On June 13, 24 City Councilmembers—11 votes short of a veto-proof majority—voted for a bill that would create an inspector general to monitor this city’s police department. As of this writing, as I expected, the bill remains immobile.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly’s most ardent fan, Mayor Bloomberg, scoffed at such brazen ignorance: “This is the most regulated department in the entire city. You have five district attorneys. You have the Civilian Complaint Review Board. I think we’ve got enough supervision and oversight.”
What apparently slipped his mind was that he, Ray Kelly, and former Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, remain defendants in a case on physical police abuses of our public school students, mainly blacks and Puerto Ricans, often for less than misdemeanors—by Kelly’s School Safety Agents.
After one of many columns documenting this disgrace to the city, let alone the kids (“The Strip Search Room,” January 7, 2009), a cop I didn’t know called me in a fury at what he called “the slipshod so-called training” Kelly authorizes for these plainclothes prowlers with the authority to arrest students who have scrawled on their desks or slipped a cell phone into school if their mother wants to contact them.
On June 17, a protester in Harlem against the Kelly-Bloomberg stop-and-frisk and racial-profiling expeditions told the Daily News that his son, Ramarley Graham, was shot to death in the teen’s Bronx home February 2 by police officer Richard Haste, who wrongly believed the 18-year-old had a gun.
“To me,” the father had said at Al Sharpton National Action Network, “my son was murdered. I lost my son to people we pay to protect us. . . . We will never let them forget what happened.”
Neither will a growing number of this city’s civil rights and civil liberties organizations, very insistently including the New York Civil Liberties Union, which the National ACLU should cite to its affiliates across the country as a model on how to educate students, their parents, the police, and the community at large that the Constitution cannot be barred at the schoolhouse door, the streets, and the homes of blacks and Latinos.
What about the future education of this city’s public school students and what it means to be an American, including in school? It is certainly time for candidates striving to replace, at long last, the self-glorifying incumbent, to let the voters know what they intend to do as our public students, very particularly blacks and Latinos, deeply feel they are being treated by the NYPD as potential suspects, or worse.
At this point, I have to insert that I am not making a general indictment of all NYPD members as bigots. There are many who are acutely aware of the powers they wield—sometimes of life or death—and their responsibilities to adhere to why many of them became cops. I’ve known a number of them well and how angry they are at those among them who have tarnished the force as a whole by acting as if some of them frisk by slamming students to the ground.
Think back to the Occupy protests and the NYPD culture. On July 25, Rebecca Lehrer reported—“NYPD Used Force on Occupy Protests Without Apparent Need or Justification 130 Times”—finding that a report by law school clinics found: “A complex mapping of protest suppression emerges. . . . They find 97 times police allegedly used bodily force like striking, punching, shoving, grabbing, kicking, or dragging, and 41 documented cases of alleged weapon use like batons, barricades, horses, and pepper spray.”
There were so many witnesses of this unnecessary police abuse, covered too in the Voice, that it became a national story by, among others, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
An inspector general could prevent these NYPD bruisers being linked to the force as a whole.
A further suggestion for voters in the coming mayoral election was buried in a small story on page A15 of the July 2 New York Times in the National Briefing Section datelined Northwest: “The city of Seattle reached a settlement agreement on Friday with the Justice Department on the use of police force and the training and supervision of officers that will create an independent monitor and a community police commission aimed at increasing citizen output.”
Now there’s a revolutionary idea that not even Thomas Jefferson or Samuel Adams thought of. Getting We the People involved in training the police. Some of us don’t have to be black or Latino to remember being targeted by a cop with total presumption of guilt for something we couldn’t possibly have done.
So the Seattle advance in participatory law enforcement continues: “Federal prosecutors began investigating the Seattle police department after the fatal shooting of a homeless Native American woodcarver in 2010 led to a public outcry and accusations that the department was out of control.
“Investigators said they had found that the Seattle police had engaged in excessive force that violated federal law and the Constitution. Under the agreement, officers will receive training in avoiding bias, in conducting stops, and in the use of force.
“The department will also be required to develop more specific policies on what constitutes biased policing and better reporting when such episodes occur.”
I expect many New Yorkers think they’re a lot more hip and otherwise sophisticated than those folks way out there in Seattle. But think about it. We have something to learn—with variations we can work out—from what Seattle is doing to reasonably Americanize its police force.
Maybe some of our local radio, TV, and digital-media reporters and commentators could interview participants—police, politicians, citizens, as well as students in Seattle schools about what it took to get this agreement swinging.
And among those interviewing these Seattle contributors to a police force effectively at ease with the Constitution should be all our New York City candidates for mayor.
Of course, one thing I’d surely ask these candidates is whether they plan to retain Ray Kelly as police commissioner.
And if New Yorkers did come to an agreement along the lines of what was accomplished in Seattle, would Ray Kelly, if he were asked to stay on, accept being in the close company of the Constitution of the United States?
Seattle aside, a vital message for New York voters as they replace Bloomberg is raised by NYCLU’s Advocacy Director Udi Ofer: “Anyone interested in increasing student achievement, and particularly in closing the achievement gap, should pay close attention to the impact of stop-and-frisk practices on the lives of black and Latino students, including on their view of authority and ability to succeed academically.”
In this primarily segregated, largest public school system in the nation, so many black and Latino students on its streets are treated by the NYPD as decidedly suspicious persons of interest.
Adds Ofer: “This experience on the street is only compounded by the experience that many [of these] young people face in school. The NYPD arrested or ticketed more than 15 students each day in school during the first three months of 2012.”
Do the math.
“More than 96 percent of the arrests were of black and Latino students. About 18 percent of the arrests were of students between the ages of 11 and 14. Disorderly conduct, a catchall category that could encompass all kinds of typical misbehavior, accounted for 71 percent of all summonses.”
And dig this: “Last year, 90 percent of all stops of young people [mostly blacks and Latinos] did not result in an arrest or a ticket—meaning that in 131,087 of the stops, the young person being stopped is innocent of any action that would constitute a crime or an infraction.”
Yeah, but Bloomberg and Kelly glory in all the guns seized. Ofer smacks them in the face with this: “Only 1.4 percent of frisks of young people in 2011 recovered a weapon.”
This is how New York City fosters, among the majority of its public school students, confidence in academic achievement, let alone lifetime love of learning?
With the NYCLU suing over stop-and-frisk, our Education Mayor snapped: “If the NYCLU is allowed to determine policing strategies in our city, many more children will grow up fatherless, and many more children will not grow up at all.”
NYCLU president Donna Lieberman let him have it: “It’s a lot easier to trash the NYCLU than to acknowledge the widespread dissatisfaction the community feels with an NYPD that acts like it’s above the law” (New York Post, July 16). Oh, but the number of stops and frisks has fallen. However, our royal mayor assures us he is certainly staying with this essential way to retain his reputation as the best mayor we have ever had.
It’s up to you, New Yorkers. How many of you are going to demand that the next mayor, starting on his or her first day in office, shows us with absolute clarity how he or she is going to bring the NYPD back into our rule of law?
All of us have been shamed long enough by Michael Bloomberg and Ray Kelly.