The NYPD is being sued by a police accountability group for refusing to disclose records on the policing of last year's J'Ouvert and West Indian American Day parades in Brooklyn. In a press release Thursday, Equality for Flatbush demanded the NYPD reveal the exact number and types of officers and resources deployed during the Labor Day weekend festivities, noting that such information has often been released by police following other large-scale deployments at events such as Occupy Wall Street and Critical Mass.
In legal papers filed Wednesday, Equality for Flatbush (E4F) claims to have observed increased police presence in Flatbush, East Flatbush, and Crown Heights during the weeks leading up to J'Ouvert and the West Indian Parade, along with an uptick in "Broken Windows"-style arrests for small quality-of-life crimes. "Those increased police actions apparently target, or at least disparately and negatively impact, people of color of Caribbean heritage," the lawsuit claimed, noting that heightened police presence in the aforementioned neighborhoods is coinciding with gentrification and displacement of long-time residents and businesses.
"We are suing so we can better hold the NYPD accountable to our communities. The NYPD is the largest and most militarized police department in the US. There have been at least 5 NYPD-related murders or shootings of East Flatbush and Flatbush residents since 2013, 2 of which just happened in the last 9 months by the same exact cop," Imani Henry, Executive Director of E4F, said in a statement. "Crown Heights, Flatbush and East Flatbush
residents of color already experience incredible racial profiling and police harassment on a daily basis due to gentrification. The increased police occupation and checkpoints during Caribbean Day weekend just escalate the potential for more police violence and harassment within our neighborhoods."
Speaking with Gothamist Friday, Attorney Gideon Oliver, who is representing E4F in their lawsuit, stressed that increased police barricades and security checkpoints can create or exacerbate problems with large crowds. "My clients' argument is that increased police presence does not necessarily amount to increased public safety for community members and residents," Oliver said.
Concerns over security and the potential for violent crime at J'Ouvert spiked in 2015 after Cary Gabay, an aide of Governor Cuomo, was fatally shot in the head just prior to the start of festivities on Flatbush Avenue. Last year, J'Ouvert again turned deadly; two people were fatally shot along the parade's route on Empire Boulevard in the midst of celebrations.
Earlier this summer, Mayor de Blasio and the NYPD announced that security at J'Ouvert will be overhauled this year with metal detectors and bag searches at tightly-controlled checkpoints along the closed-off parade route. The parade will also take place during the daylight hours of 6-11 a.m.
"It criminalizes and entire neighborhood when you do an occupation like this," Henry told Gothamist, calling the metal detectors and searches "an acceleration of Broken Windows." Echoing language in the court papers that ties heightened police presence to gentrification and neighborhood displacement, Henry said it is E4F's view that taxpayer money spent on bulked-up policing would be more effectively and justly spent on affordable housing.
"We want to have these statistics to be able to say to the mayor 'Why is the money being put towards policing, when our neighborhood needs something else?'"