City Council Has a Golden Opportunity to Stop Discriminatory Policing -- Will It Do the Right Thing?

This week presents a pivotal moment for the New York City Council to do their share in the citywide movement to end the massive violation of rights resulting from the abuse of policing practices like stop and frisk. Currently pending before the Council is the Community Safety Act, a landmark legislative package that aims to protect New Yorkers against racially discriminatory policing and create an independent mechanism for transparency and accountability in the NYPD. Despite coming under constant fire from the mayor, Commissioner Kelly, and most recently, the police union, this legislation already has majority support in the City Council, over 30 City Council members have signed onto each bill, and only a few more City Council members are needed to ensure it will carry past a mayoral veto.

If City Council members vote to discharge the Act from the Public Safety Committee today, it will go to the floor for a full vote as early as tomorrow.

As documented in a 2012 report by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), a wide range of minority communities in New York have suffered the disparate impact of the NYPD's systemic practice of stopping and frisking people without cause. These communities include homeless people, people living in low income neighborhoods, residents of public housing, youth of color, gender non-conforming individuals, religious minorities, and immigrants. The Community Safety Act seeks to broaden protections for them by expanding the categories of communities protected from discrimination and establishing an enforceable ban on profiling and discrimination by the NYPD.

The Community Safety Act would also establish an independent inspector general office to oversee the NYPD -- a common sense and urgently needed oversight mechanism that currently exists in all major New York City agencies, other police departments like the LAPD, and the FBI and CIA. The office would review and audit NYPD programs, policies, and practices, to ensure New Yorkers' rights are being respected and their concerns taken into account. An Inspector General would not micromanage the NYPD or be involved in operational decisions.

New Yorkers desperately want the kind of change the Community Safety Act could bring and have voiced their support loud and clear countless times. Just one year ago, on Father's Day, tens of thousands marched down Fifth Avenue calling for an end to stop and frisk abuses. New Yorkers have also packed every public hearing on the Community Safety Act that the City Council has held, organized numerous rallies in support of the proposed reforms, and taken to the federal courts to bring about change. Last month, a nine-week trial wrapped up in the class action lawsuit Floyd v. the City of New York, which challenged the NYPD's unconstitutional stop-and-frisk policy and the city's claims that the program was not racially discriminatory in practice. Dozens of New Yorkers held rallies and press conferences outside the courthouse almost everyday, providing powerful testimony of what it's like to live under this policy.

It is clear that the time for meaningful change in how the NYPD treats New Yorkers is here. The Community Safety Act promises a police department that works for the people of New York and is accountable to the people of New York. Now it's the time for the City Council to take a stand and make it clear that New Yorkers don't have to choose between a safe city and their constitutional rights. It's a false choice. True community safety requires a police department for whom all New Yorkers are equally deserving of courtesy, professionalism, and respect. The Act is an important step towards ensuring just that.