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Leitner Clinic Students Co-Author Policy Paper About NYPD Abuse

Submitted by on February 26 – 2013No Comment

Last week, the Urban Justice Center released a policy paper entitled “Criminalizing Communities: NYPD Abuse of Vulnerable Populations.”  Four Fordham Law students from the Walter Leitner International Human Rights Clinic authored the paper, which calls for administrative and legislative reforms aimed at ending widespread NYPD abuse and harassment of black, Latino, and Muslim communities; the LGBTQ community; sex workers; street vendors; persons with mental illness, and the homeless.

“We hope this paper will contribute to the ever-growing discussion about the NYPD and its unrestrained abuses of vulnerable communities in the city,” said Eva Nudd, a 3L and one of the co-authors. Nudd also noted the timing of the paper’s release. “With the upcoming mayoral election, we hope this paper will also help inform discussions about the necessary police reform and its relationship with the public,” she said.

The Leitner Clinic joined forces with the Police Reform Organizing Project (PROP) this past fall semester to partner in developing the report. Urban Justice Center Senior Policy Advocate Robert Gangi formed PROP in April of 2011, which advocates for the end of the NYPD quota system as a measure of job performance for police officers on the ground. It is also pushing for New York City to establish an independent entity that will monitor and assess NYPD policies. Currently, the NYPD and its commissioner are not accountable to any political figure.

The Fordham students call for an end to New York City’s stop and frisk program. “Almost 90 percent of all NYPD stop and frisks involve black and Latino people, and in only 1.8 percent of those cases do NYPD officers recover a weapon,” explain the students in their report. Most arrests that do occur involve young black and Latino men and are due to marijuana possession. Although 86 percent of the NYPD’s marijuana possession arrests involve black and Latino individuals, the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health has consistently shown a higher rate of marijuana use among white people.

Similar to stop and frisk, “Operation Clean Halls” permits police officers to conduct sweeps of enrolled apartment buildings and arrest any individual who is not carrying identification. The law renders friends, visitors, or even residents taking out the garbage vulnerable to arrest. One New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) attorney quoted in the report explained, “[T]here is simply no such thing as having a friend come by for an unannounced visit. If you stop by, hoping to catch a friend or a relative, there is a very good chance that you will be arrested.”

The authors link these programs to the fact that black and Latino men make up a disproportionate percentage of the nation’s prison population, saying that “police concentrate their harshest enforcement efforts on communities of color” which leads to a “severe form of social control” with devastating effects on targeted groups.

Kendall Clifford, a 2L and co-author of the report, said, “I was assigned to work on the street vendors portion of the paper. I always see the street vendors in New York and consider them to be a vibrant part of what makes New York City so great. I cannot believe how poorly these people are treated by the NYPD.” She described the lives of the populations she and the other students studied as “unnecessarily difficult.”

The paper pointed to other common forms of abuse, such as confiscating condoms from sex workers or transgender women falsely accused of prostitution. The authors say this practice discourages people in these communities from carrying condoms, raising serious public health concerns. Because of this, their paper encourages the New York state legislature to pass the “No Condoms as Evidence of Prostitution” bill, which was first introduced in 1999 and has been reintroduced each year since.

“I was surprised how often [sex workers and individuals in the LGBT community] are confronted by the police, and how these interactions lay seeds of distrust” said Nudd. “[E]ven when members of these communities are violated, they do not seek help from the police.” Nudd explained that one person she interviewed told her she would “rather be raped than interact with the police.”

Clifford said she is optimistic about the result this report can have. “[I] hope our paper catches the attention of policymakers and makes a difference in the lives of these people who deserve to be treated with respect and not disdain,” she said.

Read the full clinic report.

–Elizabeth Gavin, managing editor