Jun 5, 2020

Why Advocates In New York Are Working To Repeal The 50-A Law

NEW YORK, NY – JUNE 02: NYPD officers block the exit of the Manhattan Bridge as hundreds protesting police brutality and systemic racism attempt to cross into the borough of Manhattan from Brooklyn hours after a citywide curfew went into effect in New York City. Days of protest, sometimes violent, have followed in many cities across the country in response to the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota on May 25th. (Photo by Scott Heins/Getty Images)

As the mass uprisings across the country continue, protestors and advocates are trying to hold public officials accountable for making real reforms. In New York state, Change the NYPD and New Kings Democrats, along with over 50 other political groups, are pushing a campaign to repeal the 50-A law — a state law that prevents the public from being able to access officers’ disciplinary records. The statute is routinely used to keep the public from learning about police misconduct and failed disciplinary actions.

50-A has received an increasing amount of scrutiny since 2014, when high-profile incidents of police violence like the killing of Eric Garner gained national attention. During that time, the NYPD repeatedly cited 50-A in its refusal to disclose the disciplinary history of Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who choked Garner to death.

“It’s problematic since the NYC Police Commissioner has a substantial amount of discretion as to when officers are disciplined for misconduct and the severity of that discipline. 50-A means the public can’t hold the police department as a whole accountable,” Caitlin Kawaguchi, Communications Director for the New Kings Democrats told Refinery29. “Repealing 50-A is part of the Safer NY Act, a larger package of bills to increase police transparency and accountability that we’re advocating for as partners of Communities United for Police Reform.”

However, New York state Senator Kevin Parker and assembly member Robert Carroll have co-sponsored the bill to repeal 50-A, stating that the time for police transparency is now. As of Friday, June 5, constituents in New York have sent over 100,000 emails, made over 20,000 phone calls, and spoken out constantly on social media to urge public officials to repeal 50-A, according to Change the NYPD. On June 2, Senator Brad Hoylman tweeted that his office had received nearly 2,000 emails from constituents demanding that 50-A be repealed on that day alone. The following day, Senator Liz Krueger tweeted, “My office has never received so many emails supporting a bill in such a short period of time as we have for #Repeal50A over the last two days.”

“If 50-A is repealed, it can make it easier for public officials who oversee the police force to have those individuals fired, suspended, and properly reprimanded so they no longer are out on the streets working,” Assemblyman Carroll told Refinery29. “But you won’t know those things and won’t be able to do that if all of these records are sealed and secret.” 

New York is currently one of the worst states in the country when it comes to police transparency, and 50-A is a serious reason for that, according to Kawaguchi. “50-A prevents the public from accessing a police officer’s disciplinary records by essentially making all police personnel files confidential. This means that if a police officer is testifying in a case, there’s no way to know if they’ve lied in prior testimonies, or when the press is reporting on police violence, there’s no way to know if the officer has a pattern of misconduct,” says Kawaguchi. Ultimately, this means that the public can’t hold the commissioner accountable for police violence. 

Repealing 50-A is only a starting point, says Kawaguchi, but advocates’ hope that, by shedding a light on disciplinary records, New Yorkers will see that our police disciplinary processes are not only not working, but are also putting more people in danger, because police cannot be held accountable for the violence their communities endure.

“This has clearly created a culture of impunity within the Police Department, which has been on full view these past few days [with protests]. We’ve seen cops beat and pepper spray peaceful protesters and ram police vehicles into crowds. These cops are doing it because they know they can get away with it, and 50-A is what’s been giving them cover,” explains Kawaguchi.

The assembly majority is meeting today to discuss repealing the law, but while Assemblyman Carroll says it’s likely that assembly members will move to appeal it, they also require Governor Andrew Cuomo to sign off on it — and there is always a chance he could veto it, although he’s stated he’s open to reforms to the NYPD

“It is highly likely that something will be done about 50-A in the next week and I’m hopeful it’s a simple repeal of the law, but I think the discussion that will go on is whether it will be a straight repeal or if there are different points of view,” says Carroll. Ultimately, for the law to be fully repealed, the New York Assembly, the New York Senate, and the governor would all have to move to repeal the state law, and Governor Cuomo would have to give final approval.

