How is it possible to rein in an out-of-control police force with nearly 40,000 sworn officers, thousands of support staff, an annual budget of $3.9 billion, a enough military weapons to outfit an army, a culture of total impunity and a political establishment that is solidly on its side?
That is what over 110 advocacy, faith and civic groups are trying to do with their March 19 letter to Attorney General Eric Holder asking him to undertake a federal civil rights investigation of the New York Police Department’s “baseless and blanket surveillance operations” which have “cast suspicion on an entire faith community” – Muslims.
The letter points out that “attempts at seeking accountability for the NYPD at the state level have been unsuccessful,” and Mayor Bloomberg has stanchly defended its wholesale “monitoring of Muslims as legal and constitutional.”
NYPD surveillance – carried out with CIA input according to the Associated Press’ extensive investigation – is just one slice of the Department’s systematic malfeasance. On Saturday some New York City Councilors joined a rally to call attention to NYPD brutality in their arrests of members of the Occupy Movement.
One Brooklyn officer (and son of a police officer) turned whistle-blower has recently sued the NYPD in court. You may have heard on “This American Life” how Officer Adrian Schoolcraft made audio recordings revealing how the NYPD was cooking the books in dozens of criminal investigations.
After reporting this information to the Internal Affairs Bureau, Schoolcraft was himself a victim of police brutality. He was dragged from his apartment by six of New York’s finest, handcuffed so tight his hand turned blue and held incommunicado for six days in the psychiatric ward of Jamaica Hospital, three of them in a locked ward with people who were very disturbed. He has a hospital bill of $7,185 to prove it.
As long as the majority of New Yorkers approve of the way the NYPD is doing its job, it is hard to imagine sufficient political pressure being brought on the agency to force it to rein itself in. So Holder, it’s up to you.