As the deadline to override Mayor Bloomberg’s recent veto of Intro. 1079 and 1080 — referred to as the Community Safety Act — looms over the city, Queens City Council members made a last minute push to ensure the bills stand.
“While people are attempting to make a heated discussion about a simple problem, we in the City Council are here to say that we are affirming our commitment to the CSA,” Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) said at a CSA rally last Thursday. “We need to have a civil discussion about this and not have the hype and the vitriol going on by different entities that are either for or against this bill.”
About 40 ralliers from the NAACP, the New York Civil Liberties Union, Make the Road, the Anti-Violence Project and other organizations attended the event in front of Borough Hall in Kew Gardens beneath the blistering sun.
Many of the speakers made a point of bringing up the stop and frisk statistics that show people of color have been disproportionately stopped more than white people.
“There is a problem in the city where, right now, we are stopping over 700,000 New Yorkers, 97 percent of them as innocent as everyone standing here, just walking around and living their lives,” Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) said, “that every black member of the Council has either been stopped themselves or a member of their family has been stopped and every black and Latino person I meet has a story of how they were stopped or how a member of their family was stopped. That is outrageous.”
Weprin has allegedly been pressured by Bloomberg to switch his vote. According to Weprin, Comrie and other representatives in attendance, the mayor has had fliers and advertisements placed throughout Weprin’s district to get the councilman to flip his vote.
The officials were confident though that the bill would hold up. Councilman Jumaane Williams (D-Brooklyn), a sponsor of the bill, made an appearance to boost the morale among ralliers. He was greeted with a tremendous amount of applause and cheers.
“I’m going to reiterate this challenge to the police, to the mayor and to the [police] commissioner,” he said. “You point out in the bill where it says that you cannot use descriptions, you point out where it says police officers may be financially harmed and I will pull the override vote. If you can’t do that, you should pull all of those ads and apologize to New York City. It’s time to put up or shut up.”
Marc La Vorgna, the mayor’s press secretary, did not respond to Williams’ comments directly but said the mayor will veto the bill and that letters had been delivered to each of the Council members expressing the need to “protect law enforcement policies for our Police Department.”
“It’s funny to hear Council members who circumvented the public hearing process and passed a bill in the dark of night to now suddenly want a hearing,” he said in an email. “The mayor will ... continue to make the case to members why it will inhibit police officers’ ability to keep people safe — a most fundamental right — particularly in minority communities.”
The anti-crime policy which has been called a useful tool by those opposed to it and in favor of the CSA has also been framed as a battle between constitutional and civil rights and public safety.
Last month, Bloomberg was heavily criticized for comments he made during his morning radio show:
“One newspaper and one news service, they just keep saying, ‘Oh, it’s a disproportionate percentage of a particular ethnic group.’ That may be. But it’s not a disproportionate percentage of those who witnesses and victims describe as committing the murders,” Bloomberg said.
While the mayor has not apologized for the controversial statement, new data on NYPD stops released on Wednesday contradict many of the arguments Bloomberg has made.
According to the NYPD, the numbers show that 6.9 percent of violent crime suspects were white despite whites making up 9.7 percent of the total number of people who have been stopped.
However, if the number of nonviolent crimes — robbery, weapons and pot possession and criminal trespass — are included, white people make up 13.8 percent of all crime suspects in the city.
By Bloomberg’s logic, these numbers show that white people are stopped too infrequently.
Regardless, Council members said they want their constituents to live in the best city possible.
“I want a safe city, every New Yorker wants a safe city, but I also want a city that is free of discrimination and I refuse to believe that those goals are mutually exclusive in the city of New York,” Councilman Jimmy Van Brammer (D-Sunnyside) said. “We can have a safe city and a just city and we will when we override this veto.”
One of the more emotional speeches was given by Johanna Vasquez, a Transgender Latina from Corona and member of Make the Road New York.
“About two years ago I was arrested while waiting for a cab on a corner of Roosevelt Avenue. The officers did not tell me why, but after my case was processed I found out it was on a prostitution charge, because they had found condoms in my purse. The combination of false profiling, the use of condoms as evidence and excessive police abuse is putting our communities in danger,” she said. “Voting for the Community Safety Act is the right thing to do to protect people like me, who unjustly get criminalized because of who we are or how we look.”
Though Bloomberg vetoed the CSA, he will still need one Council member to flip his or her decision in order to kill the bill. In the past few weeks, he said he has no problem buying a Council member who will either vote in opposition of the act or not show up on voting day. Most Queens officials said they will stay strong.
“We are going through to support these bills to protect not just the civil rights of young men and women throughout the spectrum that have basically been abused but also that we take a step forward to healing the police relations within the communities,” Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica) said.