On March 1, participants in the NYC Council: NYPD Must Be Held Responsible hearing examined the goals and procedures of the Strategic Response Group of the New York Police Department (NYPD SRG).
The SRG, a division of the NYPD Special Operations Division, reacts to “responds to citywide mobilizations, civil disorders, and major events with highly trained personnel and specialized equipment,” as stated on the agency website. The unit’s officers are also dispatched to places where there should be more police presence.
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The unit’s initial goal was to fight terrorism, hence this is in conflict with that goal. Many Council members, including NYC Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, voiced their unhappiness with the agency’s absence during his opening remarks.
Williams remarked, “I do think just being present, even if it was to read the statement that was submitted, would have shown some respect to the process and to having this conversation in a public forum.”
After that, he talked about some of his encounters with the group during demonstrations including SRG, Occupy Wall Street, and the George Floyd protests in 2020.
He continued, “The SRG beat protestors with batons; sprayed crowds with pepper spray; rammed into protestors on their bikes; entrapped protestors using barriers such as shields, bikes, and metal gates with no way for people to escape (a tactic known as “kettling”); and blasted crowds with noise cannons.”
226 of the 321 protest complaints that were received, according to page 6 of the report, were looked into. The Board made evidence-based decisions about 88 of the complaints of misconduct out of those that were looked at.
Jonathan Darche, the executive director of the CCRB, and interim CCRB chair Arva Rice also attended the hearing. The NYPD “continues deviating from CCRB recommendations,” Rice said as a major conclusion from their evidence.
21 Council Members, including Jennifer Gutierrez, Shahana Hanif, Sandy Nurse, Chi Osse, Tiffany Caban, and Althea Stevens, published a letter in support of dissolving the SRG on January 20 of this year in light of the information that has emerged since then.
The members shared, “The SRG’s brutality, bias, and lack of transparency makes the SRG a threat to the safety and First Amendment rights of New Yorkers. We must combat that threat by disbanding the unit, reinvesting its bloated budget into resources and care for communities, and ensuring that the unit and its harmful tactics are not recreated under another name.”
This attitude was mirrored by a number of activists and advocacy organizations in a statement issued by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU).
“City lawmakers must disband the SRG and its funds should be reinvested to serve, and not harm New Yorkers,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the NYCLU. “Militarized police forces do not belong in our streets.”
Another viewpoint was provided by Eric Vassell, a member of the Justice Committee and the father of Saheed Vassell, a New Yorker who was slain on April 4, 2014, by the NYPD.
“Rather than continuing to pour tens of millions of dollars into the SRG, this dangerous unit must be disbanded and those funds must be invested in services like quality mental healthcare that our communities need and deserve,” explained Vassell.
According to Lori Zeno, executive director of Queens Defenders, funds for the SRG should be transferred to projects that, “address the needs of clients targeted by our criminal legal system including mental health and substance use treatment, access to safe and affordable housing, education and job training, and meaningful diversion programs.” Lieberman and Vassell shared this sentiment.
Frantzy Luzincourt, the co-founder and chief executive officer of Strategy for Black Lives, echoed these sentiments when she said, “We need to immediately disband the SRG and prioritize investing in our communities and developing non-carceral solutions to public safety instead of relying on the same violent strategies that have continuously harmed communities. Especially those that are Black, people of color, and low-income communities. Enough is enough and we must do better!”