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The Outcry To Defund The Police Is Getting Louder

The Tom Cotton Op-Ed Puts Black Lives In Danger

Police Are Becoming Violent To Enforce Curfews

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Want To Defund The Police? Here’s How To Help

The movement to defund the police is gaining unprecedented support right now for good reason. Protests have erupted across the country because police have gotten away with committing violence against Black people for decades. Last week, Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd. Breonna Taylor’s 27th birthday would have been today, but on March 13 police killed her in her sleep.

Police officers have also engaged in rampant brutality during the nationwide protests against racist violence. Louisville, KY, restaurant owner David McAtee, 53, died on Monday when police shot into a crowd of protestors. Sarah Grossman, 22, reportedly died after being sprayed with tear gas in Columbus, OH. Police in Buffalo, NY, slammed 75-year-old Martin Gugino to the ground. Dounya Zayer ended up in the hospital with a seizure and concussion after New York police officer Vincent D’Andraia slammed her to the ground. Photographer Linda Tirado was permanently blinded in one eye with a rubber bullet. There are countless stories of police attacking, harassing, and arresting journalists and bystanders simply for documenting the protests or being out after newly imposed citywide curfews.

It’s a misconception that “defunding” means stripping the police of all their funding. While some organizations are calling for abolishing the police completely, most of the defunding efforts call for cities and states to restructure their budgets and reinvest in healthcare, employment, and housing. It’s also important to remember that defunding is different from reforming, which advocates say has largely been ineffective. 

“The demand of defunding law enforcement becomes a central demand in how we actually get real accountability and justice, because it means we are reducing the ability of law enforcement to have resources that harm our communities,” Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors told WBUR. “It’s not possible for the entity of law enforcement to be a compassionate, caring governmental agency in Black communities. That’s not the training, that’s not the institution. We have spent the last seven years asking for training, asking for body cameras. The body cameras have done nothing more than show us what’s happened over and over again. The training has done nothing but show us that law enforcement and the culture of law enforcement is incapable of changing.”

In some places, the calls to reallocate budgets have already been successful. In Minneapolis, activist groups Reclaim the Block and the Black Visions Collective successfully lobbied the city council to shift $1.1 million from police to violence prevention efforts last year. In L.A., the city recently shifted $150 million away from police.

If you are interested in joining the movement to defund the police, below are action steps and resources.

The number-one thing you can do is research how much of your city’s budget goes toward police, and lobby your lawmakers to reallocate that spending toward healthcare, education, and housing. There are local efforts underway in several major cities. Attend your local city council meetings to be part of the conversation on the budget. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights has created a toolkit with resources and information for how to get involved. 

Reclaim the Block is a Minneapolis organization that organizes the community and city council members to move dollars away from the police and toward “community-led safety initiatives.” You can sign its petition to defund the police, donate to the organization, download educational resources, or check out the digital toolkit

The Black Visions Collective, also in Minnesota, is an organization built on Black liberation that lobbies to divest from the police department. You can donate to support its work and follow it on social media.

You can learn more about the history of police violence in Minneapolis and donate to MPD150, an effort toward a police-free Minneapolis.

Communities United for Police Reform in New York City works to end discriminatory policing and seeks a $1 billion budget cut to the NYPD through its #NYCBudgetJustice campaign.

No New Jails NYC attempts to keep the city from constructing new jails, diverting funds toward housing, mental health, ending homelessness, and other initiatives.

Learn more about the differences between defunding and reforming through Critical Resistance, a national grassroots organization working to abolish policing, imprisonment, and surveillance.

Sign the #DefundThePolice petition at Black Lives Matter.

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The Outcry To Defund The Police Is Getting Louder

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Black Creators React To TikTok’s Apology & Share Experiences Of Suspected Shadowbanning

#BlackLivesMatter has over 4.6 billion posts on TikTok. While TikTok is a Chinese import, today’s users, as well as the platform, are entirely indebted to Black creators for its success. 

