starting point: All societies have to deal with social problems.
The hallmark of a democracy is that while it addresses social problems,
it is equally concerned with safeguarding civil and human rights.
This is what distinguishes it from a totalitarian society. It is
has often been said: "Mussolini made the trains run on time."
was no street crime in Nazi Germany."
I appeared on a segment of "60 Minutes," dealing with the question
of whether or not NYC was enjoying a "renaissance" under Mayor
Giuliani. At a meeting in preparation for the show, it became
apparent to me that indeed, we are still living in "two societies," as
the Kerner Commission noted in the late '60's--and that NYC is
really TWO separate cities.
producers of my "60 Minutes" segment came from the Midwest, were
new to New York, and enjoyed an upscale life in the city. They
and their friends, they told me, thought NYC was enjoying an
economic boom and had become a much safer and nicer place to
live. I told them that where you stood on the socio-economic
ladder and racial hierarchy determines how you feel about conditions
in the city.
the beginning, they didn't believe me when I told them that in
the city I live in, the city my community lives in, police routinely
roll up on people and demand identification, often at gunpoint.
They didn't believe the stories of the hundreds of young people
of color who are stopped everyday and ILLEGALLY searched. They
didn't believe the accounts of the dozens of people who have
been killed by racist cops because they were Latino, Black, or
is a reality in my society, in my city. A NY 1-NY Observer Poll
in September (9/10/97) illustrated this again: * 71% of city
voters believe police brutality is a serious problem (89% of
African Americans, 85% of Latinos, 60% of whites) *
Mayor Giuliani and Police Commissioner Safir tried to portray
the torture of Abner Louima by officers from the 70th Precinct
as an "isolated incident," 54% of city voters saw the case as
part of a widespread pattern of abusive police behavior (80%
of African Americans, 71% of Latinos, 39% of whites). * 45% of
city voters believe there are certain precincts where brutality
is tolerated by commanders. (61% of African Americans, 49% of
Latinos, 37% of whites)
we are asking you, as congressional representatives, to look
at this issue from the perspective of the inner-city communities
that bear the brunt of police brutality and misconduct. We are
asking you to understand the increase in police brutality in
NYC and across the country in the context of larger socio-economic
developments and a series of policy choices that have been made
nationally and locally.
year, the NY Times ran a series called "The Downsizing of America." The
series told readers that in one-third of all households in the
country, a family member had lost a job. The Times reported (3/3/96)
that workers with at least some college education made up the
majority of people whose jobs were eliminated in the last five
years. In addition to downsizing here, American corporations
have found a way to maximize profits by moving to low-wage nations
abroad and closing factories here.
factory" is one cause of the deindustrialization of the U.S.
Manufacturing jobs are disappearing, while most new jobs are
in the lower-paying service sectors. Globalization and deindustrialization
don't only result in higher unemployment. They cause a ripple
for each manufacturing job that is lost, three-and-a-half additional
jobs are affected--in support industries, service industries
and in local small businesses. As jobs are lost, local governments
face a drop in income from both corporate taxes and local taxes
paid by employees.
the same time, the demand for social services goes up, as newly
unemployed members of the community try to adjust and survive.
One study estimated that every 1% increase in unemployment, lasting
for 6 years, is associated with 37,000 deaths, 920 suicides,
650 homicides, 500 deaths from cirrhosis of the liver, 4,000
state mental health admissions, and 3,300 state prison admissions
(from The Deindustrialization of America)
together, globalization, deindustrialization, and the restructuring
of the economy have resulted in a decreased need for both unskilled
labor AND educated workers. There has been a shift to a low-paying
service and high-technology economy--the "Two Cities" theory
manifests itself again. However, most people of color are kept
out of the high tech and growth sectors of the economy through
constantly increasing educational requirements and outright discrimination.
American economy, as it is structured today, cannot absorb all
those who want to work; and it cannot reward its members for
hard work and education. Corresponding to a decline in America's
need for our labor, today, we see public schools in inner city
communities being allowed to deteriorate educationally and physically.
We also see the doors to the universities being shut in our faces.
of us who survive the public school system, and go on, face growing
obstacles in the colleges too. Open Admissions are dead; and
tuition rises every year. Cuts in financial aid coincide with
the nationwide attack on special admissions programs, ethnic
studies, and student support services. The economy does not need
our young people; and it seems everything possible is being done
to blunt our educational dreams.
THIS PLAYS OUT ON THE LOCAL LEVEL
NY city economy is deeply divided. We live in a two-tier economy--in "Two
Cities." In three key measures of economic health, unemployment,
job growth, and the local rate of inflation, New York is amongst
the weakest urban economies. New York has an unemployment rate
of almost 10%; it is about 50% for Black and Latino youth. The
city ranks ninth in job creation among the ten largest cities.
90,000 elementary students don't have classroom seats. These
realities are the result of policy choices and spending decisions
that have been made by the mayor and his municipal government.
