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Civil rights groups hold town hall to discuss NYPD reforms around ‘decriminalizing’ protests

Protesters donned makeshift armor in case of a clash with MAGA supporters.
Photo by Dean Moses

BY HANNAH MALLARD

On Wednesday, Feb. 10, civil rights groups, the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), the Bronx Defenders and the Center for Constitutional Rights, held a “Redefining Community Safety” town hall to discuss NYPD reforms in New York City with a focus on “Decriminalizing Protests.”

This event was one in a series of town halls and forums sponsored by the Communities United for Police Reform (CPR). The goal of these meetings is “to engage the public and the communities most harmed by the NYPD and create a real plan for change in New York City.”

New York City’s police reform and reinvention plan as required by Governor Andrew Cuomo is due on April 1. The CPR and its partnering organizations are holding town halls and forums to hear the community and safety needs of all New Yorkers. After the event series concludes on Feb. 25, CPR will incorporate findings from these meetings into a report and present it to the public and the New York City Council.

During the Wednesday event, leaders and members of the NYCLU, Bronx Defenders and the Center for Constitutional Rights shared personal experiences from protests in New York City and its surrounding boroughs over the past year. 

The meeting was held in a webinar-style format and included live polls, surveys and a Q&A session to directly engage the audience in the conversation. 

Members from the NYCLU discussed the creation of their protest monitoring program that was initiated over the summer as protests surfaced nationwide following the murder of George Floyd. Isabelle Leyva of the NYCLU said the goal of the monitoring program is “to guard the rights of New Yorkers by keeping our eyes on police activity and collect documentation of police conduct.”

A presentation by Caroline Waring showed footage of violent and biased police interactions with protesters during demonstrations over the past year to “show the systematic patterns the NYPD uses to suppress protests,” Waring said. 

Daniel Lambright of the Bronx Defenders discussed the numerous protest-related lawsuits that have been filed over the past year including Payne v. De Blasio, People v. City of New York and Wood v. City of New York among others. Lambright’s main view is that “police use excessive force in policing against protestors … they retaliate against protestors for their views.”

A representative of the Mott Haven Collective shared the goal of the newly formed 24-member collective consisting of mainly Black and Brown members “who came together after being terrorized by the NYPD during the June 4 protest in the South Bronx.” On Jan. 26 the group sent a list of demands to Mayor Bill de Blasio and Comptroller Scott Stringer with a list of demands based on NYPD brutalization complaints from protesters who attended the demonstration. The demands include: “compensate the protesters who were injured, invest in the targeted community, take responsibility for the attack, recognize the attack as part of the system of racist oppression, provide accounting of harms caused and fire those who were responsible.”

The meeting ended with a live Q&A session and survey asking each member of the audience “What do you want to see reflected in New York City’s budget?”; “What does community safety mean to you?”; “What are your budget priorities?”

The “Decriminalizing Protests” town hall provided a space for people who have directly experienced police violence while exercising their First Amendment rights at protests, rallies and demonstrations to discuss a plan for change in New York City. Check online at changethenypd.org/redefining-community-safety for more information, dates and times of future town halls in this “Redefining Community Safety” series sponsored by CPR.

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