The second half of May proved to be a crucial point for TikTok. The May 19 Blackout was a rallying cry against the uneven application of the app’s community guidelines (a claim TikTok had denied). Then in late June, as the swell of #BlackLivesMatter content rose across the internet, an unfortunate glitch that affected #BlackLivesMatter and other related (and unrelated) hashtags raised concerns over the platform’s ability to facilitate dialogue.

On June 1, TikTok released a statement apologizing to the Black community that read, “First, to our Black community: We want you to know that we hear you and we care about your experiences on TikTok. We acknowledge and apologize to our Black creators and community who have felt unsafe, unsupported, or suppressed. We don’t ever want anyone to feel that way. We welcome the voices of the Black community wholeheartedly.” The company also announced it will be donating a total of $4 million to organizations committed to helping the Black community and working to fight racial injustice.


A read for the ##whiteout ##blackout ##blackvoicesheard ##poetry ##learnontiktok ##tiktokpartner ##blacktiktoktakeover ##blacklivesmatter

♬ original sound – mecca.morphosis

Following the release of TikTok’s statement, Refinery29 reached out to several TikTok creators who joined on the May 19 Blackout. Mecca Verdell (@mecca.morphosis), a 22-year-old based out of Baltimore, Maryland, went viral during the May 19 Blackout for her spoken word poem. She thinks TikTok’s apology is a step in the right direction. “Here’s the thing, any media is going to be a reflection of the people that created it,” she begins. “It’s all about what you allow, ignore, and what you are ignorant to. So TikTok definitely did take a step in the right direction with educating themselves on what we needed and putting their money where their mouth is about the protection of Black lives/creators.”

But that doesn’t mean the work is done. Few remember that the first batch of U.S.-based TikTok users were in fact Musical.ly users, a lip-syncing app made popular by the advent of Vine, a platform made even more popular by the creative force of its Black influencers. Verdell continues, “Everybody ‘Welcomes us’ (because we are entertaining) but that doesn’t mean they stick up for us. I suggest Black creators continue to also educate themselves on race and how racism works, and always express their experience.”

This apology is a noticeable pivot from the platform’s earlier communications, which previously refuted and denied any claim that the community guidelines weren’t being fairly applied to all users. This public apology was followed up by TikTok’s participation in Blackout Tuesday, in solidarity with Black artists and musicians. However, some say it’s still not enough.

Jailyn Feliz (@jailynisfeliz), 20, joined the May 19 Blackout and had about 5,000 followers when she started. “I posted three TikToks that day. I also spent the day liking, commenting on, and sharing the content of Black creators and following them,” Feliz says. “I was proud of the movement and seeing more Black creators on my For You Page was my motivation for participating.” By the end of the day, she had 11,000 followers. For the next three days, she continued the momentum and kept on posting, but her posts were not getting the views and engagement expected of a following of that size.


True story😒##blackout##blackvoicesheard##JustDanceMoves##dinoday##shadowbanned##steponthegas##storytime##fyp##foryoupage##realityripple##AlmondWalk

♬ Instructor Mooselinis Car Rap – sourdough.png

“As I write this I have 39.4k followers and my views are still fairly low for that new number,” Feliz told Refinery29 via email. “My views have been pretty consistent with that of having 10k followers. The people that follow me are not seeing my content. However, my problem pales in comparison to those creators that I’ve seen say that they’ve been banned from posting for a certain amount of time or being shadowbanned for simply speaking out on racism on the app and in their lives.”

Shadowbanning is an increasingly popular term used to describe instances where social media platforms allegedly ban or limit the spread of content, without notifying the creator. Usually, creators will receive notifications when their content is in violation of community guidelines or is banned for a suspected offense. People that claim they’ve been shadowbanned receive no such notifications and instead, find that their followers can’t see their videos on their feeds and that their views, likes, and comments are suspiciously low. In some cases, people claim they’ve been able to lift the shadowban by removing the content they suspect got them in trouble.

“I had 11k+ followers, still growing, yet somehow the videos I posted were only getting a few hundred views to a thousand-ish views. I was baffled. Funny enough, the TikTok I made addressing the issue is now my most viewed and liked video on my page” Feliz noted. “After that, I continued to grow, and the momentum sort of picked back up. The algorithm is complicated, I’m still figuring it out.”

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