My new op-ed. The NYPD is *unreformable.* Despite decades of reform, they're still using banned chokeholds. Cars, chemicals, bicycles & batons as weapons. Conduct that, if committed by people I represented, would be prosecuted as violent felonies. More: https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/video-police-abuses-nypd-trampling-constitution-reveal-inefficacy-reform-ncna1235333
The NYT recently released its analysis of dozens of brutal videos from first 10 days protests. As public defenders & attorneys specializing in criminal & civil law, we were asked to review this video & assess the NYPD’s behavior. It was highly disturbing. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/07/14/nyregion/nypd-george-floyd-protests.html
"The brazen violence against protestors during those first 10 days was no aberration. This week an 18 y/o was tackled in broad daylight. Rushed into an unmarked van. This parallels brutality we know happens every day in the communities of those we serve." https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/video-shows-new-york-police-loading-person-unmarked-minivan-n1235151
The corrosive and deeply disproportionate application of “justice” by the NYPD is exactly why protesters are demanding major cuts to the their budget and personnel, with funds diverted to community initiatives. And indeed, our analysis brought us to an unavoidable conclusion:
Conclusion: Despite decades of reforms intended to stem police violence and improve transparency, the NYPD, like other police departments around the country, is a force that is beyond reform. In fact, it is a force seemingly dedicated to proving this point at every opportunity.
NYPD's unreformability is a key bc of its size & prominence in the policing conversation. Over 36k officers & yearly costs exceeding $10 billion. The NYPD is the largest in the country. It & its unions have outsize influence & impact when it comes to trends in American policing.
Let’s look at the department’s inability to follow its own rules, as laid out in the NYPD Patrol Guide, a voluminous document that reflects various progressive reforms implemented after previous public pressure campaigns. The guide is also available online: https://www1.nyc.gov/site/nypd/about/about-nypd/patrol-guide.page
Following other brutal crackdowns on protests, including during the 2004 RNC in NYC, NYPD began advising officers not to “‘punish,’ rather, be ‘professional’ at all times,” to be “tolerant of verbal abuse uttered” & to “ensure only minimum force is used to achieve objectives.”
NYPD patrol guide also explicitly bans chokeholds — a change enacted in 1993 after police killed 21-year-old Federico Pereira—& requires officers to provide their names & badge numbers & to have both clearly visible while on duty—implemented as part of the 2018 Right to Know Act.
In all encounters we analyzed, officers violated at least 2 specific prohibitions in the Patrol Guide. Refusals to provide name/badge numbers. Excessive force. Improper use of pepper spray. Failure to provide med care. Accosting legal observers. Punishing protestors for speech.
Taken together, my colleagues and I could only conclude that officers feel free to violate the NYPD’s stated mission, vision & values.
How about the Constitution as a guide for the NYPD? Turns out, the NYPD doesn't care about that either. More:
Much of the NYPD’s conduct in the videos are clear violations of protesters’ constitutional rights. People have the right to record police, exercise free speech & protest w/o facing violence Yet we saw officers using force w/o any justification & needlessly escalating encounters.
The Constitution provides little disincentive. Neither individual officers sued nor NYPD are responsible for any settlement (taxpayers are), repeat offenders arent disciplined, settlements exclude admissions of wrongdoing, & court-ordered changes are disregarded w/o consequence.
Police are also governed, in theory, by criminal laws. In over half the videos we reviewed of the first ten days of protests in NYC, we saw clear-cut evidence of conduct that would surely invite violent felony charges if the perpetrators hadn’t been wearing badges. Some examples:
This is Rioting in the First degree. “Engaging in tumultuous and violent conduct” that caused or created "a grave risk of causing public alarm.” A felony committed by over 10 officers. On May 31, 2020.
This is assault. Either in the third degree (misdemeanor) or second degree (violent felony) depending on injuries. According to follow up posts, she was hospitalized, suffering from seizures.
This is robbery in the second degree. A class C violent felony. For forcibly stealing this women’s property while aided by others. Minimum sentence 3.5 years. Maximum 15.
This is attempted murder. One count for each protestor in the path of these officers who rammed their cars into crowds of people.
Many of the videos of violent acts committed by NYPD showed “white shirts,” the NYPD’s highest-ranking officers, committing, aiding & encouraging these crimes. Make on average $169,307/yr. $300 million total. 3x times program budget in NYC for mental health for children & youth.
Hard to imagine a clearer reflection of the vast chasm btwn the criminal legal system’s treatment of police & the people they abuse. While thousands of protesters are facing charges, almost all of the hundreds of officers seen assaulting them remain on active duty.
We know little about any active investigations. Even though NY just repealed the most extreme police secrecy law in the country, the 5 major police unions immediately sued & are now in federal court fighting against it. Right now, they seem to be winning. https://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/ny-nyclu-police-misconduct-records-20200723-44iyn7sf6zflrdric4yk3je22q-story.html
It seems unlikely that any officer will face consequences for criminal conduct. Prosecutors routinely decline to charge police when they commit crimes, even when caught on video, & continue to rely on these same officers to provide evidence & testimony, and to make arrests.
Prosecutors are also complicit in police brutality through their prosecutions of the victims of police assault, often by pursuing charges such as resisting arrest. And by leveraging trumped-up charges, they may force pleas that foreclose some causes of action in civil lawsuits.
These videos only strengthened our conviction that police violence will never be addressed thru reform efforts alone. NYPD has routinely opposed even the most modest changes designed to curb abuse—including the city’s chokehold ban.
We know well that when police fail in their efforts to kneecap reform, they can simply flout new regulations with impunity, in violation not only of the department’s own rules but of criminal statutes and the U.S. Constitution.
But perhaps most telling is the fact that all of this is playing out while the world is watching. If police are so emboldened to act this way in the face of intense public scrutiny, imagine what they do when cameras aren’t recording. We know what they do. More:
The people we represent are often subjected to brutal police violence. They are hauled into court w/ bloody noses, black eyes & broken bones, then subjected to a criminal legal system that prioritizes the testimony of those same officers. Police abuse is endemic.
All of this speaks to a deep structural rot in policing and the inefficacy of reform alone. The police have repeatedly demonstrated their unwillingness to change, often with deadly consequences.
Any proposal that fails to defund the police & significantly reduce the size of the department, allowing for meaningful investment in communities, would serve as little more than a symbolic gesture intended to preserve the status quo. More of the same is too dangerous to ignore.
This piece was written with the most incredibly attorneys & advocates I know. @JennBorchetta
—Managing Director of Impact Litigation at @BronxDefenders
. Jennvine Wong, head of the Cop Accountability Project at @LegalAidNYC
. And @mk_esq
, Senior policy counsel at @BklynDefender
We all spent dozens of hours working together, analyzing, bouncing ideas around, working through the real trauma of watching these videos. I learned so much from you all. Total collaborative effort. Let’s keep working!
And somehow forgot Jennvine’s twitter handle — @jwo84
— leader of the @LegalAidNYC
’s Cop Accountability Project. An encyclopedia of knowledge on the Patrol Guide & history of previous “reforms.”
Tip: mention @twtextapp on a Twitter thread with the keyword “unroll” to get a link to it.