The Surreal Estate

Perspectives on Tenant Organizing from the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board

Tag Archives: nypd

Stop and Frisk: “Reform” Debate Continues

As a result of powerful organizing and strong city-wide coalitions, Stop and Frisk has become one of the major issues that Mayoral Candidates have been forced to address.  Democratic mayoral candidates who did not seem critical enough of NYPD’s Stop and Frisk policies suffered in the election. Earlier this summer, the courts ruled that the way the NYPD has implemented Stop and Frisk is unconstitutional.  In attempt to improve police practices, Judge Scheindlin appointed an independent monitor and mandated that certain groups of police in high-crime areas must wear cameras. While we view this court ruling as a moral victory, we remain skeptical about how Stop and Frisk can remain in place in a just way.

Bloomberg and the NYPD are doing everything in their power to maintain Stop and Frisk as it is, and challenge the court’s ruling. This week, the union representing NYPD sergeants filed paperwork to appeal the court ruling, as well as to demand a seat at the table to help decide how the reforms will be implemented.

On the one hand, this seems fair- it’s their jobs and they’ll have to be the people carrying out the reforms. Just like we support teachers being involved in education reforms, perhaps police need to be involved in this process.  But when you dig deeper their role in conversations around reform becomes murkier- the NYPD sergeants are the very people who have been carrying out the unconstitutional practices. What’s more, they clearly do not believe that the program needs reform- which is why they are working to appeal the ruling.  If they don’t believe in the need to change their practices when those practices are clearly damaging, why should they have a seat at the table?

Stop and Frisk greatly impacts our work at UHAB. The tenants we work with are almost exclusively people of color, and Stop and Frisk policies (as proven over and over again) disproportionately impact communities of color. As a result, neighborhoods are deeply affected- from the way that people view the police and safety, to the way that they feel monitored and policed in their own homes.

Even “Operation Clean Halls,” the Stop and Frisk for privately owned apartment buildings, was deemed unconstitutional. But so little has changed. The NYTimes reports that:

Judge Scheindlin excoriated the Police Department for persisting in making illegal stops and arrests outside private apartment buildings — even after prosecutors had pointed out that they were wrongful.

There is a similar class-action lawsuit in the works claiming that stops in NYCHA buildings are discriminatory:

One resident, the president of a public housing leadership group, testified that life for families harassed by stop-and-frisk policies in their own apartment buildings was like life in a “penal colony.

Last week, Picture the Homeless  screened its new film “Journey Towards Change: Victory Over NYPD Profiling.”  According to Picture the Homeless’s website, “this short film includes interviews with our members, glimpses of activists in action, and reflections on what we’ve achieved and how much work we still have to do.”  To check out the film or get involved with Picture the Homeless’s work around Stop and Frisk, contact Shaun Lin at shaun@picturethehomeless.org.


Remember Amadou Diallo: Stand Up Against Police Brutality and Racial Profiling!

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14 years ago today, 22 year old Amadou Diallo was shot at 41 times by the police in the doorway of his apartment building in the Soundview section of the Bronx.  Amadou was unarmed and a recent immigrant. His murder sparked widespread protest against the NYPD, and has become symbolic of the mistrust between the police and communities of color. In October, the officer who initiated the shooting was reunited with his gun. This fact adds to an increasing sentiment that the NYPD’s practices are in opposition to the best interests of most New Yorkers. In the past year, the relationship between New York and the boys in blue has deteriorated drastically, particularly in communities of color.

NYPD policies:

While we recognize that many NYPD officers support and work towards the best interest of the community, most are required to participate in the policies listed above.  These tactics instill a dangerous fear of law enforcement and dissuade us from standing up for ourselves and our communities.

Often when organizing in buildings, particularly in the Bronx, we hear that tenants are afraid to speak out against the horrible conditions that they suffer.  Some tenants are afraid of the landlord, some of their immigration status. As organizers, we work to empower communities, facilitate them coming together and facing something seemingly frightening together. Through organizing, demonstrating, and demanding changes, we can change the police system into the empowering body that it should be, into something that will uplift our communities.

Join Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice TODAY to honor Amadou Diallo’s life and to END police brutality and racial profiling:

Who: YOUTH MINISTRIES FOR PEACE AND JUSTICE
What: Amadou Diallo Rally & Prayer Vigil
Where/When: 6:00 PM – Meet at Youth Ministrites for Peace and Justice, 1384 Stratford Avenue, Bronx NY
6:15 PM – March Starts
6:30PM – Prayer Vigil Starts @ Amadou Diallo’s Home, 1157 Wheeler Avenue, Bronx, NY 10472

For more information, click here

Housing Piece of Stop and Frisk Deemed Unconstitutional!

