Legal Aid Joins Call for Vote on Right to Know Act

The Legal Aid Society joined community groups, city lawmakers and others to urge a vote on bills that would require New York City police officers to identify themselves in public and notify civilians of their right to refuse searches.

Following news that the Right to Know Act would not be put up for a vote before the New York City Council, Tina Luongo, Attorney-in-Charge of the Criminal Practice, was among the speakers to say a compromise of NYPD-administered changes to its patrol guide was not good enough. Luongo and other speakers, who included family of individuals killed by police, urged the vote and passage of the widely-backed legislation.

Legal Aid has long supported the Right to Know Act and has testified before council members on the bills’ necessity.

“We know this change in the patrol guide is going to do nothing more than just put a little language in a book that many cops don’t read,” Ms. Luongo told media and supporters at Wednesday’s event on the steps of City Hall. She added “this nation is at a critical time and we are calling for transparency loud and clear,” as public defenders concerned not only about arrested clients, but also those who are “searched illegally and not arrested. The ones that don’t have a voice in a court room but need a voice in legislation.”

Patrol guide changes over the years that have not curbed certain police behavior, Ms. Luongo noted.

The guide prohibits chokeholds, said Ms. Luongo. “That does not mean Eric Garner wasn’t choked to death.” Likewise, Ms. Luongo said the guide called for LGBT cultural competency. “That doesn’t mean that we don’t see every single day trans-identified woman getting arrested because cops think wearing a short skirt equals prostitution.” The guide also discussed the right of individuals to videotape police encounters. Still, Ms. Luongo said people like Ruben An and other cop watchers were arrested for filming public police activity. Legal Aid and Proskauer Rose LLP are representing Mr. An in a recently-filed suit challenging the NYPD’s widespread practice and custom of letting police officers interfere with bystanders’ First Amendment rights.

Ms. Luongo asked Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito to reconsider a decision not to have the Right to Know Act put to a vote. She called Ms. Mark-Viverito a “fighter” who has “changed some things for the best. But she’s got to go now to the next step.”