New York City Democrats block cop accountability bill

Advocates in NYC waged a heroic eight-year effort for community oversight over abusive cops. While Democrats have succeeded in blocking the legislation for now, the struggle for police accountability continues.

“People’s Hearing” for police accountability, outside City Hall, October 2023. PHOTO: FSP-NYC
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Formed in the aftermath of the murder of Eric Garner, a multi-generational, multi-racial group of individuals and organizations in New York City, including the Freedom Socialist Party, sought to fight police abuse by giving the public the power to fire and prosecute criminal cops.

All were united by their determination to replace the appointed and powerless Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) with an Elected Civilian Review Board (ECRB).

The bill they wrote creates a community-elected board with the power to discipline and fire offending officers, without interference from the Police Commissioner. It also establishes an Independent Prosecutor who can prosecute criminal cops without the bias of the District Attorney.

The Freedom Socialist Party, one of the founding groups of the effort, opened its space at Freedom Hall for organizing meetings. FSP members joined other energized volunteers to canvass working class neighborhoods, mount petition drives and call-in campaigns, and take over public hearings with powerful testimony.

At every step, the Democratic politicians who run NYC did their best to delay, water down, and finally kill the effort.

The usual empty promises

Bill de Blasio was mayor in 2017 when the campaign came together. He promised to reform the New York Police Department (NYPD), but did not.

Facing growing public discontent, de Blasio convened a commission to consider changes to the city constitution.

Campaigners jumped at the opening, and flooded each of the commission’s hearings with testimony demanding the ECRB be on the ballot.

The group mobilized dozens of new activists who organized side by side with passionate veteran fighters like Juanita Young, whose son Malcolm Ferguson was killed by police in 2000, and Joshua Lopez, whose uncle John Collado was shot by a cop in 2011.

Testimony was also given by former members of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, who gave first-hand accounts detailing its ineffectiveness. The ECRB overwhelmingly had the largest presence of any issue at the hearings.

Despite this, it was clear that the commissioners had little interest in reining in the NYPD. They continually brought up specious conflicts with state law, and even questioned the wisdom of having ordinary people elected to oversee the cops.

Because of the groundswell of support, commissioners were forced to meet with campaign leaders. In the end they ignored advocates and proposed mild improvements to the CCRB, giving it more funding and scope.

While not the fundamental change the advocates demanded, the proposals were a product of their efforts, and passed overwhelmingly with 70% approval from voters, showing strong support for police accountability.

Taking it to City Hall

Campaigners continued their push for an ECRB — this time in the city council with the Community POWER Act (CPA).

It was clear from the very start that top Democrats would continue their efforts to sabotage the legislation.

For over a year bureaucrats delayed the bill from even being introduced. It was only after a wave of protest calls that the bill was allowed to start getting sponsors. The next milestone, a public hearing, never came because former Speaker Corey Johnson kept it from the calendar.

Despite the delay, campaigners continued to push, and the explosive upsurge of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020 helped draw public support.

But when the movement waned, a backlash enforced the status quo: pro-cop measures and repression of dissent. When former cop Eric Adams was elected mayor, the NYPD got a green light to abuse and kill without consequence.

The bureaucratic maneuvering and vindictiveness of New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams (shown) were on full display after six council members voted no on her pro-cop budget in June 2022. In retaliation, Adams took away the members’ discretionary funding and removed their names from initiatives in their districts. PHOTO: Michael Brochstein/Sipa USA

It soon became clear to advocates for accountability that the new city council, despite being majority women and people of color, had no interest in fighting this rightward tide. The politicians would not jeopardize their positions.

New Speaker Adrienne Adams, a Black woman, pushed hard against the bill behind closed doors. Shamefully, even self-proclaimed socialists like council member Tiffany Cabán declined to endorse the CPA.

When Charles Barron and Kristin Richardson Jordan, the two council members willing to speak out for the bill, lost their seats in November 2023, the CPA was left without any sponsors to move it forward. It died in City Hall.

As cops are now being called to brutally suppress the exploding Palestine solidarity movement, the demand for accountability will only deepen. The ECRB effort trained leaders for present and future fights, taught valuable lessons, and stands as a proud chapter in the ongoing struggle.