Will the New York City Council Curb Stop-and-Frisk Abuses?
In this July 18, 2012 photo, A woman and children walk past a street mural depicting individual rights during a "Stop and Frisk" on in New York. AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews
A video released this week by TheNation.com sparked a heated debate during a Wednesday meeting of the City Council’s public safety committee about the New York Police Department’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy.
During the meeting, called to consider four bills known as the Community Safety Act that would reform stop-and-frisk procedures, council members went on the offensive against Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s representative, attorney Michael Best. Members demanded accountability for and investigations into some of the revelations made in the short documentary, which features audio of a Harlem team named Alvin being stopped and harassed by plainclothes officers.
Council member Robert Jackson insisted that Best watch the video. “It’s totally despicable, totally unacceptable,” Jackson said of the officers’ behavior in the video. “It should not be tolerated in our NYPD.”
Many of the council members feel the video is the best evidence of exactly the stop-and-frisk abuses the four bills of the Community Safety Act aim to curb, including profiling and unlawful searches. The Act would also establish an independent Inspector General Office to properly oversee police practices and provide much-needed accountability for the department’s problematic policies.
Council member Brad Lander was the next to mention the video. He asked the Mayor’s lawyer why none of the many offices set up to monitor the NYPD had not been investigating the existence of quotas, “as chillingly demonstrated by the Nation video.”
“To me, part of the need for an Inspector General,” said Lander in an interview, “is that there are all these things going on that police officers say aren’t right.”
“The video, referenced multiple times during the hearing, very powerfully encapsulates several of the issues we’re trying to address with these bills,” said Council member Melissa Mark-Viverito, in whose district the stop in the audio occurred. Her district in Harlem, she said, has the most stop and frisk incidents in Manhattan.
“The video brings to life the arguments the community and the council have been making,” says Mark-Viverito. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly “refuse to believe we have a problem, and refuse to work with us.” With stop-and-frisk, “they’re terrorizing these communities.”
Council member Letitia James was outraged by the video. “The shocking and dehumanizing treatment this young man was subject to should serve as a wake-up call to those who would staunchly defend the current practice, and insist it is nothing more than an ‘inconvenience’ to the young men of color who are embarrassed on a daily basis,” she said in an interview after the hearing.
As the meeting wound down, several victims of stop-and-frisk sat before microphones to recount their abusive treatment at the hands of the police. Alvin’s stepfather, Jose LaSalle, played some of the audio of Alvin’s abusive stop. “What are you arresting me for?” Alvin could be heard asking as the recording played on the council hall’s speakers. “For being a fucking mutt,” an officer was heard answering.
The police department and the Mayor’s office continue to resist attempts at oversight proposed by the council, including the bill calling for an Inspector General. The Mayor’s office and the Police Department have said repeatedly that the mechanisms in place are sufficient to address interdepartmental problems and complaints.
And they insisted to The Nation that the mechanisms are working.
“Last year police in New York City had approximately 23 million interactions with the public. In order to make sure these millions of interactions are professional we invest significant time and money in training of officers,” says John McCarthy, a spokesperson from the Mayor’s office, “and that training is showing results as complaints from the public to the Civilian Complaint Review Board [CCRB] have gone down as our training has increased”
But there might be another reason why complaints are down. Many victims of stop-and-frisk and police harassment feel that their complaints aren’t meaningfully addressed.
Even Alvin is still waiting for the mediation with the officers who stopped him—a remedy proposed by the CCRB. “They haven’t set a date yet,” he said, more than a year after the incident. “I kept calling them and they don’t answer.”
When contacted for comment, the NYPD said: “the matter was investigated in June 2011 by Manhattan North investigations and wasn't corroborated after the complainant elected not to pursue the matter.”
Indeed, Alvin temporarily stopped pursuing the matter when his mother passed away in October, 2011. But he has since picked it back up in hopes of a resolution. “I don’t feel like they should lose their job or anything, but they should be penalized,” he said to The Nation Wednesday. “Then other cops will know not to act like that towards us.”