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Police Reform Campaign, NYC Organizations & National Homeless Advocates Call for Official Investigation into NYPD’s Policing of Homeless New Yorkers

Groups request NYPD Inspector General conduct formal review

Communities United for Police Reform – with support from over 50 local advocacy/community organizations and national homeless advocacy organizations – requested that NYPD Inspector General Philip Eure conduct an official investigation of the NYPD’s policing and treatment of homeless New Yorkers.

The letter requesting the investigation states: “Over the past two years and especially the past several months, a number of documented incidents and reports, together with pronouncements by top government officials, raise serious concerns about whether homeless people in the city are being targeted with abusive and discriminatory treatment by the NYPD – simply due to their housing status.

“Homeless New Yorkers are entitled to the same rights as any other resident of the city, but some accounts appear to indicate that police have participated in activity violating that notion.”

Read the letter requesting the investigation:

The request references homeless New Yorkers being ordered to vacate public spaces, despite not violating any laws, particularly in the East Harlem area surrounding 125th Street and Park Avenue. In one of the more extreme cases, several homeless New Yorkers had their personal property unlawfully seized and discarded into a waiting Sanitation truck. That incident was captured on video and is the subject of a notice of claim, the precursor to a lawsuit against the city, filed by members of Picture the Homeless with legal assistance from NYCLU in December.

The request also highlights the de Blasio administration’s efforts to dismantle so called “encampments” as a policy and practice opposed by the U.S. Justice Department in a legal filing and the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness for policy reasons. In noting concerns about such actions, the request calls for investigation into whether similar actions that collaboratively use the NYPD and Department of Sanitation to seize and destroy the possessions of homeless people appear to have been taken in places where homeless people simply congregate without unlawfully constructed structures or other features of encampments that may violate local laws.

NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton’s history of policing that targeted homeless people in New York and Los Angeles is also raised in the context of his recent pronouncements to clear homeless people from the subway system. In 2014, the NYPD announced similar plans to clear homeless New Yorkers off of the train cars of a particular subway line, but cancelled after its intentions became public and garnered opposition.

The letter also questions the NYPD’s raids on homeless shelters for people with outstanding warrants – despite the fact that many of New York City’s 1.2 million outstanding warrants are the result of failing to address low-level, non-criminal infractions. Though such raids on the Upper West Side of Manhattan ceased after opposition by advocates and neighborhood residents, reports of similar raids at homeless shelters elsewhere in the city continue to be reported by news outlets. In the investigation request, advocates conveyed that it is troubling for the NYPD to target homeless people for such punitive action when there appears to be pretty wide consensus about the crisis of outstanding warrants among all New York City residents. The crisis has created enough concern for prosecutors that district attorneys from various boroughs host events that help residents resolve these issues in far less harmful ways with “Safe Surrender” and “Clean Slate” initiatives.

The request also indicates that Governor Cuomo’s executive order to “seemingly authorize the involuntary removal of homeless New Yorkers from the street by law enforcement compounds concerns of inappropriate policing-led approaches to homeless New Yorkers” on the city’s streets.




Yul-san Liem of Communities United for Police Reform said: “New Yorkers shouldn’t be targeted by police because of their housing status, and abusive policing is unacceptable when directed at any New Yorker, including those who are homeless. An official and thorough investigation into the NYPD’s policing and treatment of homeless New Yorkers by Inspector General Eure is needed to ensure that the rights of all New Yorkers are no longer undermined by the violation of homeless New Yorkers’ equal rights.”

Picture The Homeless member Chyna Burke stated: “We need the NYPD Inspector General to conduct an investigation because the police take advantage of our powerlessness as homeless people. They know we have no say-so. We don't want to be arrested, but why are you telling me to move? I'm not doing anything illegal. Cops run us from spot to spot every thirty, forty-five minutes. Last night we were sleeping on the sidewalk, and it was below freezing out - they started yelling at us, telling us to move. We knew we weren't breaking any laws. But when we didn't move, they snatched the covers off of us and threw our blankets away. That was the Homeless Outreach Unit of the NYPD. That's how much they care. New Yorkers need to know what their police are doing to us, and we need the Inspector General to shine a light on it.”

Picture The Homeless member ‘Doc’ said: “For the NYPD, it's been open season on homeless people. Even when we're just standing around, they roll up on us, tell us to move along. I've had MTA & NYPD cops jump me, cuff me, then release me with no charges. Cops are trying to run us out of this city so people with more money can feel more comfortable. So much development is happening in Harlem right now, Pathmark becoming condos, Whole Foods going up, but who's getting rich? Not us. Not Harlemites. I've been running up and down Harlem streets since I was eighteen. Store owners know me, they tell the cops to leave me alone, they ask about me when I don't come around. I'm part of this community. I won't be thrown out. This investigation by the Inspector General is urgently needed because the cops don't respect us as human beings, and they won't until somebody forces them to.”

Imani Brown, Co-Chair of the New York Chapter of Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100) stated: “The criminalization of homelessness, which creates even more barriers to housing and jobs, functions to deflect blame onto individuals and away from institutions and systems that have disenfranchised and discriminated against people in the first place. More often than not, those impacted are poor, Black, trans*, gender non-conforming, and women.”

Teresa Basilio of Global Action Project said: “NYPD actions on 125th street/Park Avenue and elsewhere in the city that criminalize and target homeless New Yorkers for police enforcement action based solely on their homeless status are discriminatory, dehumanizing and unjust. Global Action Project stands with our communities who are homeless and calls on NYPD Inspector General Phil Eure to conduct a formal review in the NYPD's abusive policing.”

Alexis Karteron, supervisory senior staff attorney at the New York Civil Liberties Union stated: “Homelessness is a tragedy, not a crime. We ask the NYPD Inspector General to respond to concerning reports about law enforcement’s treatment of homeless New Yorkers and ensure they are being treated with dignity and humanity. With the city under pressure to address homelessness, it must employ long-term solutions like providing housing and social services, not target homeless people as though they’re criminals.”

Elizabeth Yeampierre, Executive Director of UPROSE, said: “Targeting the homeless by escalating the level of policing is a barometer of NYC's disrespect for human rights – the most vulnerable in our community must endure police abuse to make the city comfortable for the most privileged. We join Communities United for Police Reform in calling on the NYPD Inspector General, Phil Eure, to conduct a formal review into the NYPDs abusive policing of homeless people.”

Tina Luongo, Legal Aid Society’s Attorney-in-Charge of the Criminal Practice stated: “The Legal Aid Society joins this call for the Inspector General to review NYPD policies and practices in regards to abusive policing of homeless New Yorkers. Our homeless neighbors do not deserve to have their few belongings destroyed, their lives further disrupted and their sense of safety deteriorated by our own city's police officers. How much NYPD's targeting of homeless people is driven by public safety versus creating a superficial sense of a prosperous population should be closely examined.”

Karina Hurtado-Ocampo of Global Action Project said: “In addition to verbal and physical abuse, NYPD's practices towards our homeless community members on 125th Street have included throwing away personal belongings and giving summonses for ‘loitering’ and ‘aggressive panhandling’ during rush hours to avoid visibility by incoming Metro North passengers. Global Action Project does not stand with the attempts to make our homeless community  invisible by taking them off the streets instead of promoting policies that would address their immediate needs, such as the expansion of low-income housing.”



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.

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Topics: NYPD Inspector General