The New York Police Department (NYPD) abuses and harasses a variety of vulnerable communities in New York City through unjust, racially biased, and ineffective policing practices.
These actions target low-income African-Americans and Latinos, Muslims, sex workers, LGBTQ people, street vendors, people with mental illness, and homeless people, groups that generally have little political clout. The Police Reform Organizing Project, or PROP, has recently published Criminalizing Communities: NYPD Abuse of Vulnerable Communities, a policy paper that chronicles NYPD abuse of these communities and its devastating effects. Written in collaboration with the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice at Fordham Law School, the report calls for an end to the NYPD’s aggressively enforced quota system and an end to the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program, and recommends other administrative and legislative reforms that will ensure that all New Yorkers can live free from police abuse.
Each year the NYPD conducts hundreds of thousands of stop-and-frisks of black and Latino New Yorkers, the overwhelming majority of whom are neither arrested nor given a summons, revealing both the racially biased and suspicion-less nature of this program. Almost 90 percent of all NYPD stop and frisks involve black and Latino people, and in only 1.8 percent of those cases do NYPD officers recover a weapon.
The arrests that do result from stop-and-frisk are often for marijuana possession; the majority of individuals arrested for this charge are black and Latino men under the age of 25. In conjunction with stop-and-frisk, NYPD officers patrol and conduct wide-ranging sweeps of public and private apartment buildings as a pretext to arrest for criminal trespassing anyone found without identification in building stairways or hallways. The vast majority of individuals the police stop and arrest for criminal trespassing during these sweeps are black and Latino, many of whom are residents of, or visitors to, the buildings.
Through a warrantless surveillance program, the NYPD monitors daily life in Muslim communities in the tri-state area. Without evidence of criminal activity, the NYPD uses informants to infiltrate Muslim neighborhoods and scrutinize targeted individuals engaged in ordinary aspects of daily life. The NYPD undertakes this surveillance in a manner that is intrusive, over-broad in scope, and that infringes on civil liberties and privacy rights.
Sex workers in New York City also regularly encounter police mistreatment. They report that NYPD officers threaten them with violence; physically, sexually, and verbally abuse them; extort them for sex; harass them when they are not engaged in illegal activity; and confiscate their condoms to use as evidence of prostitution. Due to this abuse, sex workers do not trust the NYPD to address violations of their rights and often do not report crimes committed against them.
Other police targets include LGBTQ individuals, particularly LGBTQ people of color and transgender people. LGBTQ people report that NYPD officers verbally and physically abuse them before and during arrest. Transgender New Yorkers report that police subject them to indignities such as rude name-calling and unnecessary strip searches. Police also often profile transgender women as sex workers, confiscating their condoms and charging them with prostitution.
The NYPD’s bad practices also extend to street vendors, people with mental illness, and homeless people. Police engage in over-policing of both legal and illegal street vendors, often harassing them by issuing tickets of up to $1,000 for minor violations, and frequently ticketing or arresting them for supposedly breaking arbitrarily enforced rules. Police officers are poorly trained to deal with people with mental illness. As a result, they often lack an understanding of how their own behavior can increase the distress of people in psychiatric crisis and of the likelihood that interactions will escalate and cause harm to emotionally troubled persons. Homeless people remain an easy target for NYPD officers who arrest them for “quality of life” violations like disorderly conduct or taking up two seats on the subway. These arrests only serve to further marginalize this vulnerable population.
Targeted communities have come to fear and distrust the NYPD as a result of abusive and aggressive tactics that inflict daily emotional and social trauma. The mayor’s office, the NYPD, the New York City Council, the governor’s office, and the New York State legislature must enact administrative and legislative reforms that will ensure that the police work for the benefit and well being of all communities in New York City.