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On 2-Year Mark of Eric Garner’s Killing, Speaker Mark-Viverito’s NYPD Side-Deal Criticized As Charade

Moms of Garner & Ramarley Graham’s, advocates and council members committed to real reform announce continued push for Right to Know Act passage into law, ignoring Speaker-NYPD agreement

Community members convey risk in delaying police accountability reforms, highlight NYC as dangerous model of political obstruction that allows police abuses, brutality and killings to continue nationally

With the 2-year mark of Eric Garner’s killing approaching, the mothers of Eric Garner and Ramarley Graham stood with advocates, New Yorkers impacted by abusive policing and council members committed to real police reforms to announce continued efforts to pass the Right to Know Act. They placed the actions of Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito in an accurate local and national context and declared the campaign to pass the bills as undeterred, comparing it to efforts to pass the Community Safety Act, Paid Sick Days and other important legislation under Mayor Bloomberg and Speaker Quinn.

“This powerful coalition of over 200 organizations is going nowhere, and the Speaker’s efforts to prevent the democratic process from advancing meaningful police reform in this moment of national crisis has only broadened and strengthened our support,” said Anthonine Pierre, a spokesperson for Communities United for Police Reform and lead community organizer for Brooklyn Movement Center. “Now that true intentions to oppose real reform have been revealed, we will outwork and out-organize political obstruction with the benefit of the moral high ground that we are working to protect our communities, just like we did on the Community Safety Act and on the executive order for a special prosecutor for police killings. We won’t settle for cosmetic deals that don’t benefit our communities, set us backwards and only serve the needs of politicians and politics. Leadership requires courage and risk, and defending our lives and communities from NYPD abuse in the most common interactions is worth it.”

Speaker Mark-Viverito’s private agreement with Commissioner Bratton and the NYPD to attempt to prevent a vote on the Right to Know Act legislation, which has majority support and the votes to pass in the Council defies the democratic process. The Right to Know Act is supported by over 200 community organizations from across the city and its policies were endorsed by the White House Task Force on 21st Century Policing – the Speaker’s side-deal guts the most important provisions recommended by the Obama taskforce.

Constance Malcolm and Gwen Carr – the mothers of Graham and Garner – and advocates criticized the alleged Mark-Viverito/NYPD agreement as a charade that provides no material change to the problems of abusive police interactions and unlawful searches, pointing to those killings as clear examples of how what is in the NYPD Patrol Guide – particularly around police encounters and searches – is ignored without consequence.

“The NYPD busted into my home without a warrant and shot and killed my son, with a range of misconduct committed by over 12 officers that probably violated nearly every part of the NYPD Patrol Guide,” said Constance Malcolm, the mother of Ramarley Graham. “Four years later, none of the officers have been held accountable or disciplined in any real way by this mayor and commissioner. Speaker Mark-Viverito wants us to believe that the routine abuses in everyday interactions are somehow now going to end because of a conversation with Bratton and some additional language in a Patrol Guide that's already continually violated. That’s ridiculous, and this is not reform in any way – it’s a slap in the face to me, all families who’ve had their loved ones killed by the NYPD and all New Yorkers continuing to face abusive encounters, which will not change with this backroom deal. The City Council needs to step up and pass the Right To Know Act as law – word changes to the Patrol Guide will not do anything to protect our communities."

“It’s approaching two years since Eric was killed, and yet we’ve seen no reforms to advance police accountability from the Mayor or the City Council while the widely supported legislative reforms of the Right to Know Act are blocked by Bill Bratton and politics,” said Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner. “It’s clear that the NYPD will not reform itself and that its own administrative rules are routinely not followed without consequence, or else my son would be alive today. The City Council should pass the Right to Know Act into law, because without true accountability and substantive reform, Black and Brown lives continue to be exposed to police abuses and violence.”

Advocates condemned Speaker Mark-Viverito’s side-deal as not meriting consideration as reform or even compromise, but rather simply a cosmetic announcement that is a step backwards and comes with no tangible accountability or change to police abuses. The Mark-Viverito/NYPD agreement strips the bill of its most important provisions, ones that the White House/Department of Justice Task Force on 21st Century Policing prioritized.