For example, in 1996, the budget of the Youth Services Department
was cut by $15 million.
the same time, the Police Department spent an estimated $10 million
on a new "Youth Strategy," which consisted of approximately 150,000 "interventions" with
youth, picking up school truants and filing two kinds of juvenile
reports on youth perceived to be acting "improperly" (1996 City
Project report: "Doing Less with Less, Doing Less with More).
cuts to youth programs and the increase in juvenile arrests go
hand in hand. A 1997 report by the Citizen's Committee concluded
that with declines in funding and roughly 1 in 14 youths arrested
annually by the NYPD, youths age 13 to 20 have a greater chance
of getting arrested than they do of getting a job after school
or having a community youth program to go to after school (Citizen's
Committee: "Keeping Track of Children," 1997).
it any wonder that increasing numbers of us believe that government
has adopted a policy of replacing the coach with the cop. During
Giuliani's first year in office, juvenile arrests jumped to 98,553,
an increase of 22,229 over 1993. "Four of five arrests in Giuliani's
first year were for non-violent offenses such as disorderly conduct
and drug possession, and half were for violations so minor that
they did not require fingerprints, just a summons according to
the Division of Criminal Justice."
of youth for disorderly conduct, a charge that is used to cover
everything from hanging out on a corner to playing a radio that
a cop decides is "too loud," jumped from 4,516 in 1993 to 7,579
in 1994. The NYPD's "quality of life" sweeps are jailing an average
of 280 young people a day for activities like playing loud music,
not having "proper identification," loitering, and drinking beer
in the streets. (Newsday, 11/27/95) Hundreds of people are spending
hours, even days in crowded holding cells, just waiting to be
police commissioner Bratton predicted that his "quality of life" street
sweeps would "probably" result in some people's rights being
violated; but that it was worth it (NY Times, 6/20/96) These
arrests are not making our communities safer. They are ADDING
to the worries families now have about their loved ones' safety.
Communities of color, in particular, are being told that in order
to fight certain forms of crime, we must accept widespread violations
of civil and human rights and an increase of police abuse--a
different kind of crime.
CRIME - "BROKEN WINDOWS" THEORY
theory upon which Mayor Giuliani and the NYPD have based their
crime-fighting strategy is known as the "Broken Windows" theory," a
style of policing that's based on attacking "quality of life" offenses
and enforcing behavior that had not been considered "criminal" previously
(i.e., drinking in public, loud noise, panhandling). The "Broken
Windows" theory holds that petty offenses like these create an
atmosphere of disorder that leads to more serious offenses. I
cannot go into a detailed analysis or critique of this theory
here, but I'd like to share with you some of the points regarding
this strategy that we raised to the Philadelphia City Council
hired former NYPD Commissioner Bratton as a consultant and are
considering implementing the same strategy in Philadelphia, as
are a number of other cities across the country. First, a few
words about the drop in crime. * Crime is going down all over
the country, including in cities that have not implemented the "Quality
of Life" enforcement strategy. * Police must be given some of
the credit for the reduction of violent crime; but other factors
must be included and NURTURED as well. *
crime rate began going down in NYC during the last two years
of the Dinkins administration. It is dropping in all the major
urban centers. _ Demographic shift: 15-14 year old cohort (most "crime-prone")
has declined. (Daily News, 1/14/97) _ Crack has declined as the "drug
of choice." Heroin produces different kinds of crime. __Thousands
of youths across the country are involved in developing and maintaining
gang truces. _ Church and community-initiated "Stop the Violence
activities and campaigns are widespread.
the theory upon which NYC is basing its crime-fighting efforts
discusses "urban and community decay" in isolation from the issues
of jobs, government and private sector disinvestments and cuts
in youth programs. We argue that they can't be separated; and
that an anti-crime strategy that focuses on "quality of life" offenses,
while failing to create new jobs that pay a living wage and continuing
to decimate youth programs and support services only serves to
WORSEN the quality of life for inner-city communities.
of life" law-enforcement strategy has been accompanied by an
increase in police killings, routine stops and searches, and
police brutality complaints: from 3,596 in 1993, to 4,877 in
1994, to 5,618 in 1995, to 5,596 in 1996. In 1995, with the NYPD's "quality
of life" arrest program in full swing, we saw increases in the
following categories of complaints: guns fired (+21%), guns pointed
(+36%), use of pepper spray (+254%), improper search of person
(Up from 501 in 1994 to 544 in 1995/+9%), and unjustified threat
of arrest (+56%) (Newsday, 4/25/96). The cases that make the
news are the exceptions, not the rule.
are THOUSANDS of cases of harassment, unnecessary use of force,
and the casual use of racial slurs--and only a small number of
these are ever reported. As a matter of fact, these civil rights
violations are SO frequent that lawyers won't even deal with
them--unless there is a serious physical injury. Inevitably,
the routine violations of civil and human rights being experienced
daily by young people of color will also be felt in the larger
community. (Like how the drug plague didn't become "news" until
it spread to white communities) A number of recent articles
in the NY Times reflect the growing number of middle-class whites
who are now having THEIR rights violated. "Complaints
of police misconduct, from rudeness to physical abuse have risen
1994 to 1996, the city received 8,316 court claims of abuse by
officers, compared with 5,983 for the THREE previous years. And
from 1994 to 1996, the city paid about $70 million as settlements
or judgments--compared with the about $48 million in the three
previous years" ("In NY the Handcuffs Are One-Size-Fits-All.
