As previously expressed on our Facebook page [CSBA Attorneys, 6/01/2020], this union of approximately one thousand NYC government Agency Attorneys, Attorney Interns and Attorneys-at-Law strongly supports the Black Lives Matter movement. The recent murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and Rayshard Brooks by police officers have underscored the importance of police reform. Here in New York, we still remember how Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell and Eric Garner died at the hands of police officers simply because they were Black. Recently, we were appalled to see numerous instances of police brutality against peaceful protestors.
We also know that any time police misconduct leads to public protests, the usual cry of police reform rears its familiar face. The false hope of many well-intentioned police reforms is that more rules and more training will translate to better policing. However, the problem with policing goes much deeper. White supremacy, systemic racism and institutional racist policies such as stop and frisk must be rooted out. Meaningful changes must be pursued and implemented in a manner that forces police departments to re-examine their practices and to confront, both institutionally and personally, the gross injustices that Black, Latinx, and indigenous people continue to experience at the hands of police officers.
An obvious starting point is a reexamination of the role of police departments. In the South, policing grew out of slave patrols that caught and returned runaway slaves. In the North, police departments were responsible for crushing labor strikes and riots against the rich. Today, most police officers spend considerable time issuing parking and traffic citations, responding to noise complaints and addressing other noncriminal issues. For example, Eric Garner was killed for selling loose cigarettes. This economic issue should have been addressed by other city agencies as opposed to the NYPD.
Police practices such as the already prohibited choke hold Daniel Pantaleo used to kill Eric Garner, must be banned across the country, and body cameras should be required at all times. Equally important is police accountability. Continued calls for training and retraining have become the stock response when we observe police brutality or the deaths of innocent civilians at the hands of police officers. In fact, the recent protests revealed incidents of police misconduct that strongly suggest what is needed is police accountability and not merely police training or retraining. But so much more needs to be done. Community organizers and elected officials have long advocated for community control over policing, as well as the creation of an independent civilian agency with investigative and prosecutorial power over allegations of police brutality and the use of deadly force. It’s time to heed their calls.
None of the above should be confused, however, with calls to eliminate the due process rights of accused officers. Fundamental fairness is a value we are not willing to sacrifice under any circumstances. Indeed it is at the very heart of what we seek for all. We know of no fairer safeguard than an impartial arbitrator. Nevertheless, we are mindful of the fact that a process measured in years does not inspire the trust and confidence necessary to improve the perception that the system is rigged.
The clarion call to “defund the police” represents a legitimate attempt to address over-policing in communities of color. It would enable municipal governments to dedicate more resources to health care, housing, education and living wage jobs, reducing the need for an increased police presence in communities of color. Increased investment in these areas also promises to increase the quality of life for people living in marginalized communities.
We remain aware and sensitive to the fact that some of our members frequently experience discrimination based on their race, ethnicity, gender, nationality or sexual orientation. We pledge our unwavering support towards efforts dedicated to dismantling white supremacy, institutional racist policies, discrimination and xenophobia. CSBA’s officers and directors stand in solidarity with our Black, Latinx, Asian and LGBTQ brothers and sisters, especially Trans women of Color, who continue to experience high levels of violence.