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NEW YORK — Legendary former Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau recalled yesterday how in the 1960s and 1970s police avoided making stops of potential suspects out of fear of retribution.
"That's where we were," he said as he stood with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and a bevy of law enforcement leaders who had gathered at One Police Plaza. They had gathered to voice their opposition to a package of City Council bills aimed, in part, at reining in the New York Police Department's use of stop-and-frisk.
Morgenthau, who was the city's top prosecutor for more than three decades until his retirement in 2009, praised the NYPD's record and said that, instead of pursuing the legislation, the Council should tackle what he called the disproportionate deaths of black men by gun violence.
"What's the City Council going to do about that?" he asked. "If City Council wants to do something that's important, let see how they can reduce or propose a reduction of the murder of African American men."
It was an argument that echoed defenses of stop-and-frisk put forth in the past by Bloomberg and Kelly.
Brooklyn City Councilman Jumaane Williams calls opposition to two bills that would increase oversight and regulation of the New York Police Department "paternalistic."
The bills to create an independent police department inspector general and expand the city's ban on racial profiling are expected to be introduced at tomorrow's Council meeting.
"What sometimes disturbs me is that the most vociferous people against these bills generally are not the ones that deal with gun violence in their district and are not the ones who deal with over-policing in their district," Williams said earlier today after unveiling the latest versions of the bills at City Hall. His district has already seen at least 27 shootings this year.
"I would wager a bet," Williams continued while punctuating his points by thumping his fist at the podium before him, "that I have been to more funerals of young black men than they have. That I have spoken to more mothers just minutes, hours, days after they've lost a young black or Latino male than they have."
Yesterday, Williams and fellow Brooklyn City Councilman Brad Lander, a co-sponsor, announced that they would bypass the chair of the Council's public safety committee in order to get the bills to the floor for a vote in the next few weeks.
A witness now says that the boy fatally shot by police in East Flatbush earlier this week had no gun, as the officers claim. A gun was recovered from the scene, however. On Monday night, a group had splintered from a peaceful protest over the shooting and rioted. Local shops along Church Ave. were shuttering early yesterday in fear of more tumult. An offshoot of the Bloods gang has put out a hit on any cop in retaliation for the killing of the boy, who is said to have been a gang member. Both police involved in the shooting are people of color. During a budget hearing yesterday, Councilman Jumaane Williams said more violence could be expected if the police didn't repair their relationship with poor and minority communities, because the unrest was about more than this isolated shooting.
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Today's Lead Stories...
Council Hearing on Policing
The City Council held a 6-hour hearing on police tactics yesterday that focused on stop-and-frisk. Four bills were mainly at issue. One bill would require officers to identify themselves and provide their name and rank during stops. Another bill would require officers to inform suspects of their right to refuse a search. Another bill would establish an Office of the Inspector General to oversee the police department. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Chief Ray Kelly were not present at the hearing and they oppose the measures. Bloomberg's council Michael Best argued that the council does not have the legal authority to legislate police tactics. Council Speaker Christine Quinn declined to say whether she supports the package of legislation.
In the Press...
Riko Guzman said today on the steps of City Hall that when he was 11 years old he was with friends on his Bronx neighborhood sidewalk â€śdoing nothingâ€ť when a police officer stopped and frisked him.
â€śI was approached by my own heroes,â€ť said the Bronx member of the Justice Committee, a Latino-led organization that works on police accountability.
Guzman joined with other Latino and African American local elected officials, community leaders and reformers earlier today to urge passage of a package of City Council bills that could change the way the New York Police Department does its job.
U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez said the police use of stop-and-frisk is doing little for public safety. Instead, community members â€śview the police as a threat and enemy, not as an ally to make their community safer,â€ť she said.
The bills, known collectively as the The Community Safety Act, are sponsored by City Councilman Jumaane Williams of Brooklyn, who noted that advocates of the bills are â€śnot anti-police.â€ť