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What the Community Safety Act Means for Stop and Frisk in Bushwick

Bushwick is prime stop and frisk territory

Jumaane Williams speaks on the importance of the Community Safety Act at a press conference last month.

Bushwick is prime stop and frisk territory. Out of the 123 precincts in the five boroughs of New York City, Bushwick is #11 on the list of highest number of stop and frisks. And when you're looking specifically at the borough of Brooklyn, Bushwick comes in at #4, only behind two precincts in East New York and one precinct in Williamsburg. The Community Safety Act has the potential to bring permanent improvements to the way the NYPD handles stop and frisk and larger NYPD practices in general. The act consists of two bills - an anti-discriminatory bill that provides an enforcement mechanism to illegal profiling and an inspector general bill that will  provide independent oversight and recommendations for the NYPD. The two bills passed the New York City Council. However, in late July, Bloomberg vetoed both bills, meaning the New York Council will have to vote on them again on August 22 with a two-thirds majority in order for the bills to go into law.

What Stop And Frisk Looks Like in Bushwick

The 2011 stop and frisk statistics in Bushwick show that the majority of the stops are of black and Latino men and the majority of those people stopped are completely innocent. Despite Ray Kelly's claims that stop and frisk gets guns off the streets, no weapon is found on nearly all of the stops. Of the 15,021 stop and frisks in Bushwick (83rd precinct) that occurred in 2011, 87.87% of the stops were black or Latino. Blacks and Latinos also had a higher likelihood of "use of force" than whites when stopped. And most of these stops reveal that the person is completely innocent: 86.31% walk without any arrest or summons. When it comes to finding contraband or a weapon, stop and frisk in Bushwick is even less successful: 1.36% of the stops result in finding contraband and 1.21% of the stops recover a weapon. Ray Kelly, who claims stop and frisk is imperative to getting guns off the street, forgets to mention these own statistics, released by the NYPD each year.

Bushwick - with stop and frisk statistics that mirror the city's policy at large - is a great example of how stop and frisk permeates throughout New York City and how the Community Safety Act has the potential to change it. It's also important to note that areas neighboring Bushwick, like Greenpoint and Williamsburg, that are increasingly white, have just as high of stop and frisk numbers and are still stopping blacks and Latinos at startling numbers.

Bloomberg and Ray Kelly's reason for the racial disparities within stop and frisk stops is that crime victims often give "black" or "Latino" as a description of the suspect; however, "looked like a relevant description" is not one of the top reasons for stopping someone. Each stop and frisk is coupled with a form filled out by the police officer that includes a list of ten reasons for the stop (one being "other"). Out of these ten reasons, only 13% of the stops in Bushwick were because the individual "looked like a relevant description." This statistic is similar to the statistic for the entire city (15.88%). The two top reasons for stopping and frisking, both in Bushwick and NYC as a whole, happen to also be the most vague: Furtive movements (53.55%) and casing a victim or location (46.33%).

While Bloomberg and Ray Kelly tell the public that stop and frisk works in preventing crime, reports and studies suggest otherwise. First, there is the fact that the crime rate actually lowered before Bloomberg even stepped in office. Furthermore, statistic reports revealed that the murder rates actually haven't changed that much from when the frequency of stop and frisk jumped 600%. In 2001, there were about 90,000 frisks and 1,845 shootings; in 2011, 685,724 frisks and 1,821 shootings. And finally, analysis has concluded that stop and frisk actually stirs up, rather than deters, youth crime.

One thing is clear, in a city where people have been stopped and frisked over 5 million times, 86% of whom were black and Latino people and around 92% of those people were completely innocent - something's gotta change.

Make The Road, a community organization located in Bushwick, is a part of coalition (Communities Organized for Police Reform) that helped get the Community Safety Act on the table. Staff member Jose Lopez has been working with families dealing with violence from police officers in local communities for the past several years. For the past few years, when stops increased under Bloomberg, young people in the neighborhood continued to come up to him and tell him stories of certain police officers who stopped them and often frisk and searched pockets even when the young person had not consented to a search. Make The Road started to collect responses and ultimately joined a coalition called Communities United For Police Reform to solve the issue of stop and frisk. Jose explains that the main question is often focused on policy: "What can we implement on a city wide or state wide level to change policy and change laws so that we can improve conditions in our communities?" These questions, resulted in the Community Safety Act, two bills that have the potential to change the stop and frisk practice in Bushwick and in New York.

