.
Ray Kelly's stop-and-frisk practitioners are not overtly intimidating in their attire; but in a report issued on February 5, 2007, the New York Civil Liberties Union ominously disclosed that "the New York City Police Department is compiling a massive new database of law-abiding New Yorkers, mostly black and Hispanic, who have been stopped by the police."
Although Reverend Sharpton finds it "refreshing" that this police commissioner actually talked to him, what the NYCLU reveals is a decidedly unrefreshing continuation of the Giuliani regime.
"According to initial reports," says the NYCLU, "in 2006, the Department completed stop-and-frisk forms on 508,540 individuals. Of that number, 21,268 were arrested and 29,168 received summonses.That leaves 458,104 people 90 percent of all people stoppedwho were engaged in no unlawful activity whatsoever. And according to the Department, 85.7 percent of all persons stopped were black or Hispanic." (Emphasis added.)
During Giuliani's time, I overheard in the Village, near the New School, a black student complimenting another black student on his resplendent new briefcase, adding: "You better put some kind of cover on it or they'll think you stole it."
Is that warning still relevant?
What also concerned the NYCLU in its February report on Commissioner Kelly's stop-and-frisk record was that the worksheets filled out by the police after stopping and frisking any person have to be included in the new NYPD stop-and-frisk database.
Has Commissioner Kelly violated the law by including everyone stopped? Explains the NYCLU: "New York state law (Penal Law section 160.50) requires that police records of people who are arrested and whose cases are later dismissed must be sealed to protect their privacy rights." (Emphasis added).
The report continues: "The massive new stop-and-frisk database circumvents these legal protections by including hundreds of thousands of people who have never been arrested or given a summons. And for those people who were arrested and whose cases have been dismissed, unsealed retention of their names in the NYPD database would [also] directly violate section 160.50 of New York state law."
On July 25, NYCLU executive director Donna Lieberman and associate director Christopher Dunn wrote to Kelly requestingpursuant to the New York State Freedom of Information Lawthat he send them, in electronic form, "data contained in the NYPD's stop-and-frisk database. We make this request in light of having recently learned that the Department has refused to produce the database to the City Council for an independent analysis."
If Kelly replies in the spirit of the Bush administration's invocation of "state secrets"i.e., that "New York City secrets" prevent disclosure of the stop-and-frisk database Lieberman and Dunn will be ready: Kelly, they point out, has already shared the information in the database. The NYPD has "commissioned the RAND Corporation to analyze the database, [so] we assumed that any claim that the database could not be shared with others would be set aside," they write.