On February 4, 1999, 22-year old Amadou Diallo got home from a long day of work and stepped back out for a trip to the store. As he made his way back into his building, he was trailed by four plain-clothed NYPD officers who profiled him and killed him in the vestibule of his building with a flock of 41 bullets. Amadou Diallo was unarmed and Black, as were many of the other black men, women and young people who have suffered similar fates or have been stopped and frisked by the NYPD. As part of a long-standing war against Black people and the 42-year war on drugs in the United States, these deaths and stops have happened under the increased militarization of police. This has fostered a hunting mentality amongst the NYPD as they carry out their wholesale detainment of Black and Brown people in our streets, in our homes and in our schools.
It was after the shooting of Amadou Diallo in the late 90s, that the late Richie Perez, former leader of the National Congress of Puerto Rican Rights and the Coalition Against Police Brutality (CAPB), brought the idea of a lawsuit against NYPD’s unjust stops in communities of color to the Center for Constitutional Rights. Djibril Toure of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM) was a plaintiff in the 1999 class action lawsuit Daniels v. the City of New York. The Coalition Against Police Brutality (CAPB), which included the Audre Lorde Project (ALP), CAAAV – Organizing Asian Communities, Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), the Justice Committee (JC) and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM), organized around the case until it was settled in 2003. They were successfully able to disband the NYPD Street Crimes Unit and get numbers released that revealed the NYPD routinely violated the rights of the Black community by subjecting tens of thousands to stops fed by racial profiling. The settlement also had other requirements which included the NYPD maintaining a written anti-racial profiling policy that would bind all NYPD officers, in addition to hosting community forums. Though MXGM participated in post-settlement negotiations and hosted community forums, the NYPD was not fully compliant with the consent decree. Additionally, newly released information by the city of New York showed an extraordinary increase in stops and frisks. Eventually the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a new lawsuit, Floyd v. City of New York. Floyd would challenge the NYPD’s practice of racial profiling and unconstitutional stop and frisks of Black and Latino New Yorkers. It would also become a continued fight by MXGM and the other grassroots organizations that organized during the Daniels lawsuit. Many of these organizations became members of the CAPB initiated formation, the Peoples Justice Coalition for Community Control and Police Accountability (PJ). Alongside these organizations were the families of those who lost their loved ones to police murder and continued to fight for justice.
On Monday, August 15th, NY federal Judge Shira Scheindlin made a historic ruling in landmark case Floyd v. City of New York, that declared the NYPD has been violating the constitutional rights of Black and Latinos New Yorkers through their stop and frisk policy. David Floyd and Lalit Clarkson are lead plaintiffs in the case and members of the MXGM, which has played a key role in this legal battle as an organization. Since the 90s, MXGM’s People’s Self Defense Campaign (PSDC) has been working against the police violence and killings that were becoming commonplace in Central Brooklyn and other low-income black and people of color neighborhoods in NYC. In order to defend human rights and promote self-determination in our communities, PSDC was created as a community-led response to police violence and killings. To survive as a people it is necessary to understand our rights and to defend them. Some of the ways we have done this is through hosting Know Your Rights Workshops to teach community members about their rights, Cop Watch trainings for those interested in watching the police to prevent brutality, legal clinics to assist people with filing notice of claims against the NYPD and other legal issues they may have along with organizing around various justice campaigns. After being trained by the Blank Panther Collective in the 90s, we started doing Cop Watch Patrols throughout Central Brooklyn and supporting the formation of Cop Watch teams throughout NYC. This victory in the Floyd trial is directly related to the work that’s been done over the years but there are still more strides to make in striving toward community self-determination. Judge Scheindlin’s ruling echoed what we all already knew and have been saying for many years.
In 2010, community members, lawyers, researchers, activists and organizers came together and began talks that would become an unprecedented campaign to end discriminatory policing practices in New York. MXGM was involved in original talks around the formation of the Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) Campaign, which has been instrumental in the historic Floyd trial and in creating the Community Safety Act (CSA) that was recently passed by the New York City Council and vetoed by Mayor Mike Bloomberg. Both bills that make up the CSA will go back to the NY City Council to override Mayor Bloomberg’s veto on August 22nd. Though the victory of Judge Scheindlin’s ruling provides the legal basis that declares stop and frisk racially discriminatory and unconstitutional, in addition to other measures like providing a new federal appointed monitor that will specifically work to reform NYPD’s use of stop and frisk, the CSA is still needed in this fight. As a complement to the Floyd ruling, it is an extra step in creating safer communities all over New York City.
In April of 2013, MXGM released a report that found that in 2012 every 28 hours a black woman, man or child dies from an extrajudicial killing by the police and vigilantes like George Zimmerman. In New York, many of these killings start off as stop-and-frisks and help to perpetuate genocide and war against Black people in the United States. This list continues to grow: Kyam Livingston, Kimani “Kiki” Gray, Mohamed Bah, Shereeese Francis, Shantel Davis, Ramarley Graham and too many others. In organizing for self defense, we can re-imagine and create what self-determined communities may look like.