Should records of police misconduct be made public? Should the police have to obtain a warrant to read your emails? And if police stop you, should they have to tell you why?
These are some of the questions being asked by Listening NYC – a new campaign from the New York Civil Liberties Union that invites New Yorkers to have their say on police conduct.
The campaign was created in partnership with design consultancy IDEO. NYCLU says it aims to “amplify ongoing conversations around safer and fairer policing practices” in the city and “drive action for the policing New Yorkers want”.
Pop-up events will see ‘listening booths’ installed in five New York boroughs this week. Booths invite people to respond to questions and statements about body cams, stop and search, police accountability and the role of the police force.
People can also listen to audio stories from New Yorkers recounting their experiences of policing, including NYPD officer Felicia Whitely who filed a lawsuit challenging the force’s arrest and summons quotas along with 11 other minority officers.
In addition to the listening room events, NYCLU and IDEO are hosting a “dialogue session” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music Cafe this week in partnership with the Sundance Theatre Institute. NYCLU says participants will “use actions and movements” to express their views and ideas for change and invited guests include representatives in law enforcement, advocacy and politics as well as local communities.
The campaign is being promoted through outdoor ads, social media and a website which lists details of events and how to get involved.
Donna Lieberman, executive director of NYCLU, says: “Listening NYC is the first campaign of its kind to ask New Yorkers to listen to each other’s’ policing experience with police and to use that to inspire momentum for the kind policing New Yorkers want.”
“In New York City, we experience policing differently depending on who we are and what community we belong to…. New Yorkers demand equal justice, but the NYPD’s protocols, attitudes, and interactions are not the same for everyone. Some neighbourhoods are patrolled while others are profiled.”
The project comes in the midst of major changes to New York policing and heightened tensions between BAME communities and police forces. The deaths of Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown prompted widespread protests across the country and urgent calls for reform.
New York’s Mayor Bill de Blasio made policing reform in the city a key focus in his election campaign in 2013. The NYPD was forced to revise its surveillance policy after NYCLU and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit opposing its unjustified surveillance of New York Muslims (see a summary of the settlement here). It also revised its stop and search policies after NYCLU filed a lawsuit challenging the practice of storing details of people who had been stopped and searched, arrested or issued a summons on an electronic database even after they had been cleared of wrongdoing.
An Inspector General (Philip K Eure) was appointed in 2014 to investigate complaints made against New York police by members of the public and to suggest reforms to procedures and policies. The city has since seen a significant drop in crime – the number of shootings was down 12 percent last year from 2015 and the number of recorded crimes hit its lowest level in 20 years – but there are still disparities between the way people of colour and those from predominantly white communities perceive New York’s police force.
NYCLU surveyed 1,000 New Yorkers last year and found that half of people in communities of colour felt calling for help would make a situation worse, compared to 17 percent of people in white communities. People in communities of colour also reported twice as much contact with police as people in predominantly white communities.
“Our research showed a wide gulf between New Yorkers’ experiences with police, but the enthusiastic response we received doing our survey revealed people’s hunger to talk about these issues, share experiences and reach across communities,” says Johanna Miller, NYCLU Advocacy Director, in a statement announcing the campaign.
“That’s where Listening NYC comes in. Change won’t happen until we come together, but it’s hard to understand someone else’s experience of policing when it’s so different from your own.”
The campaign offers a model that could be used to promote empathy or provoke conversations around a wide range of public issues – from policing to housing or political reform. And by promoting the project online and making resources available to download, NYCLU has ensured it will reach communities both in New York and further afield.