There are no official second-class citizens, but there is second-class treatment,” says Djibril Toure, a member of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement’s (MXGM) Cop Watch program.

Toure says that Cop Watch formed specifically after Amadou Diallo was shot and killed by four cops in 1997 and more generally because of the NYPD’s “stop-and-frisk” tactics aimed against Latinos and Blacks that led to Diallo’s death.

In March 2004, three Columbia University researchers released an analysis of racial bias in stop-and-frisk practices from January 1998 through March 1999. Analyzing 175,000 reports, their findings showed Blacks and Latinos were stopped about twice as often as whites on suspicion of committing violent crimes. Stops of Blacks and Latinos were also less likely than stops of whites to lead to arrest, possibly indicating that officers used looser standards to question minorities.


Toure says by living in Crown Heights he sees the effects of biased policing. He explains that it’s not uncommon to see police arrest residents for riding their bicycles on the sidewalk or loitering – misdemeanors that are rarely enforced in wealthier neighborhoods.

In its fight against police abuse in central Brooklyn, Cop Watch uses a variety of techniques. Five to nine volunteers patrol the neighborhood for police activity. When they come upon officers interrogating or arresting a suspect, they announce their presence and begin filming.

Toure says that bringing out the video camera is often enough to make the police officers stop their interrogation and leave. While some officers will make sarcastic remarks such as “Be sure to get my good side,” and continue their harassment, Toure contends the presence of a Cop Watch patrol can be enough to make them depart or at least stay on good behavior.

If someone is arrested with a Cop Watch patrol present, the volunteers inform the arrestee that the videotape is available for use at trial. They also offer to file a notice of claim, the first step to bring lawsuit against the city, and often register a complaint with the local council member on behalf of the arrested person.

Monitoring the police has its risks. Last February, Toure and two other members of Cop Watch were arrested while filming the police in Bed-Stuy. They’re still awaiting trial.

POLICE ABUSE AND CITY NEGLECT

Since 2002, the New York Police Department has intensified “quality-of-life” initiatives with programs such as Operation Impact. This program places 1,000 additional officers in “impact zones” around the city that have been determined to be more crime prone than other precincts. While areas such as Midtown North and Midtown South are included in Operation Impact, most of the additional officers are sent to neighborhoods such as Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights and the South Bronx.

According to police statistics, Operation Impact has successfully reduced crime. Critics, however, contend that the heightened police presence and frequent interrogation of neighborhood residents negatively impact the quality of life in the areas it’s aimed at helping.

Ticketing quotas are another hardship for many New Yorkers. Last June, three police sergeants from the 75th Precinct in Brooklyn testified in a union-grievance hearing that their commanding officer had circulated a note mandating that officers issue at least 33 quality-of-life summonses per quarter in order to avoid poor performance reviews.

The heightened police presence, racial bias and ticketing quotas combine to ensure residents of Central Brooklyn have a high likelihood of being stopped by the police. Because of this, another component of Cop Watch is the Know Your Rights workshops, held twice a month. Participants are informed of their rights during arrest, detainment and incarceration procedures. They role-play to learn the “right way” to behave during police questioning and are encouraged to monitor police activity in their community.

Greater civilian oversight of the police is Cop Watch’s goal. They want communities to pay attention to police activity to ensure it’s not abusive, and they want the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), a police oversight committee that can only make
recommendations to discipline officers, to gain power over hiring and firing. Last year, complaints to the CCRB rose to an all-time high of 6,210 ending 2004 with almost 500 more cases open than at the start of the year. Over half of those complaints are reported by Blacks, while they comprise only 25 percent of New York City’s population.

The CCRB has been criticized by groups such as Human Rights Watch for being incapable of seeking justice against abusive officers. A 2004 report by the CCRB showed that while it recommended charges be brought against 225 officers, 87 of those officers received no discipline at all and only 30 officers received discipline resulting from CCRB recommendations.

MXGM’s Cop Watch program has inspired other groups to begin monitoring police activity, working with Latinos, Asians and recently FIERCE, a queer youth of color group.

“We’re trying to create a culture where people know there is injustice by the police,” says Toure.