Photo: NY Daily News

Photo: NY Daily News

On January 9th NYC witnessed a historic blow to its Stop and Frisk Program.  A federal judge ruled that “Operation Clean Halls” – the aspect of the Stop and Frisk program which operates in private apartment buildings – is unconstitutional.  We’ve written about the racist nature of Operation Clean Halls on our blog several times.  There has been testimony after testimony after testimony of folks – almost exclusively people of color – being harassed or worse by police in or just outside of their own apartment buildings. Wednesday’s ruling is specific to buildings in the Operation Clean Halls program in the Bronx, but community activists and lawyers hope it to be extended city-wide.

NPR’s Michel Martin spoke to John Jay professor Gloria J. Browne-Marshall about the ruling.  Browne- Marshall explains the legal backing behind this ruling:

Under Terry versus Ohio in 1968, police are given the authority to conduct stops-and-frisks if there is imminent danger to the officer or to the public. Here, now we’ve drifted down to a level of – we’re no longer looking for guns. We’re no longer looking at imminent danger. We’re just saying, is this person loitering in a private facility? And, to the point where – are they loitering outside? Loitering and being arrested for stop-and-frisk is not what Terry versus Ohio allowed and so that issue right there raises it to the level of an unconstitutional stop, detaining of the person and the actual touching of the person by a police department.

Not only are people being stopped in buildings without any signs of immediate danger, but the people who are stopped are disproportionately people of color; 84% of all stops are men and women of color.  If this doesn’t enlighten us about the racist nature of this program, I don’t know what could.

NYC’s Stop and Frisk program is being attacked on several legal levels.  On December 20th an appellate state court ruled that the city is not legally allowed to keep their online database of over 360,000 people who were stopped and frisked by the NYPD.  The fact that the records are being stored electronically violates NYPD’s need to seal their records.  “‘This is a victory for privacy and the rule of law,’ said NYCLU Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn, lead counsel in the case. ‘It pulls the plug on the NYPD sprawling electronic database of innocent black and Latino New Yorkers.’”

One other legal blow that Stop and Frisk and the  NYPD face is a national lawsuit filed (again) by NYCLU which challenges the arrest of a Brooklyn woman who recorded a Stop and Frisk incident outside her house.  NYCLU’s press release reports:

[Hadiyah Charles ] used her smartphone to record two NYPD officers as they questioned and frisked three black youth whom had been innocently fixing a bicycle down the street from her Bedford-Stuyvesant home. The police officers tried to prevent Ms. Charles from filming the encounter by shoving her, handcuffing her, arresting her, and holding her in a jail cell for 90 minutes.

This is clearly problematic.  The more we can hold NYPD accountable for their harassment of New Yorkers, especially black and brown youth, the better. NYCLU is actually promoting recording incidents of Stop and Frisk.  They have created a smartphone app meant for recording incidents, and as a know-your-rights tool.  We need to continue fighting in the courts and in the streets until the entire Stop and Frisk program is dismantled!

Friday News Round Up!

This is what happened while we all watched the Olympics:

  1. Travelers looking to avoid expensive and dull hotels can turn to Airbnb to rent unique accommodations on a per-night basis. Its growing popularity has many New Yorkers, looking to earn a few bucks, posting their apartment for “micro” subletting on the website. It’s a great deal – I recently returned from vacation myself and we booked many of our accommodations through Airbnb. The only problem is that in New York it is illegal. State law requires that those living in residential “Class A” dwellings must stay for a term of at least 30 days. The law was initially designed to crack down on slum landlords turning their properties into dirty and dangerous hotels. Read more at The Atlantic Cities.
  2. If you are familiar with New York City Predatory Equity you are familiar with Larry Gluck. This notorious landlord is perhaps most well known for his role in overleveraging the historic Riverton Houses in Harlem, but we have run into him all over Bronx and Brooklyn as well. Gluck has been on a selling spree. Several months ago he sold 111 Kent Avenue in Williamsburg for $56M, and this week he sold 122 unit Stevenson Towers in the Bronx to a private investor who we believe is named Abraham Greenspan. Greenspan paid $14M for this building – $114,000 a unit. Most buildings in the Bronx go for about $70,000 – $90,000 a unit, according to Crain’s NY. The building has a $10M mortgage with J.P. Morgan Chase.
  3. Public employment is on the rise again, after a long and painful decline. However, these numbers exclude public school teachers, whose ranks continue to shrink. Jordan Weissman of The Atlantic suggests that this inconsistency is a hidden casualty of the housing crisis. Property taxes, which disproportionately fund public education, have fallen in the past several years. Read more.
  4. In the wake of Sunday’s attack in Wisconsin, City Comptroller John Liu has called on Mayor Bloomberg to allow Sikh members of the NYPD to wear religious gear. In a letter delivered to the Mayor this morning Liu writes, “Our City can enact meaningful inclusion of this community by changing NYPD rules to allow Sikhs to serve without having to forsake their turbans and beards.” Washington, DC has recently changed their rules to allow religious garb while on duty, and NYC law requires that workplaces foster supportive environments for all religious practices.

