There has been much heated discussion on all sides in New York City about the NYPD’s policies of stop and frisk, surveillance, and profiling, and the push for many policing reforms. Fundamentally, the issues are really about the everyday impacts on communities that bear the brunt of these policies, and it is their experiences that need to be understood.
In the context of the highly controversial revelations about governmental intrusiveness as a result of the NSA surveillance scandals, discussions of race and profiling as a result of the Trayvon Martin case, and the recent federal court ruling against the NYPD’s use of stop and frisk, the New York City Council is facing a monumental juncture on Aug. 22 regarding the way our city treats and investigates its own citizens. After the Community Safety Act was passed by the Council, Mayor Bloomberg vetoed it, and this week the City Council will be voting to override that veto. This CSA will create independent oversight over the NYPD, and create a ban on identity-based profiling.
As an organization working on the grassroots level, our experiences show us that members of South Asian communities, numbering over 200,000 in Queens and 800,000 in New York City, are at the intersection of the NYPD’s many discriminatory policies. Over the last two years, DRUM — Desis Rising Up & Moving, has been surveying and documenting our communities’ experiences with law enforcement, and the picture is not pretty.
Let’s start with stop and frisk. Manny, a 14-year-old Bangladeshi girl, was stopped on her way home from school twice. None of her friends with her were frisked or searched, and the officer could not give a reason why he stopped her. Amarjit, who is now a 23-year-old Indian man, has been stopped and frisked nearly two dozen times since he was 15. “Once I was stopped by two NYPD undercover officers in the middle of the day on Woodside Avenue,” he said. “They made me take down my pants, told me to bend over, and joked about me ‘coughing’ as they laughed and searched me.”
The 103rd and the 115th precincts have the highest rates of stop and frisk in Queens, and always among the top 10 in New York City, and both precincts have large populations of South Asians. Yet the stop-and-frisk policies have a dismal success rate in producing arrests, convictions or gun recoveries.
Regarding the NYPD’s spying programs, we found a mosque in Kew Gardens that threw out a congregant for trying to incite others to hateful and criminal conduct. Later on they discovered that the man was an NYPD undercover officer. One of our Afghani members testified in front of a Congressional briefing that upon his demand to have an attorney present for any conversations, NYPD officers began to follow him around in unmarked cars, onto his campus and even into his classroom. In court last year, NYPD Intelligence Chief Thomas Galati noted that the department’s widespread surveillance programs, which cost New Yorkers millions of dollars every year, have produced zero leads, and “never made a lead” as far as he knows.
These same policies also target the everyday workers, such as immigrant cab drivers and street vendors, who make this city run.
Nasima’s husband, Taher, was arrested in an NYPD raid on street vendors around Canal Street and charged with selling counterfeit merchandise. The charges were later dropped, but by that time he had been turned over to immigration authorities, and has spent over 18 months in detention. Nasima testified at a City Council hearing in February in support of a law that changed how the NYPD and the Correction Department deal with immigrants to minimize such damage.
Osman, a cab driver for over 20 years, gets five to seven frivolous traffic tickets every month. He is then forced to either pay the tickets, totaling nearly a $1000, or take a day off from work and fight them in court. In the court, he says, “even the judges laugh off and dismiss these tickets. But I still lose a day’s pay.”
The underlying theme in all these instances is that our communities are treated as “guilty until proven innocent,” regardless of evidence. As a community that has moved to this country and this city relatively recently, we understand that such policies have much longer histories in African-American, Latino, immigrant, and all poor communities, and that we are just beginning to experience that process.
The Community Safety Act will impact all New Yorkers to create safer and more efficient policing in the city, and particularly for those communities that have been targeted by the NYPD’s unjust policies of profiling. It will in fact make our city safer for all of us as families, immigrants, workers, youth and parents.
Fahd Ahmed is Legal and Policy Director of the Queens-based organization DRUM, Desis Rising Up Moving.