NY Times) Commenting on changes in the NYPD under the new "quality
of life" arrest strategy, the head of the Latino Officer's Association,
Anthony Miranda, said: "It's like all bets were off, everything
was fair game. You're talking about a greater level of intrusion
in people's lives."
Miranda says the strategy can be an effective tool when used
with tolerance and common sense." But he said some officers use
the new powers disproportionately against minority youths, a
view reflected by others in the city.... Today, if an officer
has any suspicion, they can pull you to the side and frisk you,” said
Angel Rodriguez, the executive director of the Andrew Clifford
Clover Youth Program on the Lower East Side. Now it's no longer
George Kelling, a Rutger's University criminal-justice professor
who coauthored the "Broken Windows" theory--and helped Bratton
implement it--now worries that his ideas are getting twisted
on the ground. 'There is enormous potential for abuse,' he says.
He criticizes departments that encourage cops to demand IDs from
residents or conduct neighborhood drug sweeps, indiscriminately
stopping and frisking people--too often involving excessive force."
only do these policies fail to make our communities safer; but
they also erode the trust between police and community that is
crucial if ANY crime reduction approaches are to succeed. But
noting erodes that trust more than the rise in police killings
and beatings and the invariable cover-ups that follow.
THE "MESSAGE" COPS
ARE GETTING -- NOT ALL CRIMES ARE EQUAL
unidentified police officer was quoted in a NY Post article that
reported a 37% increase in complaints of brutality and racism
against police in the year after Mayor Giuliani took office and
Police Commissioner Bratton instituted the "quality of life" arrest
strategy. The unidentified cop told the paper: "Bratton wants
us to break heads--we'll break heads." (NY Post 1/11/95) In addition
to the increase in brutality complaints (only the tip of the
iceberg), in addition to the hundreds of cases of unjustified
harassment of young people, we are also seeing an increase in
police killings and cover-ups.
police brutality is a crime, neither the mayor nor the NYPD has
implemented a zero-tolerance strategy for THIS kind of crime.
In addition, another kind of crime has also increased. Bias crimes,
racial and homophobic hate crimes have gone up 27% under Mayor
have heard the testimony of the families of Manuel Mayi and Jovan
Gonzalez, both victims of racist gangs. In both these cases,
the NYPD has actively discouraged the families from seeking justice.
Although the Mayi family has hired its own investigator and now
has the names of the members of the gang that killed Manny, including
one who has since become a police officer--the NYPD has refused
mayor, while he was campaigning for reelection promised to reinstate
a $10,000 reward and to name a Queens street after Manny Mayi--but
he's done nothing. In the Jovan Gonzalez case, the police are
refusing to circulate a police artist's sketch of one of the
gang members. Obviously, when they talk about "fighting crime" and "zero
tolerance," they are not talking about police crimes or racial
crimes against Latinos and other people of color.
issue of police brutality and misconduct cannot be examined in
a vacuum. Today, as globalization and deindustrialization bring
profound changes to the U.S., we see an economy that cannot provide
jobs for all who want them; and we watch as the youth of our
communities are locked out of the U.S. economy.
only program America seems to be willing to invest in for our
young people is expanded prison spending. We see our youth become
the raw material that these prisons process--while whole upstate
communities thrive from prison-related industries. Indeed, the
prison industry is one of the fastest growing and most profitable
in the country.
new policing strategy that has become synonymous with Mayor Giuliani
and the NYPD is being projected as a model for the entire nation.
But you can't evaluate it in isolation from the disinvestments
in education, jobs, and developmental and supportive programs.
This is how the poor and racially subordinated communities that
have been locked out of the economy see this policing approach.
simultaneously with government disinvestments in our youth, and
economic marginalization, we believe its real purpose is to intimidate
our communities into silence (about the direction the nation
is taking, about our being locked out of the economy), to put
us on the defensive, and to lower our expectations.
families consider themselves lucky if their children grow up
without being arrested or killed. Many inner city youth consider
it a rite of passage to go to jail; they EXPECT to be arrested
and jailed. This is a crime that has been committed against us:
the lowering of our expectations, the taking away of hope from
young people. Systemic police brutality and the institutionalized
cover-ups that invariably follow are part of this crime.
of the National Congress
for Puerto Rican Rights' Justice Committte