This week, the New York City Council voted on two critical policing bills. The first, Intro 541-C, was part of the Right to Know Act, a package of legislation aimed at protecting the civil and human rights of all New Yorkers during everyday interactions with the NYPD. This bill required officers to document consent to a search, and provide information to people they stop and search about how they can file a complaint about police conduct. Also voted on was Intro 182-D, a counterproductive bill that whittled away a number of protections for New Yorkers while being falsely heralded as police reform.
Through our years of litigation and advocacy, we have found that a vast number of police encounters routinely experienced by New Yorkers, particularly those of color, are not officially recorded. A recent report by the court-appointed monitor in our landmark stop-and-frisk case confirmed this finding— and these types of police encounters would have been addressed head-on by the enhanced protections originally contemplated and subsequently removed from Intro 182.
Over the last few months, we and others in the Right to Know Act Coalition and the Communities United for Police Reform campaign were championing two comprehensive police reform bills. But at the very last minute, Council Member Ritchie Torres—the lead sponsor of one of those bills, Intro 182—pulled the version supported by 200+ community groups and instead submitted a compromise version backed by the NYPD and the mayor which effectively removed the key provisions of the bill. Intro 182 was originally intended to require officers to identify themselves during common policing encounters, even those that are usually not recorded but are an everyday reality for communities of color, and provide reasons for the stop. And yet, the version that Council Member Torres finally put up for a vote exempted officers from showing their ID in a vast majority of encounters. Put simply: there were very few “rights to know” enshrined in 182-D.
Moreover, the very community groups that conceived of and supported this bill, beginning over four years ago, were shut out of the conversation—a disturbing indication of just how dangerously compromised Intro 182-D became. After years of organizing, our coalition refused to support a bill that undercut and put at risk the communities that had worked so hard to make it possible. In the days before the official vote, we escalated our actions, flooding the phone lines and Twitter feeds of City Council Members. Several, one by one, stepped away from the bill. Those who did took note of the facts we raised; hundreds of community groups, including the mothers of New Yorkers who were killed by NYPD officers, opposed this back-door compromise for a reason.
During the finger-biting session on Tuesday, we watched as the New York City Council voted one by one on both Intro 182-D and 541-C. The strength of our coalition was evident in the fact that several council members refused to support Intro 182-D in its compromised form, even when the mayor, the speaker of the city council, and the NYPD itself had put their public support behind it. Intro 182-D passed, but barely, with 27 votes—26 are needed to pass a bill through the City Council. In good news, our uncompromised Intro 541-C, sponsored by Council Member Antonio Reynoso, passed with a veto-proof majority. This will end unconstitutional searches by police and advance safety for New Yorkers.
It was bittersweet. On Tuesday, our victory was passing Intro 541-C, which will ensure New Yorkers aren’t tricked into consenting to searches. City Council members turned their backs on communities of color by narrowly passing Intro 182-D, but our demonstration of people power made the loss close. Rest assured, we aren’t going anywhere, and will keep fighting for true police reform directed by communities most affected by police abuses.