Subverting New York’s Police Brutality PolicyRoundup
tags: New York City, police brutality, policing
In early November 1966, my sister and I―armed with a bucket of home-made paste, a wide brush, and a thick roll of “Vote No” posters―headed off from my student apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan to plaster the surrounding area with the signs. The Patrolman’s Benevolent Association (PBA), a very powerful police union, had placed a referendum on the New York City ballot to remove civilians from the Civilian Complaint Review Board.
We were a very small part of a long struggle―one that continues to this day―to develop a public policy that would curb police misconduct, often directed against racial minority groups, in New York City.
That struggle became a significant force in 1950, when a coalition of 18 organizations organized the Permanent Coordination Committee on Police and Minority Groups to press city authorities to deal with police misconduct generally, and specifically “with police misconduct in their relations with Puerto Ricans and Negroes.” In response, the city’s Police Department established a Civilian Complaint Review Board in 1953. It was composed of three deputy police commissioners, tasked with investigating civilian complaints and deciding on whether or not to recommend disciplinary action against police officers.
This control of the process by the Police Department did little to correct police behavior, and civil rights groups, calling attention to ongoing police brutality, demanded the creation of an independent, civilian Board. In the mid-1960s, after African-American uprisings swept through Harlem and Bedford Stuyvesant, John Lindsay, the city’s new mayor, added four civilians to the Board. This action, however, which Lindsay thought a reasonable compromise, enraged the police. John Cassese, president of the PBA, fiercely objected to a civilian presence, stating: “I’m sick and tired of giving in to minority groups with their whims and their gripes and shouting.” As a result, the PBA gathered enough signatures to place a measure on the ballot that would bar civilians from having any oversight of complaints against the police.
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