In NYC council meeting, heated debate on racist police abuse

Racist police practices were the focus of a struggle within the New York City Council on Oct. 10.

A six-hour public hearing took place that day in the body’s Public Safety Committee on the Community Safety Act introduced by Brooklyn Council member Jumaane Williams. Its four bills aim to curtail rampant, often brutal NYC police stop-and-frisk practices, barring illegal searches; allowing people to refuse searches; banning racial and other profiling; requiring police to produce IDs and “justify” the stops; and instituting independent oversight of the police.

Williams, who is an African American, was wrongfully arrested at the West Indian Day Parade in Brooklyn last year. Police shoved and hit him at Occupy Wall Street’s anniversary rally in September, even though he identified himself as a Council member.

Community leaders, advocates and residents testified on stop-and-frisk policing. Djibril Toure, from the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, recounted his search by Brooklyn police for no reason, and told of others, beaten while frisked.

Robert Jackson, Harlem Council member, emphasized the growing anger of African-American and Latino/a communities at these police actions. He cited an audiotape of police racially slurring a youth, and then demonstrated a police frisk. As the crowd applauded, he said, “It’s not working and it needs to be totally reformed. People are suffering.” (New York Times, Oct. 11)

Council member Peter Vallone, the hearing’s chairperson, assailed the bills. He attempted to stifle the righteous outrage at police behavior by Jackson and other African-American Council members, their allies and the audience, by banning “outbursts.” He declared, “This isn’t a forum to make speeches.”

Bronx Council member Helen Foster courageously countered, “That should apply to the chair, who has made his speeches and made clear how he feels. … I don’t work for you. I am not one of your boys. You will not talk to me like that. … If [Vallone’s] father were an 88-year-old, who’s being pulled over and called ‘boy’ and fitting a description, then it would be different.”

For two hours, amid supporters’ cheers, speakers challenged Michael Best, who represented absent Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly. Unsurprisingly, they vehemently reject any restrictions on the police.

Last year, NYC police conducted 685,724 stop-and-frisks; 87 percent targeted African Americans and Latinos/as. Half were youth. The New York Civil Liberties Union website reports stop-and-frisks have increased 600 percent during the Bloomberg administration, with “discriminatory profiling” of “people of color, immigrants, the LGBT community … [public housing] residents, young people, the homeless and others.”

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