City Council Majority Leader Joel Rivera (D-Bronx) called roll for the override vote of the Community Safety Act on Thursday and when bill co-sponsor Jumaane Williams (D-Brooklyn) was called, all eyes were on him.
Williams stood up, looking overwhelmed with emotion.
“Until we admit that we are not in a post-racial society, we cannot enter a post-racial society,” Williams said in a strong voice.
He paused briefly, gathered his thoughts and took a deep breath.
“My little brother texted me at 1 a.m. today,” Williams said, his voice shaking. “He told me that our father would have been proud. I vote yes on all.”
It was a short speech but arguably the most emotional during the two-hour-long meeting when almost every Council member spoke, regardless of his or her position on the NYPD oversight bills. Williams’ speech was met with a standing ovation from most of the Council and cheers and applause from the packed gallery above.
The issues of ethics and the Constitution in the NYPD’s use of stop and frisk have been brought into question over the past few months. Rallies, press conferences and town hall meetings have been held on the matter and on Aug. 12, a judged deemed the practice unconstitutional as it stands.
But now that the City Council has voted through the CSA — two bills that will place greater oversight on officers and give opportunities for those who have been stopped to take legal action — and overrode Mayor Bloomberg’s inevitable vetos, Council members, activist groups and residents are hoping the city will come together.
“Everyone has been saying that this issue has made the Council divided,” Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica) said before casting his vote in favor of the CSA. “This is not a divided Council. We are united even if we disagree on a certain issue. At the end of the day, we want this to be a safe city and whether or not this bill goes through, we will continue to try and make this a safer city.”
Though members agreed that they all would like the city to be safe and to continue to decrease murder rates, not every member agreed that establishing a police inspector general and allowing state lawsuits for alleged racial profiling would be the best solution.
The final vote on the former was 39-10 and on the latter 34-15.
“To vote for 1079 [the inspector general bill] is absurd and downright dangerous,” said Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), who has been opposed to the act since day one. “It is an unnecessary waste of money and no one has yet to suggest how an inspector general is going to make us any safer.”
The crowd immediately booed Ulrich, swallowing up much of his speech but the councilman stood by his statement.
“I will not be intimidated and to be honest, anyone who is in favor of this is just as out of touch with reality as the judge who ruled stop, question and frisk unconstitutional,” he said. “It will lower the morale of the Police Department whose officers are already underpaid and undervalued.”
Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) agreed.
“I respect Council member Lander and Council Member Williams but I strongly disapprove of these two bills,” she said before casting her vote. “This will result in a Police Department that will be less able to fight crime. It will eliminate their ability to be proactive and it will completely change the Police Department we know today.”
Others, like rookie Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton) — who passed his first piece of legislation during the same meeting — said there is a serious divide between the police and the community that needs to be addressed.
“Before I was elected, I met with a 13-year-old boy who had been stopped and frisked,” Richards said. “He wouldn’t stop crying and it was sad for me to tell him that this will probably happen again and it will keep happening. Today we have a chance to do something about that. The fact that people in my district come to me with issues rather than the police is wrong. There is something very wrong with that.”
“I have always voted in what I believe is best for my district,” Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) said. “The people who are against this bill have never been stopped or have known anyone who was stopped and so they don’t know the humiliation innocent people in the black and Latino community face every day. This was a vote of conscience for me.”
While the effects of the CSA and court ruling won’t be immediately obvious, Mayor Bloomberg, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association have insisted that crime will increase.
Queens resident and Senior Organizer for the New York Civil Liberties Union Candis Tolliver said that the position the PBA, the mayor and police comissioner have taken is frightening and unacceptable but won’t deter the good work police officers do every day
“I have faith in our Police Department and the officers that care for the safety of all New Yorkers, and I think that the PBA and the mayor and their frustration will hopefully subside and we can go back to a city that will respect the rights of everyone,” she said.
“I do want to thank the NYPD for risking their lives,” Williams said. “No one here is anti-NYPD, we are only anti-abuse of civil rights, and I wish that the administration would have sat down with us so that we could hear each other out but unfortunately that didn’t happen.”
On the same day of the vote, the mayor announced that he intends to file a lawsuit against the City Council in a last effort to prevent the lawsuit expansion piece of the CSA from becoming law. He has already filed an appeal on the stop-and-frisk court decision.
“This is just plain, good government,” said Councilman Brad Lander (D-Brooklyn) who helped Williams write the bills. “Our city has a lot to be proud of but we also have a lot of problems to work on.”