On the identification requirements, the Mark-Viverito/NYPD agreement:

  • Rolls back existing requirements in the NYPD Patrol Guide on officers identifying themselves, which are currently not even followed, to reduce the types of interactions where this would be mandated. It strips the requirements in the bill for officers to identify themselves in most instances when individuals are questioned without reasonable suspicion (the standard for a stop), most vehicle interactions (which have seen a spike and are not reported like stop-and-frisk), or in contact with potential crime victims and witnesses.
  • Strips the identification bill of requiring officers to provide rationale for the encounter, a provision the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing prioritized.
  • Omits key provision from the bill that explicitly includes plainclothes officers who are not in undercover operations, who are involved in many of such abusive incidents (Glenn Grays, James Blake, etc.)

On the consent search requirements, the Mark-Vivertio/NYPD agreement: 

  • Simply adds words to the Patrol Guide and instruction to officers, which is nothing more than wordsmithing
  • Guts the most important provision to require objective proof of consent, something the White House/DOJ Task Force prioritized
  • Stripped the required reporting on the frequency of consent searches and what communities are subjected to them (by race, ethnicity, gender, age, geography)
  • Eliminates any guarantee that individuals will be notified of their right to refuse a search when there is no legal basis, enabling continued deception and coercion of New Yorkers – there’s significant difference between being told by an officer that there’s a right to refuse a search by law (Right to Know Act) and an officer saying “can I go in your bag” when they are an officer of the law with a gun and clear power imbalance (agreement maintains that status quo)

Diverse communities throughout New York City have been calling for the Council to pass the Right to Know Act as common sense legislation that can help protect New Yorkers from abusive policing in their most common interactions with NYPD for months. The legislation had the required oversight hearing in June of 2015, and has the sponsorship support of a majority of the City Council – giving the legislation the support to pass.

The legislation was introduced in the New York City Council in November 2014 by Council Members Antonio Reynoso and Ritchie Torres. It consists of two pieces of legislation to increase accountability and transparency to protect civilians’ rights during their most common interactions with police officers. 

  • The first bill would require police officers to identify and explain themselves when stopping someone, seeking entry into a home, engaging a crime victim or witness, and other non-emergency situations.
  • The second bill would protect civilians against unconstitutional searches, by requiring officers to receive proof of consent to searches in which the only legal basis is the person’s consent. 

The bills are modeled on similar requirements already working in other states and will help address the accountability and transparency gaps in basic interactions that too often unnecessarily escalate because of a lack of information and respect for New Yorkers’ basic civil rights. The White House’s national Task Force on 21st Century Policing – which was co-chaired by Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, included the Tucson police chief, law enforcement experts and community stakeholders – endorsed the policy reforms of the Right to Know Act as ones that should be adopted throughout the country.

New Yorkers too often have no idea why they’re being engaged by an officer, or even the identity of the officer. Civilians can find themselves subjected to police abuse, brutality or disrespectful behavior simply for asking officers to identify themselves, even though the NYPD Patrol Guide requires officers to provide their name, rank, shield number and command when asked.

Additionally, most New Yorkers are unaware that they have the right to refuse a search when an officer does not have legal justification for the search (a warrant, probable cause or when a person is under arrest), or they are uncomfortable exercising those rights because of the power imbalance that exists between civilians and a police officer with a gun. New Yorkers’ experiences also demonstrate that officers routinely conduct searches without legal justification, either by deceiving New Yorkers into consent by ordering that they empty their pockets, or simply searching belongings without explanation.


“While city agencies have the ability to enact rules, the NYPD rules process falls outside of the transparent rulemaking process required of other agencies and the NYPD has routinely failed to hold its personnel accountable for violating rules,” said Councilwoman Rosie Mendez, District 2. “It is disappointing to hear that the leadership of the New York City Council has decided to try circumventing a vote on the Right to Know Act. The proposed legislative measures have more than a majority sponsorship of this body, we should be moving forward with codifying the two bills and remain committed to pass these into law.”

“This decision insults the intelligence of hard working advocates and directly impacted communities,” said Linda Sarsour, Executive Director of the Arab American Association of NY. “We are not going to take the NYPD's word for it that these changes will be implemented and enforced. We need legislation on the books that lives beyond any police commissioner or patrol guide. Our fight for the Right to Know Act continues.”

“AVP stands in solidarity with so many organizations and individuals in expressing our grave disappointment with efforts to undermine police reform and prevent a vote on the Right to Know Act, despite its majority support amongst council members and widespread backing from communities,” said Beverly Tillery, Executive Director of New York City Anti-Violence Project. “Passing this legislation into law is essential to keeping LGBTQ New Yorkers, and all New Yorkers, safe from abusive, discriminatory policing. Now more than ever we need real accountability and transparency in our interactions with the police, and we will continue to work tirelessly towards that goal.”

