Activists Call on NYPD Inspector General to Probe Department’s Gang-Busting Methods

Activists are calling on NYPD Inspector General Philip Eure to investigate the NYPD’s “anti-gang” methods. Madina Toure/Observer

Advocates gathered at City Hall today to call on NYPD Inspector General Philip Eure to investigate the police department’s “anti-gang” tactics, including how minority youths wind up in “gang databases”—and to request a meeting with the ombudsmen to facilitate the probe.

In the April 27 letter to Eure, Brooklyn College Professor Alex Vitale—coordinator for the Policing and Social Justice Project—and more than 20 legal and community-based organizations voiced concerns about the NYPD’s reliance on “large-scale military style gang raids” to crack down on violent crime in New York City Housing Authority Developments. Over the last several years, they noted, hundreds of people have been arrested and charged under the anti-organized crime Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act as a result of NYPD investigations.

Josmar Trujillo of Coalition to End Broken Windows argued that, instead of raids in June 2014, the Manhattanville and the General Ulysses Grant Houses should have received funding for social programs.

“They’re asking for their community centers to be open,” Trujillo said. “They’re asking for all sorts of things that could actually uplift the community, but instead the Police Department has one answer, which is more policing and in this case, it’s a throwback to the era of the 80s and 90s when we had mass incarceration, raids, surveillance, RICO. RICO, they’re using that from the 1970s.”

Trujillo and other groups recently rallied on the one-year anniversary of a raid conducted by 700 police officers and federal authorities at the Eastchester Gardens and Edenwald Houses in the Bronx, which led to indictments of 120 young men, many under RICO. The longtime activist warned that those netted in the sweeps are often poor teenagers unable to afford competent legal counsel, which results in prosecutors like Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance and former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara convincing them to take plea bargains, staining their records for life.

“A lot of these young people are 18, 19-year-old kids from the hood that don’t have the money to hire a high-powered lawyer like John Gotti would,” Trujillo continued. “So they’re being railroaded not only by the police but also by the criminal justice system and the prosecutors, whether it’s Cy Vance in the city or whether it’s the U.S. Attorney’s Office and Preet Bharara a few years ago.”

The activists also highlighted the  U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrests of some 1,000 foreign nationals in an anti-gang operation, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions advocating tougher enforcement toward gangs and the New York State Senate passing the Criminal Street Gang Enforcement and Prevention Act, which would toughen laws in order to contain the coordinated violence that has plagued communities on Long Island.

They also blasted the city’s continued of “broken windows” policing that focuses on quality-of-life offenses, noting that it exposes some of those arrested to deportation under the expanded parameters of President Donald Trump’s aggressive enforcement agenda.

In the letter, the activists requested information about how the NYPD uses databases of known and suspected gang members, and how the departments decides who to place in them, as well as how the NYPD utilizes social media and data mining software to collect intelligence. They raised the possibility of racial bias in the labeling of youth criminal activity as gang-related.

They also implored Eure to look into the possible use of deterrence programs and of Cure Violence, an evidence-based violence intervention strategy. They also inquired about the guidelines for how officers have engaged in intelligence-gathering activities and how the resulting information gets shared with federal law enforcement agencies.

“We do not believe there has been adequate or informed public discussion of the methods being used to identify, arrest, and prosecute alleged gang members, especially in large state and federal conspiracy cases,” Vitale wrote. “This discussion has been hampered in part by a lack of information about these practices.”

The letter’s signatories included Just Leadership USA, NYC Shut It Down, Black Lives Matter of Greater New York, Coalition to End Broken Windows, Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Legal Aid Society and 5 Boro Defenders.

Hawk Newsome, president of Black Lives Matter of Greater New York, said that the real problem is that “no one cares” what happens to poor black and Latino kids.

“They’re coming into housing projects like they’re fighting ISIS,” Newsome said. “They’re wearing riot gears, they’re in humvees, they’re in tanks and they’re coming to snatch children out of their beds and they’re parading these children in front of the media.”