Changes to NYC charter drafted to advance campaign for an elected police review board
Andrew Smith
volume 38
issue 1
February 2017

Crowds shout slogans against police as they participate in one of the largest marches against cop violence in New York City. Photo: Eduardo Munoz / Reuters

While the election of magnate Donald Trump has put even more cops on New York City streets, an exciting campaign is growing to demand police accountability in the very same city.

The diverse, multiracial Campaign for an Elected Civilian Review Board is made up of individual activists and grassroots organizations including Freedom Socialist Party, Radical Women, and Veterans for Peace. It is organized around a common purpose: to counter police violence in the Big Apple through establishing such a board.

The timing is right, the need urgent. Black lives are being lost at alarming rates at the hands of police in this city and across the U.S. All the communities hurt by cop violence are fed up, in motion, and desperately seeking ways to leash police and empower the people they are supposed to serve. The Campaign offers a way to do that!

No compromises. The Campaign’s legislative team is drafting an amendment for the city’s charter. To forge a bold and sound legal document, volunteer activists have researched police reform history, New York City charter law and state constitutional law.

The plan is to establish an Elected Civilian Review Board (ECRB) to replace the city’s current deeply ineffective Civilian Complaint Review Board, which is stacked with appointees who are biased in favor of New York City’s police department and establishment.

By contrast, an ECRB would be elected by and directly accountable to the people of New York. Working with a Special Prosecutor it would also be empowered to investigate, discipline, and prosecute violent officers.

The team’s work reflects the Campaign’s bold political principles. As member Leland Gill describes, “The goal is to get everything we want into the legislation, to meet our political ideals, what we’re fighting for as a Campaign and as a group.”

As two examples, Gill mentioned expanding election protocols so that anyone with a city ID, including undocumented immigrants, could vote for who represents them on the board; secondly, the Special Prosecutor should have access to police documents that are now kept secret.

Doing what it takes. If you stop by Freedom Hall in Harlem, there’s a chance you’ll see the legislative team hard at work. More likely you’ll find the outreach team calling members of communities routinely targeted by the police.

Campaign members know public pressure from the city’s five boroughs is key to pushing the city council into action. Conservative Democratic Party leaders are always ready to side with police against constituents suffering misconduct.

A case in point is the Right to Know Act. If passed, it would have impacted officers’ interaction with people on the street, for instance requiring they get permission before conducting searches — and informing people of their right to refuse. But City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, with support from Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Police Commissioner, tabled the bill; it was never even presented to the Council for a vote.

If elected officials side with the police this time, they will hear from the Campaign — in organized demonstrations, in crowds at their hearings, in calling campaigns, in a social media storm — demanding they put the legislation on the ballot for general election. Stirring up strong labor support, to counter opposition from the powerful police union, will be crucial.

Let’s seize the time! No one can make a bigger difference to winning a review board than the individuals and groups who come ready to hit the streets with flyers, make calls, reach out to their networks online, or invite friends, family, coworkers and neighbors to support this effort.

The Campaign is ratcheting up plans for community and street heat so that when the legislation is final the Campaign can rock the political establishment.

Says Campaign member Robin Strauss, “Those most targeted by the police have the most to gain in joining the Campaign, and assuming leadership roles in the fightback.”

To get involved, email StopPolice or go to

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