Photo Credit: Miguel Juarez Lugo/ZUMAPRESS
(Brooklyn, NY) – May 22, 2020 – Nationally and in New York, reports of bias are flooding in, with the limited data available showing that arrests related to the coronavirus pandemic are overwhelmingly of persons of color and target communities of color. Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte and state Senator Brian A. Benjamin have reintroduced a bill, A04615A on the Assembly side, and S1137A on the Senate side, to prevent racial profiling by increasing data collection and reporting standards.
Current legislation does not provide adequate rules for tracking and reporting of racial profiling, and guidelines that would give the public transparency are lacking.
A leaked New York Police Department report stated that 90% of the people arrested for coronavirus-related crimes between March 16 and May 5 were black or Hispanic. Similarly, 81% of people who received summonses for violating social distancing rules, in about the same time period, were black or Hispanic.
“I know who the heroes of this crisis are, because they are my neighbors,” Assemblymember Bichotte said. “My district is home to many essential workers. They are the people caring for our loved ones who are sick, making sure our grocery stores are stocked and that public transit is operational. Unfortunately, they are also the people succumbing to the virus at rates much higher than the general population, losing wages and facing food insecurities. The last thing they, or anyone else, deserves is to be discriminated against by law enforcement. Our heroes should be praised, not punished. Our bill to end racial profiling will create a tangible way for our state to prevent and track these violations, and an avenue for remedies for anyone whose civil rights are determined to have been violated.” Bichotte represents the 42nd Assembly District, which encompasses parts of Flatbush, Midwood, and Ditmas Park in Brooklyn.
The pandemic has led to discriminatory practices by police and ratcheted community tensions. New Yorkers are begging for relief from racial discrimination by law enforcement.
The same community is simultaneously facing another problem in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. New York City Health Department data show that neighborhoods with high populations of black and Latino residents suffer the highest death rate, and Brooklyn has the highest death rate by ZIP code.
Communities already plagued with devastating loss cannot bear an additional weight, that which is added when police patrol black neighborhoods, making social distancing arrests and issuing summons, while in white neighborhoods across New York City, officers hand out masks to people out socializing.
“Communities of color are on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19 as essential workers, and we are also dealing with a disproportionate number of deaths and infections in our neighborhoods and families,” said Senator Benjamin. “We cannot allow our law enforcement officers to add additional stress and trauma in this time with an unfair double standard for the enforcement of social distancing rules. The bill that Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte and I have introduced will prohibit law enforcement officers from engaging in racial or ethnic profiling to help ensure we have one system of enforcement for our city and state.” Benjamin is the Senate sponsor of the bill, and represents the 30th Senate District in Manhattan, including parts of Harlem and the Upper West Side.
The bill has received broad support in the Senate and Assembly.
“The coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated why we need to prioritize collecting data on racial profiling,” Assemblymember Tremaine S. Wright, who is the Chair of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus, said. “The little data we do have on racial profiling, just in the case of social distancing arrests, shows why it is urgent that we act to prevent these civil rights abuses from continuing.” Wright represents the 56th Assembly District in Brooklyn and is a co-sponsor on the bill.
The bill passed the Assembly side after introduction last year.
“Racial profiling has been plaguing communities of color for decades,” said state Senator Jamaal Bailey, who is a co-sponsor on the bill. “Time after time, we hear of disparate enforcement when it comes to communities of color, and unfortunately, we have continued to see this throughout the pandemic as well. Clear statistical data shows that black and brown communities have been the hardest hit by COVID-19. On top of the disparate health impacts shown, data also clearly shows that communities of color are on the receiving end of the most summonses and arrests. I am proud to co-sponsor state Senator Brian Benjamin’s and Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte’s bill to end racial profiling.” Bailey’s district is New York’s 36th Senate District in the Bronx.
The legislation would prohibit law enforcement officers from engaging in racial or ethnic profiling and require every law enforcement agency to adopt a policy against racial profiling as well as establishing procedures for reviewing complaints. As required by the bill, a copy of the complaint and written summary of the disposition would be submitted to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services.
Each law enforcement agency also would be required to collect and maintain data with respect to their civilian interactions while conducting routine and spontaneous investigatory activities. These reports further would be made available to the attorney general upon request.
The Division of Criminal Justice Services would implement a computerized data system for public viewing of the reports and then would compile an annual report on law enforcement stops. Personal identities would be redacted.
“Racial bias and injustice have long existed in our law enforcement and criminal justice systems,” state Senator Luis Sepulveda, a co-sponsor on the legislation, said. “This reality has yet again become all too clear as we’ve witnessed the discriminatory and inconsistent enforcement of social distancing guidelines during this public health crisis, with the large majority of arrests and summonses in New York City going to black and brown people. This is particularly devastating as communities of color are bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 crisis, as essential frontline workers and residents of neighborhoods with the highest infection and death rates. I strongly support this bill to combat racial profiling in New York’s law enforcement practices, which is urgently needed now more than ever, and thank my colleagues for their leadership during this time.” Senator Sepulveda represents the 32nd Senate District in the Bronx.
When passed, the bill will set forth the right of action for injunctive relief and/or damages. Under this legislation, citizens who are discriminated against on the basis of racial profiling will have a means for relief.
“Historically, to be black in this country is to carry an increased burden,” State Senator Kevin Parker, who is co-sponsoring the bill, added, “a burden that includes not only a higher death rate, but also the continuous presence of racial discrimination and bias by law enforcement officers. We are unfortunately reminded at this time of our long struggle for equal protections under our laws, and how today, that struggle is still a tale of two hues, where officers provide white residents with PPE and other personal protective gear during a global pandemic, but proffer communities of color – the hardest hit by COVID-19 – with degradation through court summonses, and vicious assaults to our identity. This is unjust on its face, and I stand eager to support my colleagues to immediately pass this legislation this session.” Senator Parker represents the 21st Senatorial District in Brooklyn.
“We shouldn’t need legislation to prohibit law enforcement officers from engaging in illegal and unconstitutional racial and ethnic profiling, but we do,” said Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal, a co-sponsor from Manhattan’s 67th Assembly District. “Law enforcement must work to build a relationship of trust and collaboration with the communities they serve, and creating a public database, as outlined in Assemblymember Bichotte’s fine bill, will help to shine a much-needed light on law enforcement and reconstruct that relationship of trust”
“Being black and Latino is not against the law and so we need to be protected from our race being used against us by police officers,” said co-sponsor Assemblymember Michael Blake. “If someone uses race to profile us, then the law and policies must be used to punish them.” Blake represents parts of the Bronx, as the 79th Assembly District leader.
“Our communities have been historically disproportionately impacted by racial profiling and unjust criminal justice policies,” Assemblywoman Carmen De La Rosa, a co-sponsor of the bill, agreed. She added, “During this time of pandemic and loss, the last thing our communities need is excessive force and racial profiling as we work to ensure people adhere to social distancing regulations. In order to move towards a positive community-police relationship respect is paramount.” De la Rosa represents the 72nd Assembly District of Inwood and Northern Manhattan.
Bichotte cited a ruling that took place in 2013, Floyd et al. v. City of New York, et al. In that case, a federal judge found the New York City Police Department liable for a pattern and practice of racial profiling and unconstitutional stops. The city subsequently dropped its appeal and began the joint remedial process ordered by the court.
“There is a long history of racial discrimination in America,” Assemblymember Bichotte says. “In terms of the Constitution, we won in Floyd. However, the law has not trickled down through the law enforcement agencies as should have happened, and that is why we need this bill to carry out the law with directives that instill tangible measures for preventing, tracing and ending racial discrimination.”