Policing the Police
- What does it mean, as students of abolition, to demand that New York City police officers be held to account by an office we believe should shrink its power until it no longer exists? We can start with today’s reality: Under Vance, the NYPD are simply not held accountable for racist and unconstitutional stops, fabrication of evidence, “testilying” under oath, physically brutal arrests, and the destructive executions of search warrants. In fiscal year 2019, the taxpayers of New York City paid out $220.1 million in claims against the NYPD for false arrest or use of excessive force. Meanwhile, Vance has never been forthcoming about the specifics of prosecutions of NYPD, only offering in June of 2020 that his office has prosecuted “dozens of uniformed officers for official misconduct and violence since 2010.” Instead of prosecuting cops who lied, beat, and terrorized Black and brown communities, Vance went in the other direction. Between 2016 and 2018, he empowered in-house NYPD lawyers to act as prosecutors for New Yorkers arrested at protests who demanded their constitutional right to trial. He stopped this arrangement only after NY state legislators sent a strongly worded letter demanding that he end it. In one case stemming from this arrangement, the judge at trial found that the officers were clearly lying on the stand and acquitted the woman who had participated in a Black Lives Matter protest; despite the judicial finding, Vance cleared the lying officers of perjury charges.
- If we are to work toward a goal of abolition, we must first force the system to be held accountable to its own rules. The person elected to be Manhattan DA must act independently from the NYPD and hold the credibility of officers to an exacting standard. They must prosecute police misconduct to the fullest extent of the law and review all sentences and convictions based upon the word of officers who have since been found corrupt. The elected District Attorney must maintain an independent relationship with all police officers and train every assistant to test all evidence, testimonial and tangible, brought by NYPD officers from the earliest stage, before even filing initial charges. The DA must make it policy and practice to disclose to defense counsel all available records of past police misconduct, record all investigatory interviews with police, and make the recordings immediately available to the defense. The DA must publicly release names of officers they determine to be untrustworthy and never file charges based upon the word of such officers. The DA must track and release to the public the racial statistics of stops and arrests conducted by police in Manhattan, particularly when their office declines to prosecute certain NYPD arrests. Only by creating an independent, transparent, and vigorous practice in regards to the police will a prospective head prosecutor stem racist policing and arrests, testilying, and the complete lack of accountability for police misconduct, corruption, and brutal treatment of Black and brown communities.