Why City Hall needs more whistle-blowers

New York city hall could benefit from some whistle-blowers.
New York city hall could benefit from some whistle-blowers. Photo Credit: HarperCollins

When Chairwoman Maya Wiley began this month’s public Civilian Complaint Review Board hearing in Manhattan, she pointed out how proud she was that the police oversight agency was able to identify a leaker who had released Officer Daniel Pantaleo’s history of civilian complaints to an online media outlet. While Pantaleo, the cop involved in the death of Eric Garner on Staten Island in 2014, has kept his NYPD job, the unknown CCRB leaker was forced out.

Wiley joins City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito as another allegedly progressive city official bringing down the hammer on staffers whose consciences led them to speak out or leak details about NYPD accountability.

In 2014, a council analyst, Artyom Matusov, said he was fired because Mark-Viverito wanted to punish him for publicly questioning testimony by then-Commissioner Bill Bratton on how often officers use force when making arrests.

About a year later, after the Department of Investigation found the NYPD wasn’t systematically tracking its use-of-force incidents (validating Matusov, who later settled a lawsuit), Bratton conceded by agreeing to overhaul the NYPD’s data-gathering methods.

That whistle-blowing stand and the CCRB leaker should inspire others to help unmask the NYPD and abusive practices. The council and the CCRB are not in the business of holding police accountable. And the mayor’s office has sided with the NYPD over a controversial move not to share officers’ disciplinary files with the public. In other words, calls for accountability and transparency have hit a dead end.

When there is more determination to punish whistle-blowers and leakers than to punish wrongdoing, those inside the system should resist it in ways that the rest of us cannot. Information is key. Thousands of city employees can be the eyes and ears of thousands of New Yorkers who want to hold police accountable.

Although there are considerable risks to fighting back internally against City Hall, many of us believe the time has come for protests to reach the inner workings of city government. Just remember some of Garner’s last words: “It stops today.”

Josmar Trujillo is a trainer, writer and activist with the Coalition to End Broken Windows.

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