Father’s Day “Silent March” for Police Reform, 2012.
PTH members at a rally for the Community Safety Act, 2013.

Since our inception, Picture the Homeless has fought against discriminatory policing that targets homeless people.

But we’ve always known that bias-based policing of the homeless isn’t separate from other kinds of illegal police behavior. Racism is at the root of so many law enforcement problems, including profiling and harassment of homeless people (who are disproportionately of color), but also issues as diverse as stop and frisk, profiling of LGBTQ youth of color, unconstitutional surveillance of Muslim communities, and police murders of unarmed people of color.

So we knew we wouldn’t win until all these distinct communities could come together to develop a social change agenda that would address every aspect of racist policing. And in 2011, the police reform work we’d been part of with our ally organizations led to the creation of Communities United for Police Reform.

CPR is an unprecedented effort to end discriminatory policing practices in New York through a combination of community organizing, legislative, media, electoral and research practices. The inclusion of homelessness along with more traditional “statuses” covered under standing civil rights legislation, such as race, gender, religion, and sexual identity is a major achievement for PTH.

In 2013, after an epic legislative battle, the New York City Council passed the Community Safety Act (CSA) over the veto of Mayor Michael Bloomberg. This landmark, aimed at ending discriminatory policing and bringing real accountability to the NYPD, was signed into law in January 2014, and has brought groundbreaking reform to the NYPD and has paved the way for future reforms efforts to bring about substantive change to policing in NYC. The passage of the CSA was a historic victory in the movement for police accountability and would not have been possible without the leadership of community groups and advocates, elected officials, and the thousands of individuals who signed petitions, mobilized to rallies, talked to their neighbors, and called their local City Council Members.

The CSA was an important advancement toward making New York City a safer place where the police treat everyone with dignity and respect, but there is still a lot more work to be done.  Communities United for Police Reform is continuing our important work to ensure that the new laws are implemented.  We will also continue our efforts to increase transparency and accountability of the NYPD.

Right now, our efforts are focused on passage of the Right to Know Act, which would require officers to identify themselves and provide the officer’s name, rank, command and a phone number for the Civilian Complaint Review Board at the end of police encounters that do not result in an arrest or summons, as well as require officers to provide the specific reason for their law enforcement activity (e.g. vehicle search, stop-and-frisk) – and oblige officers to explain that a person has the right to refuse a search when there is no legal justification for a search, and obtain objective proof that an individual gave informed and voluntary consent to a search, when there is no legal justification for the search.

Here’s a video documenting our participation in a 2013 rally in support of the Community Safety Act: