Assemblymember Rodneys Bichotte (D-Flatbush, Ditmas Park and State Sen. Brian A. Benjamin (D-Manhattan) last week announced they 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.
The measure comes as 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.
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,” 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 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.” said Bichotte.
Bichotte emphasized that this same community of color that includes a good many essential workers while facing police harassment is also the community 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.
Although state legislators have not officially been in session and have granted Gov. Cuomo emergency executive powers to deal with the COVID pandemic, the lawmakers are under increasing pressure to to get back in session, as the restrictions are being let up. Thus far, 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,” said Assemblymember Tremaine S. Wright (D-Bedford-Stuyvesant, Northern Crown Heights), chair of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus. “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 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.
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,” said State Sen. Kevin Parker (D-Flatbush, Midwood, Park Slope, Kensington), who is co-sponsoring the bill, “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,” he added.