Activists Demand Elections to Fill NYPD Oversight Board

“Defund the police, demilitarize the police, jail killer cops!” New York State Assembly member Charles Barron chanted Monday in support of efforts to reform the NYPD’s watchdog. (Courthouse News photo/Josh Russell)

MANHATTAN (CN) — Speaking outside of the New York Police Department’s headquarters in lower Manhattan, Democratic officials joined Black Lives Matter activists Monday to say moderate reform efforts are toothless unless police can be held accountable for misconduct by an elected, independent oversight board.

“Defund the police, demilitarize the police, jail killer cops!” black New York State Assembly member Charles Barron called out to a small group of demonstrators gathered in the archway of the David Dinkins Municipal Building.

“Today I’m supposed to be in a Zoom a meeting with the State Assembly to pass a bunch of watered-down, toothless reform packages,” said Barron, 69, who represents the East New York section of Brooklyn.

He was referring to a set of measures brought by the Democrat-led New York Senate and Assembly on Monday in the wake of widespread protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota on May 25.

That package includes a repeal of 50-A, a statute long reviled by criminal justice reformers for shielding police disciplinary records. Coupled with the Police Statistics and Transparency Act (STAT), the bills will strip secrecy and create new avenues for public scrutiny.

Calling for the city’s police watchdog to be comprised of elected board members rather than appointed ones, Barron said any other reform measures that do not hold police accountable fail justify the beatings and sacrifice that demonstrators have been enduring in New York City’s streets over the last two weeks of unrest.

“And if you think that’s a bunch of rhetoric, look at Minneapolis,” he said, referring to the announcement on Sunday from nine of the council’s 12 members — a veto-proof majority — of their intent to dismantle the city’s police department.

“This department is not reformable, it should be dismantled,” Barron added.

Barron’s wife Inez, a New York City Council member whose district includes the same Brooklyn neighborhood as her husband’s Assembly district, joined him at the press conference Monday in support of a proposal from the NYC Campaign for an Elected Civilian Review Board, which is calling for the oversight board to be elected by and accountable to the community rather than made up of political appointees.

According to the group, of the 4,487 complaints filed against police in 2017, 73% of the board’s recommendations were disregarded by the department and no officers were fired as a result of civilian complaints.

A third of civil complaints were investigated by the board and just 5% of complaints were found to be valid, the campaign says.

Inez Barron said the NYPD’s current oversight agency, the Civilian Complaint Review Board, dismisses more than half of the complaints it sees. Of those it does investigate, board members make a minimum recommendation and that recommendation then goes to the police commissioner, who will decide whether he wants to abide by what the findings are, she said.

The campaign wants to make the findings of the elected board binding, so the police commissioner would be required to carry out board decisions such as retraining or firing.

Hawk Newsome, chairman of Black Lives Matter New York, urges supporters outside of NYPD headquarters to continue their protests for radical police reforms on Monday. (Courthouse News photo/Josh Russell)

The final piece of the campaign’s platform, Inez Barron said, is the implementation of an independent prosecutor who is “not connected to the special prosecutor, not connected to the attorney general who has not decided to bring any investigation for police murder since she’s been in office, but an independent prosecutor  who will in fact be able to bring charges against those officers whose crimes rise to that level.”

The two elected officials from Brooklyn were joined Monday by Black Lives Matters New York Chairman Hawk Newsome.   

“Now I’m going to tell y’all what they did — they went to their shoeshine boy and their tap dance girls and they said ‘what message can we give black people?’” he said. “‘Well, we can give ‘em 50-A, but how bout banning chokeholds?’ — like chokehold aren’t illegal already in most police departments, are you kidding me?”

“We had to fight for five years to get Daniel Pantaleo fired,” Newsome recalled, referring to the Staten Island police officer who was fired following a long-delayed review board trial last summer, five years after he killed Eric Garner using a barred chokehold in 2014.

“We act up in the streets, you got eight cops fired in a week!” Newsome proclaimed. “What kind of message does that send to the people – stay in the streets and keep fighting and keep your foot on their neck because that’s all they respect!”

A new report from the Civilian Complaint Review Board found that nearly two-thirds of complaints about NYPD officers’ mistreatment of youths stemmed from encounters with black and Hispanic children, including some “stopped for seemingly innocuous activities such as playing, high-fiving, running, carrying backpacks, and jaywalking.”

The watchdog agency’s report, based on a review of more than 100 complaints, highlights several instances of racial profiling and comes amid escalating calls for police reforms from hundreds of thousands of protesters nationwide since Floyd’s death. 

“It’s time for the NYPD to re-consider how officers police our youth, address disparities in law enforcement, and commit to swift discipline when officers engage in misconduct,” Fred Davie, chair of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, said in a statement.

The board recommended the NYPD take steps to prevent the “over-policing” of minority youths and break out its use of force data by age and race.

“A top priority Commissioner [Dermot] Shea has set for the NYPD is to reimagine doing all we can to protect and serve New York City’s kids,” the department said in a statement. “After careful review, we accept each of the CCRB’s thoughtful and constructive recommendations — some of which are already in the process of being implemented and all of which will strengthen our new youth strategy.”

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