The Community Safety Act

The Community Safety Act consists of two bills. The NYPD Oversight Act (Intro 1079) would provide independent oversight over NYPD in the form of a monitor or inspector general and the End Discriminatory Profiling Act (Intro 1080) protects New Yorkers from discriminatory profiling by a government institution - including but not limited to, the NYPD. Intro 1079 would provide a level of oversight with practices and policies that the New York Police Department currently does not have - even though every other major New York City agency does. Proponents believe the ability to have true accountability will not only have the affect of insuring policies make sense in terms of policing and civil rights but it gives people more confidence that the police are accountable. The inspector general would be able to assess and make recommendations to the police department on everything from stop and frisk, crime statistics, corruption and much more.

Intro 1080 expands on the 2004 Anti-Discriminatory bill that was signed into law, which prohibits government agencies from profiling based on race, ethnicity, religion or national origin. Intro 1080 would expand the bill to also cover: age, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, immigration status, disability, and housing status. Furthermore, New Yorkers who feel they have been unjustly targeted by the NYPD would be able to bring intentional discrimination claims and/or disparate impact claims - but not for monetary damages. This bill goes along with reforming stop and frisk but would protect New Yorkers from being profiled within other policing practices as well, such as LGBT* communities that are targeted and arrested for reasons such as carrying condoms and then charged with prostitution. Supporters argue it is imperative to expand the 2004 law because it provides an enforcement mechanism that the current law lacks, leading to profiling abuses that we see today.

Both bills of the Community Safety Act passed the NYC Council with a veto proof majority after a long night on June 27. Intro 1079 passed with 40 votes and Intro 1080 passed with 34 votes. A veto proof majority is 2/3 of the council, or 34 votes. However, on July 23, Bloomberg vetoed both bills, as he promised. His reasons range from exclaiming there would be a flood of lawsuits, in which lawyers would have a huge payday, to saying it would hurt police practices by not letting them do suspect descriptions. These reasons, however, don't add up. For one, there is no monetary incentive to file an arbitrary lawsuit since you can't sue for monetary damages and there is a fine if you bring in a large number of bad lawsuits. Various states have similar laws (some even go further to include monetary damages), yet they have not experienced the high number of lawsuits that Bloomberg fears will happen. Another claim of Bloomberg's - that police would not able to do suspect descriptions - is also not true. We know this because the NYPD is allowed to do suspect descriptions now with the 2004 bill. The 1080 bill, like this one, says you cannot profile solely based on certain identifications.

What Next?

Now, the bills go back to the NYC Council where council members will have to vote with a veto proof majority a second time on August 22 in order for the bills to pass. Both the 34th and the 37th districts (covering Bushwick) voted yes for both bills - but will they stick to their vote the second time around? Bloomberg has already mentioned that he is willing to spend his money to change people's vote (another word for this is bribing). Some are confident that many council members are determined to stick to their vote in a city where mayoral power is staggering, but it will only take one member to change their vote for bill 1080 in order for it to not pass a veto-proof majority. 

The work for Make The Road doesn't stop there. They are working on a youth documentary series on stop and frisk with 15 students that include 115 interviews. They will also be coming out with a comic strip project this month where people's stop and frisk stories will be told in four or five comic strips as a tool to engage people. Jose assures that "regardless of your background, this is one of those issues that is clearly a civil rights issue. The fact that young, black and brown folks can't walk down the street without being profiled by the police. You don't have to necessarily be that young, black and brown person but if you think that this is wrong, this is your fight."

It is clear that stop and frisk is very much an issue that affects the Bushwick community and Jose encourages anyone who is interested in helping out more to "reach out to local leadership in organizations already working on these particular issues…whether you're able to attend weekly meetings, turn out to an action or run a workshop on designing comic strips…there are many strategies or contributions that can be made to help us in this fight." At the most basic level, one thing we can all do is call our local council member and ask them to vote yes on both bills that can help give rights back to our communities.

 

If you're in the 34th district: Diana Reyna, 718-963-3141

If you're in the 37th district: Erik Martin Dilan, 718-642-8664

If you're in another district, find your council member here.

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