Ray Kelly for Mayor? A Voters' Guide

In this proudly cosmopolitan city, the NYPD and its leader are far from color-blind

With Michael Bloomberg on the way out and Christine Quinn sinking in an ethical quicksand of her own making, Ray Kelly becomes the leading prospect to succeed the current mayor, who has encouraged him to do just that. But New Yorkers should decide if they want to return to the days of Rudy Giuliani, when the Fourth Amendment (the one that prohibits "unreasonable searches and seizures") was regularly used by the NYPD for target practice.

As just one of many examples of Giuliani's legacy, the Justice Department and federal prosecutors in the U.S. Southern District of New York concluded in 2000 that the NYPD's Street Crime Unit, in its stop-and-frisk practices—as was reported in The New York Times—had "disproportionately singled out . . . blacks and Hispanics, and not just because the city's minority neighborhoods had higher crime rates" (emphasis added).

On February 13 of this year, the New York Civil Liberties Union disclosed that throughout 2007, Commissioner Kelly's NYPD conducted stop-and-frisk operations that stopped a total of 468,932 New Yorkers, with the predictable racial bias: "Though they make up only a quarter of the city's population, half of those stopped were black. Of the 242,373 blacks stopped in 2007, about 87 percent were completely innocent of any wrongdoing, as they were neither given a summons nor arrested" (emphasis added).

On February 17, a meticulously documented Daily News investigation revealed that "the NYPD [is] far more likely to stop and question black and Latino subway riders . . . particularly in Manhattan. Blacks and Hispanics make up 49 percent of subway riders, yet account for nearly 90 percent of the citizens stopped and questioned in the subways in the last two years."

Moreover, when New Yorkers complain to the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) about particularly aggressive stop-and-frisks or other excessively harsh police actions, Commissioner Kelly increasingly protects his NYPD offenders from prosecution. The NYCLU, citing data from the CCRB, notes that of the 296 complaints of police misconduct substantiated by the CCRB in 2007, "more than one-third (34.4 percent) were closed because the Department simply refused to prosecute the officer. This reflects a ten-fold increase from the prior five years" (emphasis added).

As the NYCLU's executive director, Donna Lieberman, says: "It's simply unrealistic to expect the police to prosecute themselves . . . where the Civilian Complaint Review Board has found police misconduct." Therefore, since it's highly unlikely that Mayor Bloomberg, a Kelly fan, will turn prosecutorial authority over to the CCRB, that will require a decision by the next mayor.

Also, when it comes to dealing with substantiated complaints of police misconduct, Kelly is increasingly merciful. Of the 171 officers whose cases were not closed, 163 received just an admonitory letter or a loss of vacation days. Punitive discipline was enacted on eight cops—in contrast to 17 in 2006 and 56 in 2004.

Consider this rejected civilian complaint from Abukar Dukuray, an immigrant from Sierra Leone. As he looked over his car behind the bakery where he works, he was suddenly ordered by police to prove that he was the owner. Not having his title or registration on hand, Dukuray said that he'd been working at the bakery for 10 years, and to check with the people inside. In response—and with a distinct absence of the "courtesy and respect" promised to all New Yorkers by the NYPD's police-car logo, he was sprayed with mace and handcuffed.

"I never thought," Dukuray told the Daily News (April 8), "something like this would happen to me in America."

Despite the paucity of actual prosecutions, half of all complaints to the CCRB are for excessive force. The NYCLU report adds: "The police department has consistently and persistently withheld documents or delayed the production of documents needed by the CCRB to investigate police-misconduct complaints."

Ray Kelly is in his second term as police commissioner—the first lasted from 1992 to 1994, when Commander Giuliani replaced him with Bill Bratton. During both of his tenures, Kelly has been a principal figure in the racially biased aggressive policing that sociology professor Harry Levine (of Queens College and the CUNY Graduate Center) documented in his "Marijuana Arrest Crusade: Racial Bias and Police Policy in New York City (1997–2006)." The study's co-author is Deborah Peterson Small, an expert on "the impact of drug wars on communities of color."

The New York City Bar Association, announcing an April 30 event to discuss the release of Levine's bombshell report, writes: "In 1977, New York State decriminalized possession of personal use amounts of marijuana. Nonetheless . . . New York City is now the national leader in detaining individuals for possession of personal use of marijuana" (emphasis added).

During these years, Levine has discovered, the NYPD "arrested and jailed 353,000 people simply for possessing small amounts of marijuana. . . . The ten-fold increase in marijuana arrests [over the previous decade] began as an initiative of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. The arrests have continued unabated under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Because the New York Police Department has released almost no information about them, they have attracted little attention" (emphasis added).

Now dig this as you contemplate the possible reign of Mayor Ray Kelly: "Because of its large size and high rate of arrests, New York City now arrests and jails more people for possessing marijuana than any city in the United States—and more than any city in the world" (emphasis added).

Always open to new challenges, what would Mayor Ray Kelly do to top that?

In keeping with the NYPD's special emphasis on hassling blacks and Hispanics in its stop-and-frisks, during the Marijuana Arrest Crusade, African-Americans—who comprise about 26 percent of New York City's population—made up 52 percent of the arrests, while 110,000 Latinos were busted for personal possession (30 percent of the arrests, and about 27 percent of the population.)

The least-arrested ethnic group—at 15 percent of the arrests—were non-Hispanic whites, though they constitute over 35 percent of the city's population.

Do you see something awry in those proportions? Professor Levine does, since most of the people arrested were younger than 26, and "U.S. Government surveys of high school seniors and of young adults 18 to 25 have consistently found out that young Whites use marijuana more often than young Blacks and Hispanics."

In 2006, "the marijuana arrest rate of Hispanics was nearly twice [that] of Whites, and the marijuana arrest rate of Blacks was nearly five times [that] of Whites." Well, at least the holding cells are integrated.

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