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With Only 3 Months Left to Pass Bills, Hundreds of New Yorkers Descend on City Hall Demanding Action on Right to Know Act Police Reforms

Right to Know Act is supported by majority of council members, 200+ groups and Colin Kaepernick; policies received support from Obama policing taskforce and Council’s Young Women’s Initiative

New Yorkers demand City Council end delay to passing protections for communities impacted by continuing police abuses

New York, NY – Hundreds of New Yorkers, family members of those killed by the NYPD, elected officials, and civil rights and labor leaders rallied outside of City Hall to demand the immediate passage of the Right to Know Act police reforms with less than three months left in the City Council’s legislative session. The group decried the delays in passing the legislation, which has wide support, and the negative effect such inaction has on New Yorkers impacted by abusive policing encounters. Kicking off an intense three-month campaign to get the bills passed, advocates pledged to maintain pressure on the City Council at City Hall and in respective Council districts until the Right to Know Act is passed into law before the end of the year.

“Our communities are tired of having our rights sacrificed for politics and inaction by New York City’s government officials on police accountability,” said Anthonine Pierre, a spokesperson for Communities United for Police Reform. “The City Council has less than three months to demonstrate that it will put politics aside and take action on police accountability by passing the Right to Know Act. This coalition of over 200 organizations and New Yorkers from across the city will be holding Council members accountable at every turn until the Right to Know Act becomes law. New York City cannot be a sanctuary city or model for progressive leadership without action on common-sense police reforms that advance accountability. New Yorkers want leadership that does what’s right, not a failure to act that protects the status quo and undermines the public interest.”

The Right to Know Act has the votes to pass, with sponsorship by a strong majority of New York City Council members, and support from over 200 local and national organizations. President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing – consisting of law enforcement and community leaders – and the City Council’s own Young Women’s Initiative both recommended the specific polices of the legislation in 2015 and 2016, respectively, as sound policy. Despite such overwhelming support, the Right to Know Act has yet to be passed and instead has faced repeated delays and obstruction. Several months ago and just months after a secret administrative agreement between then-NYPD Commissioner Bratton, Speaker Mark-Viverito and Mayor de Blasio sought to obstruct the bills, professional football player Colin Kaepernick awarded grant funding to support the campaign to pass the Right to Know Act as part of his Million Dollar Pledge.

New Yorkers continue to experience abuses in some of the most common interactions with NYPD officers. The Right to Know Act would help limit and prevent many of the most abusive interactions New Yorkers have with NYPD officers by improving accountability and transparency. It would help protect New Yorkers’ rights and prevent incidents from escalating to unjust criminalization and retaliation when New Yorkers exert those rights.

Over the past year, New York City officials have touted the city’s role as a “sanctuary city” and opposing force to President Trump’s anti-immigrant, racist agenda. However, there has been neither legislation passed to hold police accountable in their interactions with civilians, nor meaningful action to advance police accountability and transparency. The NYPD’s continued use of discriminatory “broken windows” policing that targets communities of color, including immigrant New Yorkers, for policing encounters is a significant driver of the criminalization of communities that feeds into the immigration enforcement system. This policing, targeted at certain communities, also significantly contributes to New Yorkers being incarcerated at Rikers Island and other jails.

As the Trump administration enables and encourages abusive policing that targets certain communities, it is even more critical to advance accountability and transparency in people’s most common encounters with their local police departments to prevent abuses.

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 in their most common interactions with NYPD officers – for years. The Right to Know Act 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 during police interactions, which were developed based on the most common abuses experienced by impacted community members.

The first bill would require police officers to identify and explain themselves when stopping someone on the street or in their car, seeking entry into a home, engaging a crime victim or witness, and other non-emergency policing encounters with civilians.

The second bill would protect civilians against unconstitutional searches, by requiring officers to receive proof of informed consent for police searches in which the only legal basis is the person’s consent.

