Coalition Of Human Rights Organizations Condemn "Broken Windows" Policing -- Want Genuine Community Policing

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Strong anti-Broken Windows message to NYPD Police Commissioner William Bratton

Community groups from across New York City testified at a City Council Public Safety Committee hearing to challenge the idea that community policing was being undertaken or beginning in neighborhoods.

They indicated that community policing is incompatible with the discriminatory broken windows policing and other abusive practices that only target certain communities, highlighting a range of policies and practices that disproportionately harm communities of color, public housing residents, immigrants, homeless, Arab, Muslim, LGBTQ and low-income New Yorkers.

“So-called ‘community policing’ cannot produce community safety when disproportionate enforcement and aggression in our communities continue,” said Priscilla Gonzalez of Communities United for Police Reform.

“Discriminatory and abusive NYPD practices such as broken windows policing, blanket surveillance of Muslim communities and brutality without departmental consequences must end. As a first step to improve police-community relations, the City Council should pass the Right To Know Act to improve communication between officers and community members and to help prevent abusive encounters in daily interactions.”

“Our communities need real safety and broken windows policing doesn't make us safe,” said Monifa Bandele of Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. “When people in low-income communities of color are regularly hit with fines and arrests, they are quickly marked as criminals. Arrests for low-level offenses negatively impact one’s ability to get a job, housing, loans, licenses, and higher education, as well as negatively impacting self-esteem. There is no safety in being jobless, homeless, and under-educated.”

“Aggressive policing is disproportionately practiced in communities of color and commonly understood within these communities as discriminatory and abusive,” said Keeshan Harley, a youth leader of Make the Road New York. “There is awareness that policing is not uniform and equitable across the City, and residents ask questions like, ‘Why is it considered disorder when people drink alcohol on a South Bronx stoop but not when they drink alcohol on a blanket in Central Park?’ Public safety is not solely about policing and the criminal justice system. The over policing of communities tears the fabric of community relationships and creates a hostile environment. Communities of color desire ‘respectful and dignified,’ not ‘discriminatory and biased,’ policing on both an individual and structural level. It’s not a matter of a ‘few bad apples’ in the police force.”

“Community policing means that the police treat people like people,” said Marcus Moore, a member of Picture the Homeless. “Homeless people aren't cast-offs – they're human beings, and they belong to communities just like every other New Yorker. With regards to homelessness, community-based policing means assisting homeless people respectfully, and keeping them safe, instead of threatening them with arrest or harsh punishment.”

The common sentiments expressed were that until there is dignity and respect in how all New Yorkers are policed, community policing would simply remain a catchphrase, and that it must result from listening to communities.

“Let’s begin bettering community-police relations by actively listening to what community members have already asked for: an end to broken windows policing and discriminatory practices that target youth, people of color, and LGBTQ people,” said Chris Bilal of Streetwise and Safe. “This means ending the use of condoms as evidence in all prostitution-related charges, ensuring the enforcement of patrol guide changes regarding the respectful treatment of transgender New Yorkers, and working to stem abuses before adding more officers to the streets.”

“There is no way to 'better police-community relations' without there first being real accountability for excessive force and other discriminatory practices,” said Juan Aguirre, a representative of the Justice Committee. “We demand that affected New Yorkers' voices and ideas be prioritized in the process of creating change.”

The groups also voiced opposition to the proposal to add 1,000 officers in communities, labeling it counterproductive and incapable of helping to alter the relationship with communities that already feel over-policed. New York City has one of the highest ratios of police officers to residents in the country; adding to it rather than truly addressing systemic issues of brutality, failed accountability and disparate enforcement will not solve the problem of discriminatory policing that impairs police-community relations.

“Community policing will only be successful when we also commit to addressing the underlying issues of poverty, homelessness, mental illness, and other issues that perpetuate so-called "disorder" in our communities,” said Alyssa Aguilera, Political Director of VOCAL-NY. “Adding more police officers is not a solution in and of itself, as it will only further perpetuate needless criminalization of low-income communities of color. To achieve public safety, we should instead be investing in pathways out of homelessness, joblessness, and poor health.”

In addition to highlighting the inconsistencies that the NYPD’s policies and practices pose for community policing, New Yorkers also indicated the contradictions with the NYPD’s new plan that linked its expanded counter-terrorism unit – with long-range rifles and machine guns – to a unit that is responsible for policing protests.

“Community outreach and intelligence gathering should not mix,” said Zeinab Khalil, lead organizer & advocacy trainer for the Arab American Association of New York. “Using community outreach as a front for intelligence gathering in Muslim communities is harmful and counterproductive. It has proven to erode community trust and in no way makes communities safer.”

New Yorkers at the hearing challenged the misconstruction that policing was the ultimate solution to a range of community problems, arguing that investments in public infrastructure and services are required.

“Policing, whether expansive surveillance or policing in the streets or in the schools, cannot be the answer to all of our social problems,” said Fahd Ahmed, Director of DRUM - Desis Rising Up & Moving. “How we allocate our city’s resources reflects on our priorities and our expectations of our communities. Are we investing in the building of education, employment, and harmony of our communities, or are we investing in the criminalization of our communities?”

As a first step towards addressing one of the fundamental issues with the policing of communities, groups testifying stressed the importance of improving police transparency in interactions with civilians through City Council passage of The Right to Know Act. The legislative package would require officers to identify themselves and seek consent for searches when no legal justification exists for them, recommendations recently made by the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.

“Broken windows criminalizes communities of color on a daily basis,” said Marjorie Dove Kent, executive director of Jews for Racial & Economic Justice. “As Jews who believe that safety comes from mutual respect, we call on Commissioner Bratton and Mayor De Blasio to end the failed and unjust system of broken windows policing.”

“Over the past ten years, New York City has arrested and prosecuted an unprecedented number of people for low-level misdemeanors,” said Scott Levy, Director of the Fundamental Fairness Project at The Bronx Defenders.  “Despite the dominant presence of the NYPD in so many of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, shockingly little attention has been paid to the role of policing in maintaining economic and social disparities that persist in all five boroughs.”

“Between 1991 and 2010, the city of San Diego enjoyed substantial reductions in violent crime and sustained those reductions without resorting to arrest-based policing like broken windows or the aggressive use of stop and frisk,” said Delores Jones-Brown, founding director of the John Jay College Center on Race, Crime and Justice. “The crime decline in San Diego exceeded that of other major cities, including New York. By using “neighborhood policing,” the San Diego police department managed to keep crime low without increasing the number of arrests, without substantially increasing the number of sworn officers, and without increasing the volume of citizen complaints.” 


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