by Robert Gangi
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS Monday, June 29, 2015,
Mayor de Blasio and City Council leaders, all reputed liberals, have made a truly terrible decision to add nearly 1,300 new officers to the NYPD’s headcount. Much of the media coverage of the process leading up to this final agreement focused on the political gamesmanship involved — and how Police Commissioner Bill Bratton effectively outplayed other officials.
Mostly missing from the stories in the press has been a focus on the damage and the costs associated with this plan to significantly expand the size and standing of the NYPD. We are not just referring to the hefty $170 million annual price tag that comes with this undertaking.
Rather than solve problems. as it proponents claim, the plan to substantially increase the department’s personnel will aggravate existing difficulties — deepening the racial, social and economic inequities that plague our city and adding to 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 pursues policies that target low-income people of color who engage in petty infractions that many New Yorkers consider innocuous, like biking on the sidewalk, carrying an open alcohol container, begging or putting a foot or backpack on a subway seat.
The activities that people of color get arrested or ticketed for daily have been virtually decriminalized in white communities. How can the so-called progressive leaders of our city justify effectively strengthening an agency that consistently inflicts serious harm and hardship on New York’s most vulnerable citizens?
For about a year, PROP, the group I lead, has carried out its Court Monitoring Project. Aiming to determine who officers arrest most often and on what charges, volunteers regularly visit the arraignment parts of the city’s criminal courts. The value of this effort is that, since every person who the NYPD arrests has to be arraigned, and since we observe and record these proceedings, we are able to come up with an incontestable picture of day-to-day arrest practices in our city.
Since May 22 we have made five court monitoring trips: two to Brooklyn, two to Manhattan and one this past Thursday to the Bronx — so our findings clearly present up to date NYPD practices. We spent over three hours each time in the courtroom and observed a total of 165 cases, 154 of which, or 93.3%, involved people of color.
Common charges included possessing an open container of alcohol; being in the park after dark; possessing marijuana, synthetic or real; “unlawful solicitation” — meaning a person asks someone to swipe them on the subway; walking between subway cars; and trespassing in the third degree.
Police officers had arrested these people, cuffed and confined them and kept them locked up overnight. Some charges that we heard the court officer or judge state aloud in the court room included: “manspreading” on the subway; “the unauthorized selling of smoothies in Central Park”; “the unlicensed practice of massage,” and “the selling of bottled water on a public road.”
Policing practices in New York City are not only marked by stark racial bias and wastefulness, but they sometimes border on the darkly comic.
By adding more than 1,000 personnel to the NYPD’s payroll — more even than Bratton had publicly sought — de Blasio has not only increased the department’s already outsized capacity for pursuing its discriminatory and abusive practices. He also undercuts his attempts to sell himself nationally as a progressive whose foundational governing principle is to challenge inequality.
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” that the mayor supports and has now strengthened drives those inequities more forcefully than any other government policy now operating.
Gangi is director of the Police Reform Organizing Project.