The New York City Council is dominated by Democrats, who hold 45 out of the 51 member seats. Many of the newly-elected members campaigned and won with promises of racial justice following protests in 2020. And with 23 of the 51 members of the city council being women of color, one might well wonder why police accountability is not on their agenda.
A multi-year struggle to pass a police accountability measure has exposed the truth that once in office, Democrats care more about maintaining the status quo and their political careers than challenging the culture of impunity which defines the New York Police Department (NYPD).
Spotlight on City Council
Activists wrote the Community POWER Act (Community Police Oversight With Elected Review) over six years ago, in the wake of Eric Garner’s killing. The bill creates an elected civilian review board and an independent prosecutor with the power to discipline, fire, and even prosecute police found guilty of misconduct.
Supporters have pushed successfully to have the bill introduced twice before the council, but it has yet to have a hearing. Meanwhile the NYPD continues to kill innocent New Yorkers, be exposed in scandal after scandal, and attack peaceful demonstrations.
Council Speaker Adrienne Adams and Public Safety Committee Chair Kamillah Hanks, both Democrats, have stalled the bill every step of the way.
“City Council claims to represent the people, but when we have this bill for community control over the police, they do nothing!” said Lee Gill, an organizer with the Community POWER Act (CPA) effort.
In late October, Gill spoke at a “People’s Hearing” outside City Hall to protest the blocking of the bill. He was joined by community activists, organizations including the Freedom Socialist Party, family and friends of police abuse victims, and city council members Charles Barron (D-Brooklyn) and Kristin Richardson Jordan (D-Harlem) who sponsored the bill.
Juanita Young’s son Malcolm Ferguson was killed by police in 2000, and she has been pursuing justice for Malcolm and all other victims ever since. “The system we have right now isn’t working. These politicians get elected by making false promises. They give more money to the police, who are getting worse. We need the Community POWER Act so that the people will have a voice.”
Keep up the pressure
Over the past half-dozen years, participants have used a variety of tactics to build support and move the bill forward in City Hall. These included testifying at hearings, targeting officials with petition drives and call-in campaigns, engaging in civil disobedience actions, and meeting with city council members, nine of whom agreed to co-sponsor the bill.
Since Speaker Adams has arrogantly and steadfastly refused to deal with it, the only option remaining is called a motion to discharge. This would force a discussion and vote on the bill, and subvert the Speaker’s deadlock.
But aside from Barron and Jordan, none of the co-sponsors have signed on to the motion. Even so-called progressives like Democratic Socialists of America member Tiffany Caban are caging their support to remain in the good graces of top Democrat leaders.
Following the speakout, about 25 CPA supporters entered City Hall and sat in the gallery of a session of the full council. When Adrienne Adams began to speak, Gill rose to demand that the CPA be given a hearing. It was a dramatic moment as others joined in the demand, holding portraits of people killed by the NYPD. Adams ordered security to clear the gallery, Gill was singled out, handcuffed and led out, followed by the others.
Gill was then detained while those outside chanted “Let him go!” and “Free speech!” After about half an hour, and the intervention of Barron, Gill was released. What an indictment of these supposed public servants, who choose to use the cops to target and handcuff Black activists, rather than to protect them against police abuse!
As of mid-November, the future of the legislation is uncertain. Both Barron and Jordan will be out of office in January, leaving the bill with no strong advocates inside City Hall.
However, the struggle for police accountability is not going to fade away. Aggressive policing continues, as witnessed by recent attacks on pro-Palestinian demonstrators.
A statement by the CPA campaign says it all: “We will not let power-hungry, status quo politicians handcuff our free speech, and our right to make the change we desperately need.” The battle for cop accountability continues!
For updates and more information, visit the Community POWER Act campaign website
Shutting down New York City Council
To protest politicians blocking discussion and vote on the CPA, activists interrupted a council meeting with chants and victim portraits. Lee Gill was singled out to be handcuffed and detained. See video here.