As a New Yorker since 1953, I’ve never witnessed—even under the imperious Mayor Rudolph Giuliani—such wide-ranging attacks on New Yorkers’ fundamental constitutional personal liberties as those by our current police commissioner and mayor.
This nation’s Paul Revere of protecting civil liberties, John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute, asks if New York City is now “the prototype of a police state.”
Citizens—blacks, Latinos, Muslims, and members of targeted liberal groups—have been stripped by this blanket surveillance of the presumption of innocence; their Fourth Amendment privacy rights; and—the core of who we are—due process, as many thousands of names are packed into NYPD databases without any evidence of wrongdoing. Just “suspicious” of “association” with terrorists—or maybe having the wrong religion or color.
That Governor Cuomo has now joined vigilantes Kelly and Bloomberg reminded me of my conversations with a previous Governor Cuomo, Mario, on the Constitution. So well-versed in our founding document, he should have been on the Supreme Court. We sure need him there now.
If Andrew Cuomo, in view of his rising popularity, aspires to the presidency, I hope his father tutors him on how we remain self-governing Americans against a ceaselessly over-reaching government.
Bloomberg, with the self-assurance of a billionaire, instructs us that “everything the NYPD has done is legal, appropriate, and constitutional” (Daily News, February 25). I think he believes this, so ignorant is he of, to start with, the Bill of Rights.
Disagreeing is Michael Ward, heading the FBI’s Newark bureau. Aware, but not consulted by Kelly, of the covert presence of NYPD agents monitoring New Jersey mosques, restaurants, and bookshops frequented by Muslims, Ward says this freezes the relationship the FBI has built among Muslims and “makes the job of the Joint Terrorism Task Force much harder.”
Give that a thought, Andrew.
The rest of us should bear in mind that on July 12, 2004, Bloomberg endorsed legislation that, he said proudly, prohibits “the use of race, color, ethnicity, religion, or national origin as the determinative factor for initiating police action.” Moreover, this applied not only to the NYPD but also to “Peace Officers as defined in the Criminal Procedure Law, as well as special patrolmen appointed by the Police Commissioners.” Like infiltrators into lawful organizations?
And dig this, then, from the man known as Mayor Bloomberg: “Racial profiling will not be tolerated in our city. New York City is home to 8 million people of every race, ethnicity, and religion from all over the world.” He continued, thanking “Commissioner Ray Kelly and his staff . . . for their work on this legislation, it is our duty to do everything in our power to make sure those that call New York home feel safe and secure.”
Tell that to the New York blacks being stopped and frisked for their seventh and eighth times.
This March, Brad Lander of the New York City Council supported “a robust intelligence program to keep us safe.” He added that “they should have officers and surveillance cameras watching for unusual behavior in public places . . . But there are very important things that the NYPD should not do.”
Kelly, just like Bloomberg, is brusquely impatient with any who do not understand that everything the NYPD is doing to protect us is, of course, constitutional. He does not take kindly to Brad Lander’s insistence that the NYPD “should not send undercover officers into mosques and student groups, posing as members, to spy on free expression where they are not investigating a specific lead on a potential crime.”
Brad Lander then came up with the only constitutional, American way to require specific accountability from the NYPD on its procedures to protect everyone in this city from organized and freestanding terrorists in the world—including those who live and disguised among us as neighbors, workers, et al: Hire an NYPD Inspector General.
Of course, what follows will never happen so long as Bloomberg is in office, and that extended term blessedly ends next year. It also can’t happen if his successor retains Commissioner Kelly who, like George W. Bush and Barack Obama, is righteously determined that something called the Constitution must not get in the way of saving our very lives.
New Yorkers must—even if the media are somnolent on the actual threat we face of becoming a police state—insist on finding out from each potential next mayor what specifically he or she will do to bring us back into the Constitution that Kelly and Bloomberg have locked into detention. Christine Quinn says she will keep master unconstitutional spy Kelly.
What I also find grimly clouding our future is that Police Commissioner Kelly has a more than 60 percent favorable rating among New Yorkers (except, of course, from blacks). So how many of us are going to give a damn whether the next mayor knows or cares about due process, presumption of innocence, equal protection of the laws, and why the Constitution was prevented from coming alive until We the People added the Bill of Rights.
To get back to Brad Lander’s proposal to show the rest of this nation how New York City can again be the land of the free and the home of the brave: Brad Lander begins with the revelation—to some of us—that “the NYPD—despite its size and operations—stands alone among major American police departments for lacking any meaningful independent oversight. L.A., Chicago, and Philadelphia all have broad independent bodies with subpoena power . . . The only agencies with something to fear are those that are not obeying the law.”
So how is this city finally going to have an NYPD Inspector General? Brad Lander is working with Jumaane Williams of the City Council, the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Muslim American Civil Liberties Coalition, Communities United for Police Reform (described in my previous column), the Brennan Center for Justice, and other organizations to bring into necessary being an NYPD Inspector General.
Having known Justice William Brennan for years, I expect he would agree with Brad Lander that “we need a NYPD Inspector General in place, so we can have confidence that both our safety and our liberties are being protected.”
Meanwhile, with Commissioner Kelly proudly championing his notorious “stop-and-frisk” policy that earmarks an ever-increasing number of blacks and Latinos as New Yorkers under suspicion, I challenge him to read—and publicly reply to—Leonard Greene’s March 30 New York Post column (which that newspaper’s editorial writers should also read): “Having ‘the Talk’: A Painful Rite for All Black Parents.”
Voice readers who are neither black nor Latino should try role reversal and become engaged in “real-world conversations where adolescents are instructed about how to deal with police when they are stopped for no good reason.”
Greene cites Reverend Conrad Tillard of Brooklyn’s Nazarene Congregational Church, and the father of four sons and one daughter: “He knew it was time to talk to one of his sons when he saw the boy tense up with fear at the sight of police who had stopped him days earlier on the subway.”
The boy knew he hadn’t done anything wrong. Another father, Eric Adams, a state senator and former police captain, “had the same conversation with his son after the boy was stopped in a movie theater for no good reason.”
Says Adams: “In one breath, you say that in this country, you can be anything you want to be on your ability. You give them the speech. Yet he can’t sit down and enjoy a movie.”
During that painful rite when parents are having “the talk,” Adams, like other black parents, “tells his child that he has to be beyond being respectful (to the frisking cop). He has to bend over backwards . . . It’s not a comfortable conversation, but it’s a real conversation for this day and time.”
Yes, as long as Ray Kelly is the police commissioner and Michael Bloomberg is our Education Mayor.
I haven’t yet met Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, but from what I’ve heard so far from the various candidates, Stringer is the one sure to move to bring us an independent NYPD Inspector General. Among the other dividends from this appointment, black and Latino parents might have less and less reason to have these painful “talks” with their children.
Have you ever had a conversation like that with your daughter, Mr. Mayor?
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 4, 2012