A ruling against the NYPD does not deter abuse nor thwart the growing police state
In Ligon v. City of New York the ACLU challenged the NYPD’s aggressive patrolling of private apartment buildings, part of the controversial stop and frisk program officially known as Operation Clean Halls and the Trespass Affidavit Program. The ACLU argued that systematic use of suspicionless stop and search tactics put tenants living in the buildings and visitors at an elevated risk of being unlawfully searched and arrested, violating the Fourth Amendment. On January 8th Judge Shira Scheindlin of Federal District Court in Manhattan ruled that the NYPD’s stop and frisk program which had subjected hundreds of thousands of New York residents to illegal stops that for many, ended in unlawful arrests, was clearly unconstitutional.
The objectionable practices NYC residents have had to bear at the behest of NYPD officers have produced frictions within communities that increase rather than minimize social disorder. Last November Alternet reporter Robert Gangi offered a vivid account of life in New York’s virtual penal colonies:
Black and brown young men stopped and frisked for no apparent reason, at times arrested and ticketed for trespass while standing in front of their own buildings; drivers pulled over and ticketed for not wearing a seat belt even though they were using the device; people in psychiatric crisis, clearly disoriented and confused, thrown to the ground, handcuffed, and locked up; LGBT persons called derogatory names, questioned rudely and inappropriately touched as they enter a local community center or gather in a group on a neighborhood street corner; sex workers arrested for simply carrying condoms or forced to provide sex in return for their release; street vendors hassled, fined and arrested for violating minor rules that are arbitrarily enforced; homeless people roughed up – their belongings often destroyed – and apprehended for begging on the subway or sleeping on a park bench.
Although the New York Federal Court ruled against the NYPD’s policing tactics tensions between residents and police are mounting. The recent beating, gay-bashing and framing of Jabbar Campbell, by police officers from Brooklyn’s 77th Precinct is indicative of the culture of violence that permeates the NYPD and the assumption of impunity with which its officers operate. Campbell recounted how during a party he was throwing for the transgender community he heard banging at his door. He looked at the security video streaming in his apartment before going to open it. On video a police officer turned the camera away from the door. Moments later, Jabbar answered the knock and was meted out slurs like “fag”, and “homo” by police officers, who, witnesses say, punched him continually in the face.
While stop and frisk has been at the center of public attention, the NYPD’s “productivity goals” – the off-the-record arrest and ticket quota system the department uses to generate more favorable crime statistics and evaluate officers- has barely surfaced in the press. Indiscriminate ticketing and unlawful arrests by officers scrambling to meet their quotas have been the productive result of the NYPD’s secret policy. The militarized direction that the NYPD in particular and police forces across the country in general, are moving in, has received even less coverage. New York City is the microcosm for America’s sprawling surveillance state. Trapwire, Raymond Kelly’s surveillance helicopter missions, the integration of facial recognition technologies into existing CCTV networks all point to this.
As the state’s police forces are turned more and more against the people oppressing and surveilling the population increases in importance. Police chiefs aren’t oblivious to the fact that repeated instances of misconduct and excessive use of force undermine the legitimacy police authority. Once communities feel they have to protect themselves from police, distrust is so entrenched that nothing short of wholesale reform in conjunction with a massive and sincere initiative launched by police departments asking for a chance to earn back the trust of the people, is going to reconcile the harm done to communities. But breeding distrust has it’s benefits, especially for surveillance tech companies seeking lucrative contracts with police departments and corporations eager to externalize the cost of protecting their infrastructure from terrorists foreign and domestic, let alone police forces own ambitions to expand their dominion. One has to be blissfully unaware of how state and corporate power consolidate themselves to achieve their absolute ends, order and profit, to believe that a ruling against the NYPD or any other police force will be adequate to deter police abuse and keep in check the security institution’s penchant for violent control and institutional drive for expansion.