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.