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Transparency not Gatekeeping Keeps Us Safe

By Candacé King on February, 5 2024

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Lately Mayor Eric Adams has been working overtime to make it easier for police to harm Black and Brown people while escaping accountability, but thankfully, his efforts are failing. 

Recently, the New York City Council overturned Mayor Adams’ veto of two bills that would end solitary confinement and require police documentation for all stops. The former NYPD captain turned politician slammed the decision, citing the imminent “danger” it would pose to New Yorkers. But his views beg a serious question of his interests: Does he want to be mayor of the NYPD or a leader who really looks out for the best interest of all New Yorkers

The checks and balances system that allowed City Council to challenge Adams’ outdated and harmful stance on public safety has kept NYC on the right side of history with this decision, especially as it relates to maintaining police transparency and public safety. The “How Many Stops Act,” which requires the NYPD to log all public interactions, will ensure that police officers are held accountable while ensuring that citizens are informed about police activities.    

Now, the nation’s largest police department will have to document their investigations with members of the public including the person’s demographic (race, ethnicity, gender, and age) and police’s rationale for the interaction. Officers would also have to note how the individual was stopped and what action was taken, including if there was use of force. There are efforts in the works to take this bill to the next level, as Deputy Majority Leader of the New York State Senate, Michael Gianaris, introduced new legislation in November that would allow citizens to surveil police activities in real time. 

The critical override victory comes mere months after NYPD has been making critical moves to gatekeep their activities including which included a $400 million development to encrypt their radio signals. Shortly before that decision, there was a policy in place that limited access to videos of Rikers, which only allowed board members to request videos at a designated location during business hours. After much lobbying, the NYC Board of Correction, a watchdog group tasked with monitoring Rikers, won back the right  to have unlimited access to live video from city jails including officers’ body-worn and handheld cameras.   

According to data from Mapping Police Violence, only 16 officers’ names were released in police-involved killings in the NYPD that occurred from 2017-2024 compared to 49 other incidents where officer’s names were not found.   

With evasion tendencies like this, it is unequivocally clear that we cannot trust law enforcement alone to inform the public about what really happens in their line of work without accountability from laws like the “How Many Stops Act.” 

 In September 1996, Guinean student Amadou Diallo arrived in New York City to build a new life with other family members who immigrated. With his cousin, he quickly set his sights on entrepreneurship. Selling socks, cassette tapes, and gloves on 14th Street, Diallo was determined to make his American dream a reality. However, in the early morning of February 4, 1999, his dreams were shattered by 41 bullets.  

The police shooting of Amadou Diallo was captured on police radio transmissions in real time, which meant that the public was immediately informed, and media outlets were able to independently verify the incident without external tampering. Public police radio signals meant that Diallo’s death would not go unnoticed, and more importantly, that we would say (and continue to remember) his name.  

Since the police shooting of Diallo, there have been other tragic stories of unarmed Black men dying at the hands of NYPD that were captured on police radio in real time. In 2006, Sean Bell and two of his friends were subjected to a hail of 50 bullets from NYPD officers that killed Bell mere hours before his wedding. In 2014, the nation was haunted by Eric Garner’s last words, “I can’t breathe,” as he died from a prohibited chokehold during an arrest attempt. In addition to police radio, this incident was also captured by Garner’s friend, Ramsey Orta, on cellphone video. Orta later confirmed that he feared for his life after the incident, as he became a target for harassment from the NYPD. In holding witness to his friend’s murder and holding police accountable, NYPD found a way to punish Orta.  

This past Sunday marked 25 years of the horrific tragedy of Diallo’s passing, and the lessons from that fateful day are abundantly clear: Gatekeeping police activities never led to public safety. We need to keep the channels of communication open to the public.  

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