Tish James’ lawsuit against NYPD over last summer’s riots is pure politics

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Letters to the editor — Jan. 20, 2021

Given its stunning lack of context, New York Attorney General Letitia James’ federal lawsuit against the New York Police Department can be seen as only one thing: a political hit piece, not a serious, legitimate court filing.

James wants the court to appoint a federal “monitor” to oversee the department’s policing tactics in future protests and “ensure compliance with the law.” Where to begin?

Consider that, as of April, the NYPD will already have a new outside monitor: James herself. Under recent state legislation, she’ll tap a deputy to head her Law Enforcement Misconduct Investigative Office. 

That office’s mission: “to review, study, audit and make recommendations relating to the operations, policies, programs and practices” of state and local law-enforcement agencies, including the NYPD. The deputy AG will submit annual reports to the governor, the Legislature and James. 

The unit will add to the numerous other NYPD watchdogs, including the Civilian Complaint Review Board, the NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau, another court-appointed federal monitor to oversee stop-and-frisk and trespass policy, the Department of Investigation and the Commission to Combat Police Corruption. 

There’s also the City Council (in particular, the Public Safety Committee) and five DA’s — not to mention various “public defender” groups, the ACLU, NYCLU, the US Justice Department and assorted Internet-based “press” groups.

But let’s look at the AG’s filing. At the time in question, from May 28 to June 6, the city was in utter chaos, yet her sole mention of criminality in her 69-page filing is: “There were instances of property damage and injuries to NYPD officers at or near some of these early protests.” 

That was how James described more than 350 cops being injured, over 450 businesses destroyed, vandalized or set afire and more than 300 NYPD vehicles damaged or destroyed — in just 10 days! 

And that doesn’t count the massive disruption caused when demonstrators blocked bridges, tunnels, highways and public streets or set trash fires and graffitied property. All in the middle of an historic pandemic already wreaking havoc in the city. 

Were there some police issues of concern? Of course. But these issues can be dealt with in the current disciplinary structure. 

And remember: The city was experiencing violence and upheaval the likes of which we haven’t seen in decades. 

In its own excellent report, DOI chronicled the protests: over 100 major demonstrations and countless smaller ones in every borough of NYC, involving tens of thousands of people. 

Most demonstrations were peaceful. But demonstrators would often march en masse to join another group, disrupt traffic and block bridges. There were enormous security, logistical and safety concerns. Police manpower was constantly re-deployed and strained as protests popped up, relocated and varied in their level of violence. 

And most of the “mass arrests” cited in the AG’s filing involved mere violations of a curfew — one called not by the NYPD but the mayor. 

James’ lawsuit is simply just another attack on the NYPD, which seems to be fashionable nowadays. These slams ignore the fantastic job officers do every day, and have done over the past 30 years, to reduce crime in the city by over 80 percent. 

The claim that the NYPD — now a “majority minority” police force — is racist, brutal and uncontrolled ignores basic facts. 

Police shootings are way down: In 2019, the 36,397 members of the NYPD responded to more than 6.4 million calls, of which 64,302 involved weapons, and made 3,299 gun arrests. Yet they fired their guns in “adversarial conflict” only 25 times, the second lowest number on record. In 1972, city cops discharged their firearms 994 times. 

Perhaps our politicians like James should spend a little time investigating why the city’s murder rate rose 41 percent last year, or why shooting victims soared 97 percent. In 2020, 447 people were murdered, 130 more than in 2019. Over 1,855 people were shot, many suffering grievous, life-altering wounds — for a total of 941 more than in 2019. 

These victims are overwhelmingly people of color. Do James & Co. care? 

Burglary was also up 41 percent; car theft, up 67 percent. What is it going to take for pols to address all this?

The DOI report was thorough, balanced and designed to make recommendations to improve the city’s response to future demonstrations. By contrast, the AG’s court filing was a politically motivated hit piece that will serve no useful purpose other than to poison the debate and demonize the police. New Yorkers deserve better.

Jim Quinn was executive district attorney in Queens DA’s office, where he worked for 42 years.

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