“My body, my life, as a young brown gay person is policed by the NYPD,” Mitchell Mora, 23, told hundreds of New Yorkers at the rally for Communities United for Police Reform, held in City Hall Park on Thursday, Sept. 27.
Last March, Mora was walking alone on the Lower East Side when a police car pulled up with flashing lights and three officers jumped out, yelling, “Stop! Get against the wall! Open your bag!” Mora is a Latino, gay male. Police had stopped him before, but tonight was different as he was dressed in tights and high heels. He told the officers he did not consent to a search, as one took his bag and another frisked him while he stood against the wall. They found nothing. The officer patting him down then grabbed his buttocks and called him a homophobic expletive, before the men got back in their car and drove off. Mora had no way of identifying the police who had just searched him, engaged in sexual misconduct and used hate speech.
Elected officials, civil rights, community and labor leaders from dozens of organizations citywide held Thursday’s rally in front of City Hall, in support of the Community Safety Act. The act, which aims to increase transparency and accountability in the Police Department, has been endorsed by over 50 organizations, and a majority of the City Council has sponsored all four of its bills.
“Our bodies, our lives, our very beings as LGBTQ youth of color are policed by the NYPD,” said Mora. “This is why we need the Community Safety Act.”
The act would enforce the ban on racial profiling, require NYPD officers to identify themselves and explain their actions during stops, protect civilians against unlawful searches, and instate an Inspector General to provide independent oversight of the NYPD. The proposal comes after hundreds of allegations across the city, accusing the NYPD of discriminatory and unconstitutional policing methods.
Stop-and-frisk, the practice of stopping and searching people the police consider suspicious, has become the mainstay of such complaints; in 2011, 700,000 New Yorkers were stopped. Out of these thousands, the overwhelming majority were found innocent, according to an analysis of police reports conducted by the New York Civil Liberties Union. Of those stopped, 85 percent were black or Hispanic. According to a study by the New York Times, more than 20 percent of these stops involved physical force.
Heather MacDonald, political commentator and fellow of the Manhattan Institute, however, argues that stop-and-frisk rates do not disproportionately affect people of color because of prejudiced policing, but because the NYPD goes where crime is highest.
In a phone interview, she used the following numbers to supplement her argument: “Ninety-eight percent of shootings in New York are committed by blacks and Hispanics. Whites commit 1.4 percent of all shootings.“ MacDonald added that she is against the Community Safety Act.
But advocates of the act, like Andrea Ritchie of Streetwise and Safe, say stop-and-frisk is unconstitutional, prejudiced, conducive to abuse and unnecessary. Streetwise and Safe focuses on LGBTQ youth of color’s experiences of policing.
If the Community Safety Act were to pass, an Inspector General would theoretically oversee the legitimacy of such arrests. At the rally, Udi Ofer, advocacy director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, spoke on the need of such an authority.
“The FBI has an Inspector General. The CIA has an Inspector General. The Department of Education has an Inspector General. In fact, every significant federal, state and city agency has an Inspector General. Yet the NYPD does not.”
MacDonald called the implementation of an Inspector General “preposterous,” saying it would waste millions of tax dollars and that the NYPD “already has an enormous amount of oversight.”
The parts of the Act that MacDonald agrees with—in isolation—are those that she says increase public transparency. For instance, many stopped are unaware that police must have “reasonable suspicion” or a warrant to legally search them. The act requires officers to explain these rights before attempting to conduct a search, which MacDonald said would be an improvement. Nonetheless, some argue that “reasonable suspicion” is a vague term, which is why sponsors of the Community Safety Act feel it needs stronger protections against racial profiling.
One of the act’s bills also stipulates that after a stop-and-frisk, the officer would have to give the civilian a card with his name and badge number, and information on how to report police misconduct.
Asked if such a law would have made Mora’s experience less traumatic, he replied, “Absolutely. I could have held them accountable.”
Communities United for Police Reform will gather again in front of City Hall on Oct. 10, when a City Council hearing for the Community Safety Act will be held.
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