The Community Safety Act: Accountability for the NYPD and Its Importance to the South Asian Community

On June 27, 2013, the New York City Council passed two bills of the Community Safety Act, introduced last year, which curbs discriminatory policing practices and establishes accountability mechanisms for the New York City Police Department (NYPD). One of the bills, the End Discriminatory Profiling Act (Intro. 1080), would establish an enforceable ban against profiling and discrimination by the NYPD; expand the bases for prohibited profiling and discrimination (currently, race, ethnicity, religion, and national origin) to include age, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, immigration status, disability or housing status; establish a private right of action allowing profiling victims to file lawsuits against the NYPD; and allow individuals to file claims based on intentional discrimination and/or disparate impact. The second bill, the NYPD Oversight Act (Intro. 1079), would grant independent oversight authority over the NYPD to the Commissioner of the Department of Investigation through reviews of the police department and require public reports regarding its findings. SAALT applauds the passage of the Community Safety Act as well as the efforts of local organizations in New York City, such as DRUM – Desis Rising Up and Moving, to ensure these bills become law.

The passage of the Community Safety Act is vital for all residents of New York City – including African American and Latino individuals who have been subjected to an exorbitant and disproportionate percentage of stop-and-frisk encounters. Most notably, since September 11th, South Asian community members have been similarly subjected to arrests, questioning, and harassment simply based upon race, religion, and appearance.  In a joint report released in March 2012, In Our Own Words: Narratives of South Asian New Yorkers Affected by Racial and Religious Profiling, by DRUM, The Sikh Coalition, UNITED SIKHS, South Asian Youth Action (SAYA!), Coney Island Avenue Project, Council of Peoples Organization, and SAALT, community members’ personal experiences revealed the toll that such discrimination has taken on their lives. Interactions with NYPD included that of a young Bangladeshi man, while simply waiting for his friends, being subjected to warrantless searches by police; a police officer asking a South Asian student about his religion; and an Indian Hindu individual being asked about his ethnicity and whether he had drugs. Community members have also been asked whether they are Muslim, where they pray, and even been pressured to spy on their own communities and report on “terrorist activity.” Indeed, reports from the Associated Press in 2011 revealed the widespread spying and surveillance by the NYPD on Muslim communities and student associations, both within and beyond New York City. (In fact, the New York Civil Liberties Union, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the CLEAR Project at the City University of New York, recently filed a lawsuit challenging the discriminatory surveillance practices of the police department.) As a result, individuals reported that such interactions harmed their relationships with friends and family and, also, made them more hesitant to reach out to police in times of need.

SAALT has joined our partner organizations in New York City in calling for the enactment of robust and expansive anti-profiling policies and strengthening government and civilian oversight of law enforcement agencies in the city. We commend the City Council’s passage of the legislation, which would go into effect in January 2014, if enacted, and urge the Mayor to sign the bills into law.

SAALT thanks Priya Murthy for her assistance in providing analysis and writing.