“Since Mohamed got murdered in 2012, I never sleep. I’ve never settled … everything is a cover-up. We’ve got to be on the front until there is change. We need justice for our loved ones,” stated Hawa Bah at a press conference calling for an Elected Civilian Review Board (ECRB). Bah has been fighting the city ever since her 911 call to help her son Mohamed, who was suffering from a breakdown, resulted in the NYPD shooting him dead.
Twenty-five years ago, New York’s Civilian Complaint Review Board was restructured to provide supposedly independent oversight of the police. But false arrests to meet quotas, sexual abuse, manufacturing evidence, bullying and brutality by the cops are everyday realities. And unarmed people — most of them Black mothers’ sons — are still being killed with impunity.
In recent months, the campaign to create meaningful police accountability with an elected board with the power to discipline and fire cops has taken a big leap forward in public visibility and support. This is in part fueled by the outrage of mothers who have seen their children harassed and killed by the NYPD.
Ongoing fight for justice. Juanita Young has been a leader among “mothers of the movement” for 18 years, since her son Malcolm Ferguson was chased down and shot by an officer in the stairwell of an apartment building in 2000.
Young told this reporter, “When my son was murdered, District Attorney Robert Johnson refused to bring my case to a grand jury. This cop admitted murdering Malcolm for no reason, [but] he still wouldn’t reopen the case. So again, the DA’s attitude is the cops are who gives them their job. So they’re not going to go against the cops if they can help it.”
Because Young continues to speak out, she has been the target of police harassment, including the arbitrary arrests of her children and being assaulted and pushed down the stairs twice by an officer, a violent act made even crueler by the fact that she is legally blind.
“As long as I got breath in my body, I have to stand up for what I know. An Elected Civilian Review Board and elected prosecutor would be a big change.”
Sharonne Salaam, the mother of one of the Black teenage boys wrongfully jailed in the ’90s, known as the Central Park Five, also spoke at a press conference in support of an elected board. “As citizens we pay the salaries of the police, the DA, the Mayor. But who stands there for us when we are abused and mistreated by people who we pay to protect us?”
Community support grows. To create an elected and empowered review board in New York, an amendment to the city’s charter must be passed. When hearings of an appointed commission tasked with changing NYC’s city charter were announced, campaign organizers mobilized the community. What resulted was an incredible showing of public passion and support.
At the first hearing held in the Bronx, supporters of the campaign filled the auditorium. Speaker after speaker spoke out demanding a review board with teeth. Kaitlyn Greenough, a leader in the campaign, delivered the fully drafted amendment to the commission with a mandate in her testimony. “We are sick and tired of needing to chant Black Lives Matter. This is your chance to prove that they do.”
Over the next two weeks, dozens testified at all five commission hearings. Mothers, community members and groups like Black Lives Matter Greater NY, the Freedom Socialist Party, Radical Women, the Green Party and Democratic Socialists of America underscored the many communities with a stake in curbing police violence. When two City Council members spoke publicly in support of an elected board, and other politicians like the Speaker of the City Council acknowledged the need for improved civilian oversight, it was clear the pressure was having an impact.
Some commissioners on the panel tried to undercut the compelling case for an ECRB by asserting that it would violate charged officers’ right to collective bargaining or due process.
FSP member Susan Williams, from the campaign’s legislation team, answered that by law, the disciplinary process delineated by the City Charter — which would include the ECRB — can’t be undone by union contracts, and that board investigations will respect due process of the officers including the right to representation and a fair hearing. Advocates assert when police officers can harass and brutalize city residents and remain untouched, it’s the victims and families who lack due process, not the cops.
Campaigners planned a dramatic action for the closing session in this round of public testimony to keep the pressure up. “We had made our voices heard at the first four hearings. For the final hearing, we wanted to make sure the commissioners considered those they couldn’t hear — those who have been silenced because they were killed by the NYPD,” said Pamela Monroe, a campaign steering committee member.
Large posters portraying NYPD murder victims like Eric Garner were carried by campaign supporters into the hearing chamber. As Monroe called on the commissioners to recognize the human cost of inaction, the large photos of faces were held up throughout the chambers in a moment that hushed the crowd and the commissioners.
“They must be seen and never forgotten. We have a historic chance to work together to usher in a new era where the police are held to the same standard as you, me, and the rest of us.”
Next up. With the Charter Commission taking the winter to conduct research, it remains to be seen if they will take a brave stance and propose the amendment. If not, the campaign will continue to press the City Council to pass the amendment through the New York City Council. Says Monroe, “This issue isn’t going away, and neither are we.”
ECRB campaigners have a GoFundMe account for those who can give financial support at gofundme.com/ecrbnyc. They are also eager to share experience and strategies for police accountability with people in other locales. Contact StopPoliceViolenceNYC@gmail.com to tell your story or to get involved.