By Sam Bojarski
More than two weeks of mass protest following the death of George Floyd has shifted the national conversation on policing. Lawmakers in Albany have responded by voting on police reform legislation, including a racial profiling and police accountability bill sponsored by Haitian-American assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte (D-Flatbush, Ditmas Park).
Bill A04615A, which Bichotte sponsored, passed the assembly on June 8, although the senate has not voted to adopt the bill in its entirety. The legislation requires law enforcement agencies to adopt a written policy prohibiting racial profiling and for agencies to keep detailed records on activities like traffic and pedestrian stops and searches of individuals. Officers would be required to document several details, including the race and ethnicity of individuals they stop, as well as the nature of the alleged violation. Law enforcement must provide this data to the Department of Criminal Justice Services, which would produce an annual report for public viewing.
The legislation also allows for individuals to file for injunctive relief or damages against a law enforcement agency engaged in racial profiling.
“Racial profiling by law enforcement has led to a breakdown in the relationship between the community and police. My bill will ensure that members of black and Hispanic communities are not wrongly targeted for the color of their skin,” said Bichotte, in a prepared statement.
“I strongly believe that once this discriminatory practice is stopped, and the people believe that officers will ‘protect and serve’ all communities then we can begin to heal, trust one another, and work together for the safety and betterment of the community and state of New York,” she also said.
Police reform bills by New York state lawmakers have received much media attention this week. Both chambers have voted to repeal civil rights law 50-a, which shields police disciplinary records from the public. Legislation banning police chokeholds is also heading to the desk of Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
From 2014 to June of 2019, the New York Police Department (NYPD) received nearly 2,500 complaints of racial bias, yet failed to substantiate a single allegation.
According to Bichotte, law enforcement cannot be charged with policing itself when it comes to racial profiling.
“Bill A4615A will require the Division of Criminal Justice Services to oversee that police departments are in compliance with this law. We hope that with the reorganization of funds, more of our budget can be reallocated to data collection,” the assemblymember told the Haitian Times.
Anthony Beckford, a constituent who lives in Flatbush and the president of Black Lives Matter Brooklyn, praised the legislation as a good starting point. But he said lawmakers need to look at more ways to hold officers accountable.
“We need to pass a resolution and measures that would actually bring about suspension without pay. And after a certain amount of times, then termination and loss of pension, or civil suits brought against them,” Beckford said.
As a candidate to represent New York City’s 45th council district, Beckford has advocated for a Living While Black resolution to address police misconduct. In an interview with the Haitian Times, he voiced support for appointing an independent prosecutor to focus on issues like racial profiling by law enforcement.
“It’s an abuse, it literally is an abusive relationship,” Beckford said about the problem of racial profiling. “You know, we talk about sexual abuse, domestic violence, this is another form of abuse as well, you know, and we need to recognize it as we recognize others, because this right here brings on what I call intergenerational trauma.”
The state senate has passed its own racial profiling legislation, that Bichotte called a “watered-down” version of the assembly bill she sponsored. The office of Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins confirmed on June 9 that the Senate passed bill S8495.
While the legislation calls for racial profiling policies by law enforcement and procedures for corrective action against officers who engage in racial profiling, it does not contain data reporting requirements on law enforcement activities.
The senate version does not have support in the assembly, the office of Rodneyse Bichotte told the Haitian Times in an email June 9.
“Collecting data is the only way we can truly hold law enforcement accountable for their actions,” Bichotte said, adding that “a police reform package that does not include this is not a package for the people of New York.”
According to Sabrina Rezzy, director of communications and legislation for Bichotte, a number of organizations have petitioned the senate to include data requirements in a racial profiling bill.
Dr. Phillip Atiba Goff and Dr. Tracie Keesee, both co-founders of the think tank Center for Policing Equity addressed a letter to Stewart-Cousins, the senate majority leader, dated June 9. The letter called on the senate to pass the racial profiling bill sponsored by Bichotte and rejected “any partial or watered-down version” of the bill.
“The best law enforcement officials know that compliance with the law begins with trust. Without reliable and transparent data, policymakers, police, and the public lack a shared foundation to make informed decisions and ensure that policing reflects the values of the communities they serve. That undermines trust ‒ and the ability of police to do their jobs effectively,” the letter read.
Rezzy confirmed on June 10 that the senate had not yet taken action on the assembly’s racial profiling bill.
“We must make sure this bill passes in the senate, which has introduced a watered-down version that would do away with data collection and disrespect all those who have been victims of racial profiling. I am hopeful that our state senators will hear the voices of our community loud and clear, and understand that this key aspect of the bill must be included. We will not accept anything less,” Bichotte told the Haitian Times.