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). Many civilians are also uncomfortable exercising those rights because of the power imbalance that exists between civilians and a police officer with a gun, and officers too often ignore those rights. New Yorkers’ experiences 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.

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.

During the de Blasio administration, there has been no meaningful action taken on police accountability and transparency. Officers are routinely not held accountable for abusing civilians – two of the NYPD officers served with departmental charges for killing Ramarley Graham over five years ago have still not even been brought to trial, the officers who killed Eric Garner over three years ago have not been held accountable, and other officers have faced slaps on the wrist for brutality and even killing. The de Blasio administration has taken steps backward on police accountability and transparency through its expanding misuse of state law 50-a to conceal more information on police misconduct and the lack of discipline for it than predecessors. At the same time, the policy implemented by the NYPD to govern body cameras undermines the possibility that the technology could advance transparency. It fails to mandate activation of the cameras in common policing encounters, and hinders public access to footage while providing officers with an alarmingly wide degree of access, even when they are the subject of a complaint or investigation.


“Through our collective strength, New Yorkers have made progress in putting an end to the NYPD's racial profiling practices,” said George Gresham, President of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East. “Now, we need to build on the headway we've made and ensure that our city's police officers are serving, not harming, the black and brown men and women who have suffered under unconstitutional practices like 'Stop and Frisk.' The full passage of the Right to Know Act would secure that police officers and communities are working collaboratively toward safer and stronger neighborhoods for all. Together, we can show the rest of the country what comprehensive police reform looks like.”

Kyle Bragg, Secretary-Treasurer of 32BJ SEIU, stated: “It is time for the City Council to do the right thing and pass the Right to Know Act now. Our communities cannot wait any longer. This bill will ensure transparency and accountability in policing practices and improve the interactions between police and communities of color. As we see the Trump Administration attacking immigrants, dismantling civil rights and protecting bigotry and racism, New York City can lead the way in passing legislation to make sure everyone in our city feels safe, secure and respected.”

Council Member Antonio Reynoso, lead sponsor of one of the Right to Know Act bills, stated,: “As this Council session draws to a close, we remain committed to passing the Right to Know Act. Reforming the way that police interact with communities is critical in New York City, and we continue to believe that passing this legislation would be the most meaningful step that this Council can take toward that reform.”

Beverly Tillery, Executive Director of the New York City Anti Violence Project, said: “We support the Right to Know Act because we know that the LGTBQ community—especially TGNC folks, youth, and people of color—experiences police harassment and criminalization at disproportionate rates. We demand accountability and transparency from our police.”

Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, stated: “City Council members took office four years ago promising to deliver police reform, yet their terms are closing without passing any legislation that takes on discriminatory and abusive police practices. Their work is not done until they pass the common sense Right to Know Act – and the clock is ticking.”

Tina Luongo, Attorney-in-Charge of the Criminal Defense Practice at The Legal Aid Society said: “For far too long, we’ve heard stories from our clients about being stopped, questioned and searched by police officers with no idea who stopped them, why they were stopped and what to do if they felt their rights were violated. The Speaker and City Council have been on the frontline of criminal justice reform many times and these reforms have made huge differences in the lives of our clients.  We urge the Speaker and City Council once again to fight for justice and pass the Right to Know Act immediately before the end of this legislative session.”

Council Member Helen Rosenthal said: “Now is the time for action on the Right to Know Act. I am proud to stand with the communities across New York City who have united to demand meaningful and long-lasting reform.”

Justice Committee Co-Director Loyda Colon stated: As an organization that works with families whose loved ones have been killed by the police, we know all too well how dire the consequences of abusive, Broken Windows policing can be. We are fighting for the passage of the Right to Know Act because we understand that every interaction with the NYPD has the potential to escalate to brutality and even killing.

Council Member Ben Kallos said: "The Right to Know Act is designed to inform residents of their constitutional rights. The legislation will strengthen bonds between communities and law enforcement, ultimately making it a safer city for us all."

