In the year since I moved to New York City from Washington, D.C., hardly a day has passed that I have not witnessed some form of police misconduct. Throughout the city’s five boroughs, blacks and Latinos are regularly harassed, stopped and illegally searched without probable cause or reasonable suspicion by arrogant detectives and uniformed officers. So imagine my surprise when I saw a subway poster depicting a young black man smiling and shaking hands with a white police officer under the slogan, “NYC Needs CPR: Courtesy, Professionalism and Respect.” Who was the poster directed toward? The cops or the community? I was immediately suspicious.
After some investigation, I learned that under the Giuliani administration, the NYPD has developed strategies to deal with recurring problems affecting the department, and “CPR” is Strategy Number 9–a plan to improve community relations and police conduct. According to the CPR outline, the initiative aims for police officers “to see themselves as public servants as well as law enforcement officers.”
A closer look reveals that Strategy Number 9 will do very little to help create the utopian relationship between cops and communities implied by the poster. While crime rates have gone down under Giuliani, reports of police brutality in black and Latino communities have climbed by more than 20 percent, according to Black Cops Against Brutality, a national organization. And yet, not one of the 21 “components” of Strategy Number 9, as they are described in NYPD documents, directly addresses police brutality. Only one refers to “familiarizing officers with the city’s diverse population.”
CPR also fails to address the racial makeup of the department. Though whites account for only about 40 percent of the city’s population, they make up 65 percent of the NYPD as a whole. And its upper management levels are 85 percent white. Of the nine uniformed officers who have the rank of three-star chief or higher, seven are white men. The department is clearly self-conscious about its diversity problem and made this abundantly clear when I attempted to obtain race-based information. I was able to quickly receive other staffing data over the phone, yet when I requested the number of high-ranking black and Latino individuals in the department, I was transferred to six different offices, then told I must submit my request on official letterhead bearing both my name and position.
Of course, no police officers asked my name or position last July 11 when a brawl erupted at Madison Square Garden during the Riddick Bowe vs. Andrew Golota fight. That evening, on my way out of the Garden and hundreds of feet from the mayhem, I joined a club that has far too many members: The Victims of Police Brutality. It is not considered courteous for an officer to curse me when I request his badge number. Nor is it professional for a sergeant to violently attack me without provocation. And it is certainly not respectful for eight cops to beat me, an unarmed and nonresisting citizen, to the point where my bones and muscles are seriously bruised and I have a blood clot in my head. Where was my CPR?
During the 42 hours I was wrongfully jailed on fictitious charges that were later completely dismissed, I came into contact with at least 50 officers, the majority of whom either hurled profanity and racial slurs at me or witnessed such acts without blinking an eye. Still, when responding to the issue of police brutality, officials often claim the bad cop is the exception to the rule.
Strategy Number 9 also neglects to deal with the department’s failure to extend “CPR” to officers who happen to be non-white. Many of these officers speak privately of being subjected to racial jokes and harassment from other cops. A lesser known fact is that in the history of the NYPD, 60 black officers have been shot by white officers without one single case of the reverse scenario.
Ultimately, Strategy Number 9 deals with the problem of police misconduct, which has very serious repercussions, as though it were simply a matter of teaching cops to be more polite. Sure, there is a connection between politeness and police brutality; it has everything to do with the way officers are trained to view the diverse communities in which they work–and who does that training. By completely ignoring the racism that permeates every level of the department and keeping all but a ridiculous poster out of the public eye, the CPR plan will fail. Racist and dangerous cops need punishment, not manners.
Yohance Mqubela is a legislative financial analyst for the New York City Council.