Monday, October 31, 2011

NYPD Misconduct Takes Center Stage

Recently, our city's police force has been in the news for its misconduct. The conduct has been both disappointing and shocking.

False Arrest

On October 17, the FBI arrested Michael Daragjati, an eight-year NYPD veteran, for false arrest of a Black New Yorker. The officer did not realize his conversations were being taped and used a racial slur in describing his own conduct. ". . . fried another nigger," he said, which suggests he makes a habit of false arrests of Black residents of our city.

The victim of the arrest was in jail for 36 hours after a stop-and-frisk. Because the stop-and-frisk did not result in the recover of a weapon or drugs, the officer arrested the Black resident for "resisting arrest." The practice of arresting Black New Yorkers for resisting arrest should stop. An arrest must be justified by some other conduct before the charge of resisting (real or imagined) should be considered.

Officer Daragjati admitted on the taped conversations that he often beat our fellow citizens without justification and that he would be terminated if his conduct were exposed.

Amazingly, this officer had been successfully sued twice previously for falsely arresting Black residents, but he has been sent back out into our city to abuse more of our Black population. Our tax dollars have been used to pay some of his previous victims, yet he has received the support of the NYPD to add to his list of victims.

The mistreatment of the Black people in our city should be viewed by the NYPD and by our Mayor as a problem rather than a goal.

Ticket Fixing Scandal 

Last week, 16 NYPD officers were arraigned in the Bronx for illegally "fixing" tickets for their friends and families, and another 300+ officers will be disciplined for their participation in the scandal.

In a disappointing twist, hundreds of NYPD personnel came to the Bronx courthouse at the time of the arraignment to protest the action being taken against the NYPD officers who illegally "fixed" the tickets. The protesting officers argued that the NYPD should be able to "fix" tickets as a matter of professional courtesy.

The scandal involving more than 300 officers is troubling, but the concept of an even larger number of officers protesting the indictment of those who got caught is far more troubling. The endorsement of criminality by the NYPD's officers is inconsistent with their law enforcement role.

Also troubling is the lack of prosecutions outside of the Bronx for this criminal behavior, even though the NYPD has admitted that the NYPD ticket "fixing" crimes were widespread in all five boroughs. If the District Attorneys in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island are willing to ignore criminal behavior by the NYPD in the face of well-publicized prosecutions in the Bronx, those District Attorneys send a message that officers should feel comfortable behaving as if they are part of an organized crime operation. That criminal mentality create the stop-and-frisk abuses discussed above and puts New York City residents at risk.

The Mayor, the Police Commissioner, and all five District Attorneys must make it clear to the NYPD and its officers that they should not endorse criminal behavior.

Held Captive

A Brooklyn woman announced last week that she was suing NYC because of NYPD conduct. She claims to have been held captive for five days by the NYPD in Brooklyn after being shot in the leg by a stray bullet.

Based on her claims, the NYPD held her as a ploy to get her to lie and state that a friend of hers had shot her. Because she refused to lie, she was punished by being held captive.

Only after five days of abuse was she released. Her friend had passed a lie detector test and subjected himself to gun residue tests. In a sense, he was guilty until proven innocent, and his friend's refusal to implicate him in a crime cost her five days of her life.

The behavior of the NYPD should not imitate criminality. False arrests, ticket fixing, and false imprisonment are evidence that the NYPD must change.

The record levels of stop-and-frisks must end, and the NYPD must get out of the crime business and back into the crime prevention business.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Scott Stringer Takes on the NYPD's Racist Stop-and-Frisk Policing

Last we week, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer continued to make Manhattan residents proud as he accelerated his emergence as the clearest and loudest voice amongst elected officials opposing the brutal racism of the policing approach used in New York City.

Stringer in September

In September of  this year, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer took a stand against Mayor Bloomberg's stop-and-frisk policies. He highlighted that over 600,000 NYC residents were stopped last year and that we're on a pace to exceed that number and set a new record this year. With nearly all of those stopped being young men of color, Stringer felt compelled to try to end the practice.

Stringer could not have been more accurate in saying, "We cannot wait a minute longer to have an honest examination of stop-and-frisk and the collateral damage it inflicts on our city every day."

He was also accurate in September when he called on Mayor Bloomberg and the NYPD to create an expert panel to help the NYPD establish new strategies for law enforcement that are not based on race or skin color and that will reduce the number of stop-and-frisk incidents and "achieve the right balance between policing and civil rights.”

