City Council, Legislature Move on NYPD Reform

Hawk Newsome, chair of Black Lives Matter of Greater New York, at a June 8 press conference outside the David Dinkins Municipal Building.
Donna Aceto

The City Council’s Public Safety Committee on Tuesday took up several police reform bills, including one that would ban chokeholds, a measure that out gay Speaker Corey Johnson said comes about six years too late — given the 2014 police killing of Eric Garner on Staten Island.

But the legislation’s timeliness became tragically clear in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis May 25 — an event that has rocked New York and cities worldwide with massive protests.

The chokehold ban, which Johnson said last week he is confident will pass the full Council with a veto-proof majority, comes one day after the State Assembly adopted a similar measure.

Queens Councilmember Donovan Richards, a Public Safety Committee member and candidate for borough president there, said the question of why police came down so hard on protesters in the last week was something he demanded more than a vague, or “canned,” political answer from Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“When we ask about the police crackdown on protesters, we are not asking about the police crackdown on looters. Stop trying to convolute the conversation,” Richards said in a message directed to de Blasio. “I, like everyone else, condemn any looting going on, looters are taking away from the movement we are trying to build. But by focusing on them when you should be focusing on what protesters want, you are squandering the opportunity to truly effectuate the change you promised seven years ago and have not brought about.”

Among the police tactics that have been criticized is “kettling” — a technique of boxing protesters into a confined area that turned a peaceful June 3 protest in Brooklyn’s Cadman Plaza into a chaotic scene of police batons flying. In a press availability on Sunday, de Blasio acknowledged to Gay City News that he has approved the use of batons on a “minimal” basis.

Johnson condemned the de Blasio administration’s lack of action in addressing police brutality and for shielding records on police misconduct from the public by applying the controversial 50-A provision in state law that protects the confidentiality of that information.

The State Assembly is taking up repeal of 50-A in today’s session, and both de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo support that repeal, along with Johnson, though Cuomo has suggested that de Blasio has shielded more records from public view under that provision than other mayors.

The Council’s answer to 50-A is Intro. 760-A, which would mandate that city authorities post online all information related to misconduct complaints against the police department and individual officers — whether collected by the NYPD, the Civilian Complaint Review Board, or any other municipal agency.

“We can’t let this moment pass the same way we have done over and over and over again,” Johnson said. “This is a Democratic town in a Democratic state. The fact that we have not delivered any change is inexcusable, it’s shameful and I think every single white Democrat in New York City has contributed to it. Either through silence or inaction.

Intro. 6267 would address an issue seen in photos and video over the course of the past two weeks of protests in which NYPD officers cover up their badge number with mourning bands, tape, or other materials, a violation of the department’s patrol guide, as pointed out by Brooklyn Councilmember Alicka Ampry-Samuel during the hearing. This bill would make it mandatory for badge numbers to be visible at all times — and during protests, in particular.

While the Assembly took up the Eric Garner Anti-Chokehold Act on Monday, one of its members, Brooklyn Democrat Charles Barron, and his wife, Councilmember Inez Barron, appeared outside the David Dinkins Municipal Building downtown with members of Black Lives Matter New York to demand the dismantling of the NYPD, arguing that the reforms contemplated in Albany and in the Council did not go far enough. The Civilian Complaint Review Board, they said, would only be effective if its members were elected rather than appointed.

Hawk Newsome, the chair of BLM of Greater New York, noted that it took five years to see Garner’s chokehold killer Daniel Pantaleo fired by the NYPD, but that the street protests of the past few weeks were having a far more immediate impact.

“Stay in the streets and keep fighting and keep your foot on their neck because that’s all they respect!,” Newsome said, according to courthousenews.com.

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