GOP-Aligned Democrats Gather Activists Against ‘Broken Windows’ Policing

Activists and elected officials speak about broken windows policing in a roundtable discussion. Madina Toure/Observer

Two members of the State Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference—a breakaway faction that shares power with the GOP—convened a panel of activists yesterday to discuss a plan to end the NYPD’s emphasis on quality-of-life policing, they claim disproportionately targets people of color.

The anti-“broken windows” roundtable—convened by Brooklyn State Senator Jesse Hamilton and Upper Manhattan State Senator Marisol Alcantara, two of the newest IDC members—included groups like El Grito Sunset Park, Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Black Lives Matter of Greater New York, VOCAL-NY and prominent civil rights attorney Norman Siegel. Josmar Trujillo of Coalition to End Broken Windows, noted that the policy of coming down on low-level offenses has dated back to ex-NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton’s first stint leading the department in the 1990s—and has survived his retirement last year.

“The return of Bill Bratton should have made it obvious to everyone in this room what was going to happen with this mayor,” Trujillo said, referring to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s decision to bring the well-known crime fighter back for a second tour of duty in 2014.

On Bratton’s last day, de Blasio said that broken windows—popularized by Bratton—needs to be updated, but maintained that it is “still the right approach.” He argued that the policing method helped lower crime in the city over the years, a drop that largely occurred during Bratton’s first tenure under ex-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

The Coalition to End Broken Windows has proposed a “people’s agenda”” whose demands include reducing the NYPD headcount, ending quality-of-life arrests and summonses, clearing all summons warrants, removing street vendor permit caps, removing cops from schools and creating a free Metrocard program for low-income New Yorkers.

“Obviously the mayor’s an obstacle as well as the speaker in our opinion but there’s things that can be done…and there’s no stopping any elected official or any activist or any leader or organization here from using their public platform to immediately call for these things,” Trujillo continued.

Bronx Councilman Ritchie Torres said the mayor’s 10-year plan to close Rikers Island is “gonna take too long” and that ending broken windows is key to closing it given that it is a “driver of mass incarceration.” And he called the Right to Know Act—a pair of bills that would require cops to identify themselves upon making a stop and request permission before searching an individual if they do not have a warrant—”part two of the Community Safety Act,” referring to a package of bills the Council passed in 2013 that made police officers legally liable for civil rights violations.

Brooklyn Councilman Antonio Reynoso, co-sponsor of the Right to Know Act, said both de Blasio and Police Commissioner James O’Neill support broken windows and that it’s “gonna take a lot to change their minds.” Brooklyn Councilman Jumaane Williams blasted “over-policing in our communities.”

“One [recommendation] would be giving—just in general—the City Council more power and oversight over the Police Department and if not that, giving the Council power to have advice and consent over the commissioner,” he said.

An overwhelming majority of the Council has signed on to the Right to Know Act, but de Blasio has vowed to veto it should it pass. So far, though, he hasn’t had to—Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito has used her parliamentary power to prevent it from getting a vote out of committee, though she cut a deal with de Blasio which incorporated elements of the legislation into the NYPD Patrol Guide.

Reynoso insisted he spoke out against the deal the Council and the mayor reached to add 1,300 cops to the NYPD and Torres said that they learned about the headcount at the last minute. But Trujillo said the headcount issue had been raised for two years and that if they were against it, they should have publicized their opposition forcefully.

Tania Mattos, co-founder of Queens Neighborhoods United, urged passage of state-level legislation to eliminate the theft of services conviction—which includes turnstile jumping or leaving a taxi without paying. Activists and elected officials have warned that undocumented immigrants can be deported if they are arrested for such low-level offenses, despite the mayor’s insistence that New York City is a “sanctuary city” for all immigrants.

“I learned to never call them [NYPD] and not calling them because of our immigration status,” Mattos said. “I was stopped by the cops for riding my bicycle on the sidewalk and that could have turned into a deportation order for me, and that was pre-2014.”

Kamla Millwood, communications director for Black Lives Matter of Greater New York, said she gave her $80 Metrocard to a teenage girl who was crying at the subway station, begging law enforcement, transit personnel and mass transit passengers to let her through the turnstile because she lost her school pass.

“I’m sick and tired of seeing us look the other way when it comes to taking care of our children,” Millwood said. “Enough is enough. We’re not gonna have these meetings and sit around and do kumbaya and do nothing about it. The community is responsible for the community.”

Alcantara said Mark-Viverito is “very progressive” but that her 2015 push to hire 1,300 additional cops wasn’t the best use of money, and asserted that more people of color are needed at the top.

“Until we people, like Latinos, African-Americans, South Asians, Asians, until people of color start having positions of power in the city, things are not gonna change that much, because everybody else gets to decide what’s the agenda for us and not us,” she said.

Hamilton touted the passage of “Raise the Age” legislation—which blocks prosecutors from trying minors as adults for most nonviolent crimes—and said he looks forward to working with Council members to develop a “comprehensive game plan to address broken windows.”

“We’ve seen an uptick in arrests now in the city of New York, which is from broken windows arresting people, which is leading to deportations,” he said. “We have allocated in the Senate $10 million now for attorney services.”

The IDC—and Hamilton and Alcantara in particular—have sought to emphasize their progressivism amid attacks that their deal with the GOP majority has obstructed or diluted liberal legislation in Albany. Former Manhattan Councilman Robert Jackson has already launched his bid to unseat Alcantara on the basis of her membership in the splinter cell, and most observers expect Hamilton will draw a challenger as well.