Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council leaders have made a truly terrible decision to add 1300 new officers to the NYPD’s headcount. Rather than solve problems, it will aggravate existing difficulties, deepening the racial, social, and economic inequities that plague our city and increase the antagonism and distrust that communities of color already feel toward the police and the criminal justice system.
Applying the tactics of quota-driven ‘broken windows’ policing, the NYPD daily pursues starkly racially discriminatory policies that target low-income people of color who engage in petty, inconsequential offences like bike on the sidewalk, open alcohol container, begging, foot or backpack on a subway seat, and park after dark. In fact, the activities that people of color get arrested or ticketed for every day have been virtually decriminalized in white communities. How can the so-called progressive leadership of our city justify strengthening an agency that consistently inflicts serious harm and hardship on NY’s most vulnerable citizens?
Carrying out PROP’s court monitoring project, our volunteers have recently visited the arraignment parts in the Manhattan and Brooklyn Criminal Court. We observed 104 cases, 98 of which (or 94.2%) involved people of color. Common charges included open alcohol container; park after dark; marijuana, synthetic or real, possession; “unlawful solicitation” — when a person asks to be swiped into the subway, it is considered a punishable infraction even if the individual asked is willing to do so); walking between subway cars; and trespass in the 3rd degree. Police officers had arrested all these people, cuffed them, confined them and kept them locked up overnight.
Policing practices in NYC are not only marked by stark racial bias and wastefulness, but the charges sometimes border on the darkly comic. & sureal.. Some charges that we heard the court officer or judge state aloud in the courtroom included: “man spreading” on the subway; “the unauthorized selling of smoothies in Central Park”; and “the unlicensed practice of massage”.
By adding personnel to the NYPD, Mayor de Blasio has undercut his aggressive attempts to promote himself locally & nationally as a progressive whose foundational governing principle is challenging the Tale of Two Cities narrative, eliminating our nation and our city’s all too real racial, social, & economic inequities. We advocates from time to time engage in hyperbole to make our points, but it is not exaggeration to state that the ‘broken windows’ policing de Blasio supports, and has now strengthened, drives those inequities more forcefully than any other government policy. If the Mayor were true to his guiding principles , he would direct the NYPD to abandon ’broken windows’, not enhance its already potent capacity and its ongoing use of tactics that compromise the lives and well-being of people of color everyday.
Robert Gangi, Executive Director, PROP