While we at Manhattan Viewpoint, the NYCLU, and many other groups have criticized the NYPD's racist stop-and-frisk policing policies, Borough President Stringer is the first top-tier prospective candidate for NYC Mayor in 2013 to aggressively and publicly embrace the need to end the stop-and-frisk nightmare. NYC Public Advocate Bill De Blasio has expressed a quieter level opposition to stop-and-frisk. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn's support of the racist practice should disqualify her as a potential future Mayor. Thus far, Stringer stands alone as a genuine advocate for ending the racist practice.

Stringer in October

Last week, only a day before a major Harlem protest of the NYPD's stop-and-frisk policies that featured Cornel West, Borough President Stringer once again raised his voice to loudly and clearly demand that the Mayor join the rest of us in the 21st Century and end the practice of using skin color as a proxy for criminality.

Stringer wrote a compelling opinion piece in the New York Daily News that provided a superb description of the flaws in the current race-based approach and provided a sincere and tested solution.

Yesterday, I joined with state State Senator Eric Adams in calling for a federal investigation into current stop-and-frisk practices. In 2000, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights concluded that the NYPD street-stop program amounted to racial profiling. Eleven years and millions of stops later, the city is still waiting for a street-stop policy that is designed to identify true threats.

As a federal court in Manhattan found last month, serious questions remain about racial disparities in current stop-and-frisk practices; about the constitutionality of stops that do not result in arrest and about the role quotas may have played in driving the fourfold increase in stops over the past decade. A new investigation that focuses on each of these issues would help to answer these questions and chart a road map for reform.

What we know already about stop-and-frisk should give us all pause. This year, the NYPD is on track to stop 700,000 New Yorkers. And yet in 93% of all stops last year, police could find no reason to make an arrest.

The police say stop-and-frisk is an important strategy for getting guns off the street, a priority that must remain paramount. But in fact, guns are recovered in only 0.2% of the cases, a success rate that would be judged a failure if applied to any other government program.

Lastly, 85% of those stopped last year were black or Latino. Some counter that the high proportion of stops in communities of color merely reflects the ethnic makeup of high-crime neighborhoods, but the numbers tell a different story. NYPD data show that among those stopped, whites, blacks and Latinos are actually arrested in equal proportion, about 7% of the time.

What stop-and-frisk is reaping is not so much guns, but a deep layer of distrust between police and the city's black and Latino neighborhoods, and that makes solving crime harder, not easier.

We should not wait for the results of a federal investigation to implement immediate reforms. Last month, at a forum at Riverside Church, I offered a blueprint for improving stop-and-frisk, not ending it.

We should pilot our own version of "Operation Ceasefire," a community-based policing strategy now employed by some 70 cities. By joining together the police and district attorneys with social services that offer jobs and other paths off the streets, this approach slashed homicide rates in Chicago and Boston by double digits.

We should train officers to make street stops more constitutional and less confrontational. The Fourth Amendment has been interpreted clearly: An officer can make a stop only when he has reasonable suspicion that an individual is committing, has committed or is about to commit a crime. Even then, the officer may frisk a subject only when he reasonably suspects that he is in danger of physical injury. That's not what is happening on the streets of New York today.

Lastly, we should hold precinct commanders accountable for the proper execution of stops-and-frisks.

The day we do all that, New York will be a better, safer place for all of us.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Occupation Continues in Manhattan

Occupy Wall Street and its progeny around the world have the potential to improve our country and our planet, but these movements also have an element of class warfare and demagoguery that could do great harm.

Occupy Wall Street

For a month, protesters have been assembled in Lower Manhattan and called themselves "Occupy Wall Street" - OWS. The OWS movement started out looking too weak to last this long. It turns one month old today and shows no signs of slowing down. OWS participants are protesting against economic inequality and corporate greed. They have adopted the phrase "We are the 99%" as one of their key slogans; it alludes to their view that the top 1% wealthiest Americans are controlling the politics and economics of our country, failing to pay their fair share of taxes, and abusing the other 99% of us. The movement has shown staying power and seems to be strengthening.

The Occupy Wall Street movement has close to $300,000, as well as storage space loaded with donated supplies in lower Manhattan. It stared down city officials to hang on to its makeshift headquarters, showed its muscle Saturday with a big Times Square demonstration and found legions of activists demonstrating in solidarity across the country and around the world.
The legions have been demonstrating in 70 major cities around the world, and the number seems to grow every day. It all started in Lower Manhattan.

While the movement has compared itself to the Arab Spring, the movement lacks the revolutionary momentum of the Arab Spring. While the Arab Spring set its sights on ending generations of dictatorships, OWS has a generic and contradictory message that has not yet jelled into a massage that calls for anything specific to change in our society. Arab Spring sought to topple governments, replace leaders, and usher in democracy. OWS needs to find a voice that speaks to what it wants to achieve and move beyond the simplicity of opposing greed.

Why Occupy?

The OWS movement has been criticized for, among other things, 1) lacking specific demands, and 2) reflecting many obvious contradictions. 

These criticisms are legitimate. While some have dismissed the need for a coherent set of goals for the OWS movement, no movement can improve our country or our world unless it is demanding that improvements be made. Simply opposing inequality and greed is insufficient. The movement must have steps it is demanding be taken to reduce inequality.

Also, the vagueness of the anti-inequality stance of OWS leaves it vulnerable to appearing to be anti-capitalism, anti-wealth creation, and anti-economic-success. OWS seems contradictory when its participants and leaders use Twitter, Facebook, and Apple products to organize their activities and promote their agenda, because these companies thrive today because they previously received the support of "greedy" venture capitalists who provided them the cash necessary to have the dramatic effects they've had on our planet. These companies have changed lives and spurred economic opportunities with the help of the wealthiest in our society who supported these companies in an effort to become even wealthier.

The country believes that wealth inequality is too great in our country, even though the country underestimates the level of inequality. If people understood the level of inequality, the focus on finding solutions to it would likely increase. Perhaps that is the genius of OWS, it will simply educate people that the inequality they already dislike is far more pronounced than they believed. One might argue that contagious diseases get more focus from policy makers because voters fear being infected, while genetic diseases, even if more deadly and more common, do not capture the same level of focus. If OWS can make wealth inequality, which has thus far been treated as a genetic disease, the recipient of the focus we give to contagious diseases, OWS will have made a very big difference in our society. Swine Flu was defeated by our country within one year. Imagine if the Swine Flu was the cause of wealth inequality.

RLJ Rule

Robert L. Johnson, the founder of BET, has proposed a step the American companies can take to reduce wealth inequality in our society between white and Black households.

We have focused in the past on the racial wealth gap - the median white household has twenty times the wealth of the median Black household. 20 to 1. That is a shocking statistic, and it represents a major barrier to improvements in the quality of life of Black Americans.

Robert L. Johnson's approach is called the "RLJ Rule."
(a) encourages companies to voluntarily implement a plan to interview a minimum of two qualified African American candidates for every job opening at the vice president level and above; and
(b) encourages companies to interview at least two qualified African American firms for vendor supplier/services contracts before awarding a new company contract to a vendor.
Johnson makes clear the purpose of this voluntary rule is not to suggest quotas or that companies hire any individual or minority firm that is not qualified. Johnson notes that the RLJ Rule, if implemented properly, will further enhance a company's already established commitment to diversity and inclusion.

OWS needs to find its "RLJ Rule" proposal. What should our country do differently to improve opportunities and reduce inequality.

As the world watches Lower Manhattan, I hope that OWS will be more than an attack on wealth and economic achievement. It must be a force for improving lives and expanding economic opportunity.

Monday, October 10, 2011

FDNY Racism Confirmed By Federal Judge Part II

Last week, Mayor Bloomberg's dedication to racial discrimination was highlighted by a Federal Judge. This is only days after the same Judge focused on the intensity of the racial discrimination within our city's fire department.

Previous Judicial Findings

In last week's blog, we wrote that the Judge in the FDNY racial discrimination case stated:

The under-representation of black firefighters in the FDNY — a direct result and vestige of the city’s pattern and practice of discrimination against black firefighter candidates — is responsible for making blacks significantly less likely to apply to become New York City firefighters. The city’s culture of bureaucratic blame-shifting and accountability avoidance [exposes the fact that] the city does not want to be held accountable for the results of its recruitment efforts. This is unacceptable.
The Judge found that our city government kept the Black population of the FDNY at 3% or below through a practice of discrimination against Black applicants and would-be applicants.

The Mayor's behavior remains difficult to understand or accept. After many years of fighting such decisions, Mayor Bloomberg vowed to fight on in his efforts to retain his right to an all-white fire department in the nation's largest city. If he has evidence that our city's residents believe that only white fire fighters can protect our city, he should both provide that evidence and work to help our city's residents learn to evaluate talent and competence without a bias against non-white professionals. If he has evidence that having Black firefighters in our city will result in less safety, he should provide that evidence. Thus far, he has doggedly and unceasingly fought to avoid bringing racial integration to the FDNY without offering any evidence that an all-white fire department is a superior approach than the adoption of racial integration. If he is motivated simply by a psychological need to avoid racial integration, he needs to understand that there are Federal laws that will ultimately prevent him from implementing his racist approach indefinitely. Eventually, he will be forced to follow the law and allow non-white fire fighters at the FDNY.