That’s all for today! Thanks for reading – and be sure to tune in next week for a guest post from former Surreal Estate and UHAB Organizing employee Elyssa White!

Operation Clean Halls: a Violation of the Fair Housing Act?

A federal lawsuit filed last week by the NY Civil Liberties Union, the Bronx Defenders, and LatinoJustice PRLDEF against NYPD’s “Operation Clean Halls” is all over the news this morning. This program allows landlords to request a police presence in privately owned apartment buildings (like ones that we at organize) to check ID’s and dissuade criminal behavior.   The program is part NYPD’s larger “Stop and Frisk” policy in which police stop “suspects” to check for illegal substances or activities. It is widely believed that the “Stop and Frisk” program disproportionately target people of color.  An article in the Atlantic Cities reports that “some 84 percent of the people stopped in 2009 were black or Latino; those groups represent 53 percent of the city’s population.”

What does it mean for tenants to have a police presence in their building?  A Bronx tenant told a WYNYC reporter her experience in a building with police presence. Fawn Bracy is a named plaintiff in the case:

I can’t count the number of times I’ve watched police throw my son and his friends up against the wall, and I have to run downstairs and just keep running and running and stopping them from harassing these kids for just sitting in their own courtyard where they live at.

The lawsuit points out ways Operation Clean Halls infringes on tenants’ constitutional rights.  The Fourth Amendment protects us against unreasonable searches and seizures, and plaintiffs claim this is in direct contradiction with what is takes place New York City apartment buildings (people’s homes) as a result of Clean Halls.  The First Amendment guarantees us the right of freedom of assembly. Many tenants feel threatened and discouraged from gathering by intimidating police presence. Jacqueline Yates, Bronx tenant, describes her experience with the program in the same WNYC article:

You get to the point that you don’t feel like a human being. I got family members that don’t send their kids over because they’re scared they’re gonna be stopped.

Plaintiffs in the case are also arguing that the city is in violation of the Fair Housing Act because the program disproportionately impacts people of color.

In almost all the buildings we work in, tenants voice their concerns over lack of security. Strangers come in and out freely, and many buildings have an active drug presence. Parents are worried about unsafe environments for their children. Some tenants have asked us, as an organizing tactic, to help them work together to force their landlord to implement Clean Halls. It is important, when debating Clean Halls, to recognize the complexities of programs like this which attempt to increase security and make buildings safer for tenants who live there.  It is important to recognize that security is something desperately wanted by many community members. However, according to tenants lived experiences, Operation Clean Halls has not been effective or helpful in discouraging crime. It does not provided that needed security nor does it protect tenants. As WNYC reports,

The intentions of the Clean Halls program are good. But the problem is that the level of trust between the minority community and the NYPD has been damaged again and again over the years. Incidents like the death of Ramarley Graham, an unarmed black teenager who was followed into his building and shot dead in his own bathroom as he apparently was trying to flush a baggie of pot down the toilet, confirm people’s worst fears about what the police are capable of doing. And the NYPD’s stubborn insistence that there is no problem, that they’re just trying to make people safer, can’t change the fact that for many people, they are a source of fear, intimidation, and routine humiliation.

We believe that this lawsuit provides space to have a reinvigorated conversation about building and community security. Hall Monitor programs and Neighborhood Watches have been known to work, but there needs to be larger policy shifts which don’t function though racial and gender discrimination. How can we actually hold the NYPD and the city accountable for the racist implications, and how can we create safe neighborhoods in new, creative ways?

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