Letter To Council On Gang Policing Hearings
Dear Council Member Richards,
We write to you to request that the City Council's Committee on Public Safety hold public hearings on the so-called "gang" raids that have been executed in the city by the NYPD, in some cases alongside federal authorities. We are also calling on the Black Latino/a and Asian Caucus (BLAC) to support efforts to bring transparency to the police department's escalating use of raids and sweeping conspiracy indictments almost exclusively in poor neighborhoods of color.
As you may know, the police department has intensified its takedowns of large numbers of people alleged to be gang or "crew" members over the past few years, dubbing the approach "precision policing," which includes the NYPD's Operation Crew Cut, which began under former police commissioner Ray Kelly. In fact, media reports indicate that the NYPD has arrested over 2,000 New Yorkers – the overwhelming majority of whom are Black and Latino – in just the last 18 months. We believe that, like the widespread stop-and-frisk strategies that the NYPD relied upon in the recent past, gang designations are likely to be over-inclusive and inaccurate. Unlike the stop and frisk records, gang databases are secret, do not require even a suspicion of criminality, and are often not subject to judicial review. Indeed, the NYPD has not publicly disclosed whether there is any way to challenge gang designations, or whether people may “age out” of their designation, for example as they mature and go away to college. Many of those arrested and their families have maintained their innocence.
We are also concerned about the potential, if not the likelihood, that NYPD gang designations lead to federal immigration enforcement actions. We know that Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) – whose Homeland Security Investigations division works closely with the NYPD and other local police departments – has designated teenagers as "gang members" in its own databases based on specious criteria like footwear. In fact, an ICE agent admitted to CBS that his agency’s purpose for classifying immigrants as gang members is to persuade judges to detain them without bond while their cases proceed, and similar tactics may be in use in local criminal cases. The NYPD, as FOIL documents have revealed, uses similar criteria and worse for its own gang designations, and we are concerned that this information may be shared with federal agencies, including ICE.
We believe it is irresponsible and dangerous to assign guilt, particularly with such high stakes, based on a person's perceived association(s). Some of the factors for gang designation include simply living in a neighborhood police say is gang territory. There is also a troubling reliance on surveillance of social media activity by not only the police, but also local and federal prosecutors, that can lead to misinterpretations of slang and other expressions of urban culture to criminalize people for actions in which they had no role.
We believe that the NYPD's gang policing methods amount to a dangerous dragnet that is unfairly ensnaring people in major criminal cases. We respectfully urge the Council to use its oversight power to help us answer some of the community's concerns about the loose criteria for labeling someone a gang member or associate and how these designations are used in federal and local prosecutions, particularly those involving sweeping conspiracy charges. We also believe that there are meaningful and effective alternatives to address the very real violence problems facing these communities, such as community-based violence interrupters who can reduce gun violence without relying on mass raids or other so-called “gang suppression” forms of policing.
We look forward to discussing this further.
Black Alliance for Just Immigration
Black Youth Project 100 NYC
Bronxites for NYPD Accountability
The Bronx Defenders
Brooklyn Defender Services
Center for Appellate Litigation
Coalition to End Broken Windows
CUNY School of Law's Black Law Students Association
CUNY School of Law’s Police Accountability Organization
El Grito de Sunset Park
Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee NYC
Legal Aid Society
Mi Casa No Es Tu Casa
The Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem
National Lawyers Guild – NYC Chapter
Police Reform Organizing Project
The Policing and Social Justice Project at Brooklyn College
Red Hook Initiative
Rockaway Youth Task Force
VOCAL - NY