CITY HALL.– Representatives from local criminal justice advocacy organizations and area public defenders, elected officials, and New Yorkers from over-policed communities gathered at City Hall today to announce a new campaign – Erase The Database NYC – to abolish the New York City Police Department’s secretive gang database.
Since 2014, thousands of New Yorkers – including hundreds of children – have been added to the NYPD’s gang database. During that period, Mayor Bill de Blasio and the NYPD have launched dozens of militarized gang takedowns – so-called “precision policing” – targeting mostly Black and Latinx communities based on supposed gang associations.
The campaign’s demands include:
1. Stop criminalizing people as “gang members”
2. Abolish gang databases (of any kind)
3. Discontinue all “focused deterrence” and other “precision policing” initiatives.
4. Stop using large scale “gang takedowns,” including the employment of state and federal conspiracy charges
5. End the use of social media monitoring and other forms of digital surveillance
6. Invest in additional credible messenger programs and expand resources for gang-involved people
7. Divest from overly aggressive policing and instead invest in increased public health programs, sustainable housing, employment development, schools, conflict transformation and alternative accountability models like restorative justice.
8. Investigate and audit current gang suppression practices by the NYPD as well as collaboration with local and federal prosecutors
* Earlier this year, CUNY School of Law released a new report on the “Bronx 120” federal gang takedown of 2016, the largest gang takedown in the city’s history. The report showed how many of those targeted by the NYPD and federal prosecutors weren’t alleged to be gang members, had no prior felonies and were not even accused of violence.
* Just this week, The Policing and Social Justice Project at Brooklyn College released a report on gang policing tactics in New York City under Mayor Bill de Blasio. The report showcases the consequences of gang labeling by police, such as increased harassment, as well as effects on housing and immigration.
* In 2017, activists and attorneys demanded an investigation into NYPD gang tactics by the department’s Inspector General.
“The NYPD’s punitive and over-inclusive gang database has ensnared thousands of our clients, many who have never even been convicted of a crime,” said Anthony Posada, Supervising Attorney of the Community Justice Unit at The Legal Aid Society. “This campaign will build on our work to illuminate the abuses of this practice. New York City must follow the example led by other jurisdictions and abolish its gang database once and for all.”
Lisa Schreibersdorf, Executive Director of Brooklyn Defender Services, said: “Gang databases often hinge on thin evidence that does not stand up to scrutiny, yet they are maintained because of the power of the gang label to inspire fear, drive aggressive policing and prosecutions, and ultimately yield harsher outcomes for the people we represent, including deportation based on the most trivial of offenses. Among other necessary reforms, it’s time to end the criminalization of friendship and community and dismantle the gang database, which only further institutionalizes profiling-based policing. For true community safety, New Yorkers need good jobs, stable housing, and quality healthcare, including mental healthcare and drug treatment, as well as adequately funded community-based cure violence programs.”
“Gang databases only perpetuate the racial bias of government officials who target Latinx and Black communities to maintain a culture of mass incarceration, violence, fear and denigration. Government officials should work on understanding communities and not surveil them. Use of the gang database underscores the lack of connection between the police force and the communities they are hired to protect and serve. Gangs are not criminal they are social affiliations. We cannot allow affiliation to be criminalized, period. Further, we cannot allow the vague criteria used for entry into the gang database to be discriminatorily enforced against communities of color. We find this time and again with policing policies, just like we saw the targeting of neighborhoods of color with stop and frisk. The gang database is an offense to the people’s constitutional rights,” said Nathalia Varela, Associate Counsel LatinoJustice PRLDEF.