A statement from the Syracuse ANSWER Coalition issued Dec. 29.
The mood was joyous last night in the Syracuse Common
Council chambers, as the Common Council voted unanimously to pass revised
legislation for the city’s Citizen Review Board.
Workers, students, and activists from a vast array of
community organizations occupied the Council chambers to ensure that the
legislation passed. This was the latest in a long series of community actions
fighting against police brutality and misconduct.
The community has been fighting for the revised legislation
since Feb. 2011, when Mayor Stephanie Miner unilaterally disbanded the existing
CRB by firing administrator Felicia Davis. The CRB that Davis oversaw was fundamentally flawed and
essentially ineffective. Over a decade ago, the Police “Benevolent” Association
filed a lawsuit against the city, the outcome of which essentially gutted the
legislation of any power.
The victory for the police was a devastating loss for the people.
When Miner fired Davis,
it gave new breath to the struggle for an effective CRB. An ad hoc committee
was assembled by Pam Hunter, then head of the Public Safety Commission, which
included representatives from the NYCLU and NAACP. The committee also included
police chief Frank Fowler, indicating from the get-go that the new legislation
would necessarily be limited.
As of last month, there was a new CRB that was sworn in and
ready to go. The problem was that the only legislation on the books had no teeth.
The Council was supposed to vote on the legislation before the end of its
regular meetings in December, but interference from two Democrat councilors,
and Pat Hogan in particular, prevented that from happening. It took a
concerted, prolonged and ultimately successful community effort to force the
Council to hold the special session tonight so that the legislation could be
voted on and passed before the end of 2011.
It can’t be stressed enough that tonight’s victory happened
because of the people, not because of the politicians. The outrage expressed by
the people of Syracuse
over this past year, coupled with story after story of police misconduct, left
the Councilors little choice but to vote yes. In the absence of a community
movement, it is unlikely that we would be celebrating at this moment.
The struggle isn’t over
The police union, misleadingly called the “Benevolent”
Association, attacked the previous CRB legislation. The major problem that the
police have with the CRB concerns its subpoena powers. Police officers have no
problem showing up to court to testify against us. A lot of police even show up
to court on their days off. But they refuse to testify against their fellow
Police union president Jeff Piedmonte has stated publicly that
the police have already begun preparing for an attack on the current
legislation. Piedmonte told the Post Standard that “We’ve been preparing legal
papers so that if the CRB issues subpoenas again, we’ll be prepared to go back
to PERB [Public Employee Relations Board] and back to court.” (Post Standard,
We have to defend last night’s victory at the same time as we
fight to strengthen the CRB. The new legislation includes a timeline that gives
the CRB 60 days to finish an investigation. It also allows the CRB to conduct
its own investigation before the police have finished their own. But the
legislation doesn’t give the CRB any real disciplinary power—it can only make
recommendations to the police. Ultimately, we need a CRB that has the power to independently
discipline offending officers.
The ANSWER Coalition has been actively struggling in the
streets against police brutality and misconduct, and we will continue to do so.
But we also recognize the importance of having a formal, independent mechanism
through which to file a complaint. We applaud the Syracuse community and the various
organizations that made this victory possible, including the National Action
Network, NYCLU, NAACP, and United as One Coalition.
Last night was one small step in the fight for justice for
victims of police brutality. Justice for Adam Goodman! Justice for Raul Pinet
Jr.! Justice for Dominique Smith!