“Time and time again, we’ve seen that NYPD patrol guide changes are toothless and meaningless,” said Loyda Colon, Justice Committee Co-Director. “Eric Garner was killed by an NYPD chokehold in spite of a decades-old patrol guide ban on officers using chokeholds. The Speaker’s support of changes to words in a book officers don't even follow, rather than moving the Right to Know Act to vote in spite of it having majority support, shows that she's more than willing to put her political ambitions above the needs of New Yorkers for real changes in police policy and practice.”

“The Speaker’s collusionwith Bratton in an attempt to obstruct this critical legislation is an embarrassment to our city and a tragic example of back room deals derailing democracy and blocking critical reform,” said Leo Ferguson, Jews for Racial & Economic Justice. “But the Right To Know Act is alive and well in the council. We have a majority. And this movement of New Yorkers will continue to push for the Right to Know Act to become law and demand that the Speaker bring it to a vote.”

“The Right to Know legislation is a critical component of a multi-faceted plan to make the NYC police department accountable to the public,” said Juan Cartagena, President and General Counsel, LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “This legislation creates transparency and communication between the police and the communities they serve. Similar legislation has been implemented throughout the country and has also been suggested by the U.S. Department of Justice as a way to increase better relationships between police and citizens.”

“The need for improved police-community relations has never been more obvious than now,” said Walter Rodriguez, Director of Community Organizing, The Bronx Defenders. “We have a long way to go towards healing the wounds caused by decades of over-policing of low income communities of color in this city. The Right to Know Act is a positive step towards police accountability and empowering every New Yorker who is stopped by law enforcement with the basic information about who stopped them and why. These reforms will never happen in a meaningful, reliable way without legislation, and we will continue to fight for this.”

“The Right to Know Act simply seeks to put communities on a more level playing field with the officers they interact with in a way that is enforceable and subject to monitoring by external authorities so that the police aren't left to police themselves,” said Tina Luongo, Attorney-in-Charge of the Criminal Practice of The Legal Aid Society. “This agreement, while recognizing the value of the RTKA's substance, doesn't mean substantive changes will happen. The Patrol Guide does not guarantee community safety. It prohibited chokeholds. As we all know, it did not prevent Officer Pantaleo from using one on nearly two years ago killing Eric Garner. Requiring officers to share their name with the communities they serve is not too much to ask. Requiring officers to inform people of their rights, rather than taking advantage of what they don't know, is not too much to ask. It must be done by legislation to be enforceable. We urge the City Council to vote on the Right to Know Act.”

“I've been the victim of repeated stops and harassment by police officers without probable cause or any reason at all,” said Patrick Byer, a member of Picture the Homeless. “So has every other homeless person I know. The Right to Know Act is urgently needed to ensure that the rights of all New Yorkers are respected, especially those of us without homes, and a back-room deal to avoid accountability and reform in this moment is unacceptable. This administrative agreement is actually a step backwards. While politics is being played at City Hall, we who are out here on the streets will continue to deal with daily abuse and harassment and outright violence by the NYPD.”

Elizabeth Yeampierre, executive director of UPROSE, stated: “As a mother and activist of color,  I have been fighting for our right to breathe and be safe from police abuse my entire life- we have to fight against racial and environmental injustice every day, because both are killing us. UPROSE stands with this coalition in demanding justice and accountability for the murders of Eric Garner and Ramarley Graham. The need to pass the Right to Know Act into law to bring real accountability and transparency to people’s most common police interactions has not been addressed and is the least the City can do to support a commitment grounded in respect for the human rights and dignity of our community.”


“For Citizen Action members across New York, passage of the Right to Know Act would provide much-needed measures of accountability and responsibility for the NYPD,” said Citizen Action Board Member Mohammad Khan. The approaching second anniversary of the killing of Eric Garner and the recent police murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castille starkly highlight the dire need for the City Council to pass this Act for the rights of all New Yorkers.”

About Communities United for Police Reform: Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) is an unprecedented campaign to end discriminatory policing practices in New York, and to build a lasting movement that promotes public safety and policing practices based on cooperation and respect– not discriminatory targeting and harassment. CPR brings together a movement of community members, lawyers, researchers and activists to work for change. The partners in this campaign come from all 5 boroughs, from all walks of life and represent many of those unfairly targeted the most by the NYPD. CPR is fighting for reforms that will promote community safety while ensuring that the NYPD protects and serves all New Yorkers.

Topics: Right to Know Act