Editorial: NYPD’s own medicine has bitter taste

IGotMyEyeOnYouThroughout our short history, the trend for the U.S. government during times of war is to restrict constitutional freedoms while increasing the power of the government itself.

For example, the Patriot Act, signed by former President Bush in 2001, significantly loosened the restrictions on government agencies’ intelligence-gathering methods (i.e. wire tapping) as a response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the Jim Crow laws enacted between 1876 and 1965 that disenfranchised the country’s black population and perpetuated legal discrimination of all minorities.

While the necessity of these actions can be debated, there is no question in our minds this mentality is hypocritical.

In the post 9-11 era, this conflict once again raised its ugly head, this time via actions of the New York Police Department. The government gains more freedom to regulate the free flow of information and expression because the laws have been sanctioned by the people.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly are launching a campaign to prevent the public from monitoring its police force with surveillance cameras in New York Police Department offices.

The monitoring system proposed by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, called the NYPD inspector general plan, seeks to provide oversight of the controversial practices of the NYPD, including it’s stop-and-frisk policy.

The stop-and-frisk policy allows New York police officers to conduct random pat-downs of those they deem suspicious.

It has been called discriminatory by many civil rights groups, including the NAACP and NYCLU (the New York Civil Liberties Union), who claim that the NYPD has engaged in racial profiling by targeting black and Latino men disproportionately.

Since 2011, the NYPD has been criticized and accused of unnecessarily targeting Muslims and other minorities with questionable surveillance methods.

The attacks on 9/11 sparked a widespread initiative by the New York government to specifically spy on Muslim communities and anyone the government believed to be connected with terrorist ideologies.

The inspector general plan has gained wide support among voters and lawmakers of New York, who see the act as a necessary limit on government.

On March 27, The Huffington Post reported that Kelly responded to the inspector general’s plan with, “I think putting in another layer of so-called supervision or monitoring can ultimately make this city unsafe.” Bloomberg also said in a March 26 press conference, “We cannot afford to play election year politics with the safety of our city, and we cannot afford to roll back the progress of the past twenty years. This bill jeopardizes that progress and will put the lives of New Yorkers and our police officers at risk.” During the press conference Bloomberg declared that he would veto the bill if it passed.

In truth, it is no surprise that there is such fierce opposition to the inspector general plan because the NYPD and the mayor know exactly what to expect from a monitoring system, modeled after their own, only turned against them. The argument that police oversight would make the city unsafe is weak and ineffectual against the greater need for people to express their constitutional right to limit government power. The people deserve oversight on the NYPD.

Bloomberg’s and Kelly’s protests against this bill smack of hypocrisy in one of the largest city governments in the world. The NYPD, in tandem with the CIA and FBI, have taken liberties with the people of New York’s privacy since the war on terror began.

Reports of abuse and foul play by police officers as a result of the stop-and-frisk policy in this city have become far more frequent than ever before.

In October 2012 the Associated Press reported on an informant for the NYPD who was directed to spy on Muslim mosques and incite hostile reactions from Muslims through conversations about terrorism or jihad.

The theory behind public surveillance is that it has minimal effect on those who have nothing to hide. People who break the law or have a history of criminal activity are the only ones who need be wary of the watchful eye of government.

In practice this theory has worked fairly well in identifying criminals so that they can be held accountable to the law. It is imperative to our very freedom that this theory applies to the government as well.

However, it has become apparent that Bloomberg and the NYPD don’t like the taste of their own medicine.