Homeless people are constantly subject to unnecessary arrests by police officers, for low-level violations that they could simply receive a summons for!
That’s why we were so excited when City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito announced a package of eight bills to reform some of these practices – collectively known as the Criminal Justice Reform Act.
These proposals are important. They’re not perfect, but they’re a good first step. Ultimately, police officers should not have the discretion to choose whether to arrest or issue a summons to someone committing a low-level, non-violent offense.
As our members often say, discretion = discrimination!
Criminal justice reform efforts to reduce how our laws promote racial and other disparities, criminalization of particular communities, and mass incarceration are important. These new proposals contain some good first steps, though there are concerns about the details that need to be addressed to ensure long-term positive impact. It’s critical that this summons reform be advanced together with police reform – particularly the Right to Know Act – so that we also begin to address the problematic policing practices that drive racial and other disparities in who faces low-level enforcement in the first place
Here are some selections from their testimony.
I am a member of Picture the Homeless, and also street homeless. I have been undomiciled for a few years now; I am also a true New Yorker, born in Manhattan raised in Bushwick, and lived in the Bronx. I am of Puerto Rican descent and will be 47 years young on February 22. I am here today to address the council on its proposal to implement 8 pieces legislation that is to make my life and all other New Yorkers’ life easier.
I myself think that changing criminal offenses to civil penalties is great as we look at the big picture. My issues may be minor to some. but are major to me. I’ve been targeted by the NYPD on several occasions and this has hindered me in continuing with my goal of being treated like a human being, a New Yorker, and someone deserving the resources and respect offered to other New Yorkers because of their status.
The laws you are focusing on changing such as open container, littering are all good steps going forward. I have issues with the changes for the violations of park rules and community service. When I was targeted, like so many other people, it was in a lot of cases for being undomiciled. I was arrested when I should have been given a ticket and sent on my way. I lost personal property such as a portable DVD player and two cell phones that were never vouchered. I know of people that have lost personal documentation and could not prove who they were when they had their next encounter with the law. This was I feel due to officers having the discretion to either give me a ticket or get overtime or meet his quota.
I say all of this because it’s important that making these criminal offenses civil penalties is very good, but I can’t replace my property and those other folks can’t and won’t replace their documents. You must take the discretion away from the officer and be fair to all. I also want this Council to go further. You need to make sure that we are not targeted for being un-domiciled, black, brown, needing help in getting our lives together. And the only real way to do this is to not let an officer that does not like me continue to victimize me.
You should know that as far as I’m concerned I think that it is a good thing that you are trying to change the laws for open containers public urination and being in the park after closing. To move these offenses to civil penalties is a little bit better. All of these things I know something about. A summons over jail time is a little bit better and what we have been asking for a long time.
I have been in the shelter program RWA (Ready Willing and Able). I was doing good and at first everything was OK. When I relapsed they called themselves showing me tough love. They took my bed and was trying to force me to restart the program from zero again going to a 28 day program, and after that stay about 2 weeks indoors. I was not ready so I asked them to transfer me and they did not want to do it so I never got housing.
Then they would call the cops to remove me from the building every night to the streets. I did not know nowhere to go, and I sleep outdoors. I have been on the streets a long time, I ended up getting frost bite that cost me 8 of my toes, and almost 2 years in the hospital and a lot of pain that I have to live with for the rest of my life. I don’t tell everybody this. I blame all of them the people in the program that kicked me out, the people on the street who called the police because they think I’m a crazy homeless man and I blame the police for not caring that I relapsed and got kicked out on the streets.
No, I don’t wanna go back to the shelter and I don’t want to get locked up cause they think I’m crazy and smoke K2, or because I’m tall and black. I drink give me a ticket, sometimes they do and sometimes they tell me I got to move cause they don’t want to see me around no more. They know who we are on Park Ave. around 125th. St., and they know that we not breaking the law. But they keep moving us and when we ask why they give us tickets or take us to the hospital. We are street homeless but they still write on the summons that we live at 600 East 125th. Street. anyway. Picture the Homeless looked that address up for me and that’s the Manhattan Psychiatric center, I’m not crazy and I don’t live there I live on the streets, and if you let the police officers be the judge you might have to pay over a thousand dollars to lock me up or take me to the hospital cause he thinks I talked back to him. So I’m talking to you – don’t arrest me, don’t give me a ticket.
So let me say that I feel that some people are gonna be arrested because of their race, gender, their beliefs and origin… I have been targeted because I am street homeless, my skin color and my location 125th. Street and Park Ave. I don’t want to sleep in no shelter, I don’t want to sleep in the streets. Somebody should give me some housing. Thank you for listening to me today.