There is anecdotal evidence that his obsession with racial discrimination is also very observant. When he learned that Black Community leaders were helping Black candidates apply for entry into the FDNY, Mayor Bloomberg changed the application procedure in order to undermine that assistance. He even made paper applications difficult to obtain.

What Next?

Last week, the Federal Judge issued a ruling that specifically focused on the Bloomberg Administration's pro-racism approach to the FDNY. In deciding that a court-appointed monitor of hiring practices at the FDNY was necessary, the Judge stated:
Though the city's use of discriminatory hiring practices has persisted through numerous changes in city leadership, the evidence adduced in this case gives the court little hope that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg or any of his senior leadership has any intention of stepping up to the task of ending discrimination in the FDNY.

The Judge called the FDNY a "stubborn bastion of white male privilege" and addressed Bloomberg's obsession with preventing racial integration at the FDNY.
Instead of facing hard facts and asking hard questions about the city's abysmal track record of hiring black and Hispanic firefighters, the Bloomberg administration dug in and fought back [against efforts to end discrimination]. Today - four years of litigation and two adverse liability rulings later - the city still doesn't get it.
Bloomberg, predictably, vowed to fight indefinitely for the right to avoid adding Black fire fighters to the FDNY. His lead attorney stated that Bloomberg will appeal the rulings "as soon as the law allows."

Bloomberg's commitment to racial discrimination reminds us of our reaction to Bloomberg's announcement of a $30 million donation to a $127 million effort to improve the lives of young men of color in New York City. Bloomberg's $30 million was matched by billionaire George Soros.
For now, the most powerful action Mayor Bloomberg can take to improve the lives of men of color in our city is an action that he can take without the help of George Soros or any of his fellow billionaires. He should resign.

Monday, October 3, 2011

FDNY Racism Confirmed By Federal Judge

A Federal Judge has confirmed that the Fire Department of New York lacks people of color because of a practice of excluding people of color from its ranks.


As we stated a year ago:

Despite extensive and persistent efforts, the FDNY remains a racially discriminatory institution. Our city's fire department is more than 90% white, but Mayor Bloomberg has fought the addition of people of color to our fire department. After a decade of very credible complaints about the racially discriminatory hiring practices at the FDNY, Mayor Bloomberg remained committed to the racially discriminatory approach he led from City Hall. Finally, the Bush Administration's US Justice Department sued New York City in order to combat the racial discrimination that Mayor Bloomberg stubbornly promoted. The Bush Administration won the law suit, but the Bloomberg Administration refused to end its discrimination.

The courts have attempted to guide the Bloomberg administration away from racial discrimination, but they have failed. A federal judge gave Mayor Bloomberg five options for hiring a class of FDNY rookies this year and ending the pattern of racial discrimination. Mayor Bloomberg rejected all five options and decided to hire no FDNY rookies this year.

We are not surprised, but we are saddened to see Mayor Bloomberg put our lives in jeopardy in order to keep the FDNY more than 90% white. We need the additional firefighters, and we need an end to the racial discrimination at the FDNY.

When residents of New York City are facing the terror of a fire, they never demand that only white fire fighters participate in the life saving work that is needed from the FDNY. In fact, our city's residents have not demonstrated Mayor Bloomberg's commitment to racial discrimination. Perhaps the people of our city will raise their voices and demand that our city bring on board the additional fire fighters that our city had planned to hire - and demand that the new hires not be selected in a manner designed to prevent persons of color from joining the FDNY.

Latest Development

Last week, Brooklyn Federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis issued an 81 page opinion stating that Black firefighters had proven their claims that minorities trying to become firefighters suffer disadvantages. The Judge's decision on remedies remains to be declared, but observers expect the Judge to require substantial oversight from outside of the NYC government. Garaufis said, "The court cannot adequately ensure the city’s compliance with applicable equal employment opportunity laws and the absence of court supervision."

In a stinging indictment of NYC's approach to hiring at the FDNY, the Judge wrote:
The under-representation of black firefighters in the FDNY — a direct result and vestige of the city’s pattern and practice of discrimination against black firefighter candidates — is responsible for making blacks significantly less likely to apply to become New York City firefighters. The city’s culture of bureaucratic blame-shifting and accountability avoidance [exposes the fact that] the city does not want to be held accountable for the results of its recruitment efforts. This is unacceptable.
The efforts to keep the FDNY all white are indeed unacceptable and were a key priority of the current NYC Mayor during all ten years of his continuing reign.