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Time to End NYPD's Racial Profiling

Posted: Nov 13, 2012

In Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) conducts indiscriminate and highly intrusive surveillance of Arab American businesses, mosques, coffee shops, and civic associations. In Brownsville and East New York, the NYPD stops, interrogates, and frisks a startlingly disproportionate number of innocent young Black and Latino men for nothing more than walking to the subway, going to school, or leaving for work. While these police policies affect different communities, they share the same basic problems. They are both based on illegal racial and religious profiling; they both don’t work; and they both destroy critical trust between the police and the people they are sworn to protect. New legislation pending before the City Council would go a long way toward addressing these abuses, increasing oversight, and restoring public confidence in policing.

As directors of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Arab American Association of New York, we recognize the common marks of discriminatory policing. The methods may be different, but the idea is the same. Rather than policing based on evidence of criminal activity, the NYPD policing is based on ethnicity and religion. The NYPD justifies its stop-and-frisk policy by pointing to higher crime rates in certain precincts. It contends that “leads” drive its surveillance of American Muslims. But the reality is that these programs disproportionately impact members of Black, Latino, and Arab American communities without any reason to suspect they are involved in criminal activity. Such profiling violates our constitutional rights as well as state and federal laws.

Moreover, the NYPD has very little to show for it. With respect to Muslim surveillance, Assistant Chief Thomas Galati recently testified that the NYPD’s mapping program has not produced a single lead in at least six years. With respect to stop-and-frisk, statistics show that the NYPD stops innocent people nearly 88 percent of the time, neither arresting them nor issuing a summons. Even stops that lead to arrest appear to be suspect. After discovering that many people arrested on trespass charges in public housing were actually innocent, the Bronx District Attorney has declined to prosecute such cases without first interviewing the officer involved to ensure the arrest was warranted.

Not only are the NYPD’s policies illegal and ineffective, but they also damage public trust in the police. Public trust is essential to public safety, from solving crimes to preventing terrorism. But by singling out communities for scrutiny based on color or creed, it stigmatizes and alienates them, creating a rift between the police and the people they are supposed to protect. It is not a crime to be Black. It is not a crime to be Latino. It is not a crime to be Muslim. Residents of this city, of every color and religion, should feel protected – not threatened, harassed, or intimidated – by their police department. The NYPD must work with these communities to rebuild the trust it has so irresponsibly destroyed.

It is time to end illegal profiling in New York City and seek to prevent such abuses from occurring again. The City Council is now considering legislation, known as the Community Safety Act, which would represent a big step in this direction. In particular, the Act calls for the creation of an Inspector General to help oversee the NYPD. An NYPD Inspector General would provide the transparency needed for the Mayor and City Council to better exercise their oversight responsibilities and increase public confidence in policing. It would also have the mandate, expertise, and perspective to protect civil liberties as the NYPD works to keep New Yorkers safe. And it would be a mechanism to promote reform from within while keeping the public informed.

As two young leaders from two different communities, it is critical that we speak with once voice to denounce discriminatory policing in all of its pernicious incarnations. It is also imperative that we act together in support of desperately needed reform and oversight. That is why we believe it is imperative to pass the Community Safety Act and create an NYPD Inspector General.

Linda Sarsour is the National Advocacy Director at the Arab American Association of New York and Marvin Bing is Northeast Regional Director at the NAACP.

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