Leo Ferguson, Movement Building Organizer for Jews for Racial & Economic Justice (JFREJ), stated: “Along with thousands of other Jews and Jewish communities throughout New York City, Jews For Racial & Economic Justice (JFREJ) supports the Right To Know Act and demands that it be brought to a vote today. The Right To Know Act is vital for the safety and dignity of all New Yorkers.”

Charles Folks, a member of Fast Food Justice, said: “Six years ago I was stopped by the police for no reason. I work hard and have nothing to hide, but as a working class African-American man I’m scared of what could happen if I end up at the wrong place at the wrong time. I support the Right to Know Act to hold police officers accountable because for too long we've been treated like suspects. We all deserve to feel safe.”

Nahal Zamani, Advocacy Program Manager with the Center for Constitutional Rights, stated: New York is long overdue to pass the Right to Know Act, and we can’t wait any longer. The protections in the act would shield New Yorkers from abusive encounters and ensure greater transparency in the New York Police Department—it’s a common-sense and necessary first step. The New York City Council needs to vote immediately to pass the Right to Know Act.”

Onleilove Alston, Executive Director of Faith in New York, said: “As people of faith, we know it is our duty to treat each of god's children with respect and dignity. The Right to Know Act is an important bill to address inequities in policing practices that violate that duty. FINY, our member congregations and more than 30 other faith and justice organizations that are part of the Faith Over Fear coalition stand with communities across the city to call on the City Council to pass the Right to Know Act immediately.”

Carl Stubbs, leader at VOCAL-NY stated: “In my community people are tired of being harassed and picked on by the police. They go into businesses without identifying themselves and do whatever they want. We need to pass the Right to Know Act immediately to stop these abuses.”

Sasha Alexander, Director of Membership, Sylvia Rivera Law Project, stated: “The Sylvia Rivera Law Project believe community-driven solutions like the #RightToKnowAct are an important step towards greater accountability for the NYPD.  It's critical that advocacy and organizing efforts continue to be led by people disproportionately impacted by over-policing, profiling, and increased criminalization such as trans, gender non-conforming, and intersex people (TGNCI) who are low-income,
people of color, and/or immigrants.”

Craig Levine, Director of Policy Reform at The Bronx Defenders, said: “We're not asking for anything radical here, just enforceable laws to protect the rights of New Yorkers during police encounters. The Right to Know Act is a common-sense measure toward this goal," said. "The legislation is already supported by a majority of the City Council and it is widely recognized as a concrete step to improve police-community relations. It is long past time for Speaker Mark-Viverito to bring it up for a vote.”

Bianca Cunningham, a member of the Steering Committee of the DSA Racial Justice Working Group, stated, “We must pass the Right to Know Act now.  Too many people have been mistreated  and unlawfully searched by New York City police.  Black and brown youth need to know that they do not have to allow a search without lawful reason and how to file a complaint, and against whom, when illegally stopped.”

Mo Farrell, Policy Strategist at the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice, said: “At Katal, we know that the fight to end mass criminalization, mass incarceration, and war on drugs means a fight for change in every aspect of the criminal justice system. Because so frequently the point of entry to the justice system is in the hands of the police, it is essential that we transform policing practices to eliminate unwarranted racial disparities and secure equitable outcomes for all. The Right to Know Act must be passed this year to improve transparency and accountability of the NYPD in their interactions with New Yorkers.”

Brandon West, Vice President of Policy for New Kings Democrats, stated: “Local law enforcement must be transparent & accountable, as we expect of all public servants. New Kings Democrats urge the City Council to come together and stand with this coalition to finally pass the Right to Know Act.”

Council Member Donovan Richards, co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, said: “While New York City and the NYPD have come a long way since the rampant use of stop and frisk, we still have plenty to do in regards to transparency and accountability,” said. “This is why we need the Right to Know Act signed into law and then we can begin to create a true model of community policing that ensures 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.

Learn more:
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Topics: Right to Know Act