A February Quinnipiac survey saluted Police Commissioner Ray Kelly with an approval rating of 70 percent, a higher rating than his enthusiastic supporter, Michael Bloomberg—whom I heard say, during the $110 million campaign he spent to stay our mayor, that Kelly would be an excellent successor to command the city.
The commissioner appears to have eyes for that elevation. In a long, detailed report (“City’s Top Socialite? NYPD Boss Kelly”), the New York Post’s Anne Karni (May 2) described how Kelly has become “a ubiquitous presence at black tie galas, charity balls,” and other events attended by possible well-heeled contributors to a future Kelly campaign. Said NYU public policy professor Mitchell Moss: “Ray is a rock star that also happens to be the police commissioner. He’s smart, he’s fun, and he radiates power.”
A less reverent distillation of the Kelly reign starts off Geoffrey Gray’s May 16 New York magazine profile, “Boss Kelly”: “The long-serving NYPD Commissioner is autocratic, dismissive of civil liberties concerns—and effective. Is that a reasonable trade?”
The rock star’s reaction to his lofty poll numbers was (Daily News, February 19): “ ‘I have the benefit of the great work that the men and women in the department are doing,’ Kelly said . . . with a laugh.”
I’d like to have seen the expression on the commissioner’s face when he read the complaints in the two class-action lawsuits in our federal courts this year about some of the work he has delegated to his troops to do. The first, as I reported here in February, is about the constitutional and sometimes physical abuse of especially black and Latino public school students by the 5,200 School Safety Agents he has sent into the schools. He was a co-defendant with Bloomberg.
On May 19, Kelly became the star defendant, along with the city of New York, in a lawsuit filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union on behalf of two of the 100,000 New Yorkers who “have their names and addresses included in a massive police database used to conduct criminal investigations” whenever they have been arrested or given summonses during the dragnet Kelly stop-and-frisk operations. “Even when all charges against these particular plaintiffs are dismissed,” the NYCLU declares, “their names remain indefinitely in this bottomless database to be used” in the course of future criminal investigations.
This lawsuit against Kelly—who “radiates so much power”—doesn’t stop with these 100,000 perpetual “persons of interest” to the NYPD. Since 2003, the NYPD has stopped and interrogated people nearly three million times, with blacks and Latinos experiencing over 80 percent of the stops. For each stop, a police officer completes a form that includes the name and address of the person stopped.
Keep this in mind if Kelly’s name appears on a future ballot for mayor: According to the NYCLU lawsuit, “Even though nearly 90 percent of people stopped have done absolutely nothing unlawful—as evidenced by the fact that they are neither arrested or given a summons—the NYPD is entering the personal information of every person stopped into a Department database.”
The New York Times’ Bob Herbert tells the naked truth about the price so many pay for being residents of this city, which Michael Bloomberg glorifies as being so cosmopolitan. In “Jim Crow Policing” (February 2), he writes: “These encounters with the police are degrading and often frightening [imagine yourself as a kid confronted this way by a policeman for the first time], and the real number of people harassed is undoubtedly higher than the numbers reported by the police. Often the cops will stop, frisk, and sometimes taunt people who are at their mercy, and then move on—without finding anything, making an arrest, or recording the encounter as they are supposed to.”
I’ve seen this in Greenwich Village, far from Harlem.
Keep in mind that nearly 90 percent of those stopped (that we know of) have broken no law: “People going about their daily business, bothering no one, are menaced out of the blue by the police, forced to spread themselves face-down in the street, or plaster themselves against a wall, or bend over the hood of a car, to be searched. People who object to the harassment are often threatened with arrest for disorderly conduct,” Herbert writes.
Back to the complaint in the federal stop-and-frisk lawsuit—with Ray Kelly on the marquee: “New York law requires that police records associated with all these summonses and arrests as well as the stop-and-frisks without summonses or arrests be sealed. . . . Because the NYPD [take a bow, commissioner] refuses to seal their records, they are at serious risk of becoming the targets of future NYPD investigations. . . . The plaintiffs seek a declaration that the defendants’ actions [that’s you, too, Mayor Mike] have been unlawful.”
As a noble gesture of reconciliation, Mr. Mayor, when the amount of damages for the plaintiffs is decided, you could make a special personal award of damages. It wouldn’t cost anything like the $110 million you spent to be where you are.
One of the plaintiffs in this case is “29-year-old Clive Lino, black, and a graduate in May from Mercy College with a master’s degree in English and special education. He works full-time with special-needs children at a residential facility for students in crisis: He lives [in Harlem] with his mother, sister, and nephew. Between February of 2008 and August of 2009, he was stopped at least thirteen times. . . . On April 18, 2009, Mr. Lino and his cousin were getting into his brother’s car on Morris Avenue in the Bronx when they were stopped by five NYPD officers. Mr. Lino provided ID when prompted. The officers threw Mr. Lino against a wall, frisked him, handcuffed him, and searched his pockets. Mr. Lino asked repeatedly why he was being stopped and what he had done wrong, but he received no answer. After about thirty minutes, the officers issued Mr. Lino summonses for spitting in public and possessing an open container. Both summonses were dismissed.”
Mr. Mayor, the least you could do—as this and the other federal case against you and Ray Kelly wind through the courts—is to present the keys to the City of New York to Mr. Lino and the other plaintiff, Daryl Khan—and a group of other thoroughly innocent New Yorkers deprived of their constitutional rights and liberties at the command of our rock star Police Commissioner.
And you ought to have sets of keys to the city made for the NYCLU legal staff, including its nonpareil communications director, Jennifer Carnig. Also, as a teaching moment, invite some of the schoolkids bullied and beaten by Ray Kelly’s School Safety Agents.