Home » Families of People Killed by NYPD Brace for Eric Adams to Veto Criminal Justice Reform Bills

Families of People Killed by NYPD Brace for Eric Adams to Veto Criminal Justice Reform Bills

A small group of organizers rallied outside of New York City Hall on Wednesday to call on Mayor Eric Adams not to veto a series of bills that would ban the use of solitary confinement in city jails and increase oversight over police stops and searches. 

The push by grassroots reform groups to ban solitary confinement comes in response to a surge in recent years of deaths in city jails, including several cases of people who had been detained in solitary confinement. Families of people killed as a result of stops by New York Police Department officers have also urged the mayor to sign the policing measures into law. 

Advocates and officials working on the reforms expect Adams, who has publicly opposed the bills, to veto at least two of the measures this week. He has until Friday to do so, or the measures will pass into law. 

The battle pits a pro-police mayor, an NYPD veteran himself, against a progressive City Council, which approved the three bills last month by large margins during its last meeting of 2023. The fight is the latest in a well-trod pattern of centrist Democrats or Republicans fighting back against popular and democratically enacted welfare reforms. In New York, City Council leaders and members said they have the votes to override the mayor’s veto.

“We are prepared to override the mayor’s veto,” council member Crystal Hudson, who sponsored a bill to strengthen laws around consenting to a search, told The Intercept. “The City Council is the city’s legislative body. The body has spoken.” The council would have 30 days from a mayoral veto to issue an override. 

“The City Council is the city’s legislative body. The body has spoken.”

For advocates, the murmurs about an Adams veto and his own comments Wednesday and Thursday disparaging the measures are disheartening.

“Stops are increasing, the number of police killings are increasing, the racial disparity in who is being stopped is increasing,” said Samah Sisay, staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, part of the coalition of more than 100 groups backing the police accountability measures. “It feels like in a lot of ways, a lot of the progress that was made post-Floyd, post the stop-and-frisk litigation in 2013 — it feels like a lot of that is being reverted.”

Sisay added, “This is the time when the mayor should really be thinking about how this heightened transparency could increase safety and well-being of Black and brown New Yorkers, but instead they’re engaged in fear-mongering and spreading of misinformation about what the bill does.” 

Some of the city’s major political personality clashes are also at play. Adams has publicly lambasted one of the police accountability package’s high-profile backers, New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. Adams claimed Williams didn’t ride the subway and lived in a fort with private police escorts. The fight devolved into a feud over who was the real New Yorker.

Adams, who has backed solitary confinement in the past, has said the bill to end the practice would foster “fear.” The city’s corrections officers union has also opposed the bill, saying it would put jail staff at risk. 

Adams’s office told The Intercept he had not yet determined whether he would veto the bills. “The mayor has yet to say whether he will veto the bills,” deputy mayor for communications Fabien Levy said in a statement. Levy referred other questions about the bills to comments from the mayor during a Tuesday press conference, in which the mayor said the bill to end solitary confinement would jeopardize the safety of both staff and people incarcerated in city jails. Asked by a reporter if he would veto the bill, Adams said he hoped the council would reconsider the measure. 

“Falsehoods and Fear-Mongering”

The two policing bills would address calls for accountability from families of people killed by New York Police Department officers during low-level police stops. 

The mothers of Eric Garner, Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, Anthony Baez, and many others wrote a letter to the mayor in December calling on him to sign the package into law. They highlighted what they called a “misinformation campaign” being waged against the consent search bill and urged the mayor not to engage in the same tactics. 

The mothers of police killing victims were joined by a coalition of criminal justice reform organizations, labor unions, and civil liberties groups including Communities United for Police Reform, the Center for Constitutional Rights, VOCAL-NY, the Bronx Defenders, and 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East. 

Several of the same groups also backed the bill to end solitary confinement, along with the #HALTsolitary Campaign and the mother of Brandon Rodriguez, who died by suicide in solitary confinement at New York City’s Rikers Island jail complex in 2021. 

Hudson, council member Alexa Avilés, and Williams, the public advocate, backed the package of police accountability measures. One of the bills would expand reporting on consent searches by NYPD officers. The other would require NYPD officers to publicly report all investigative stops of civilians.

On the campaign trail, Adams had expressed support for improving transparency and accountability in the department. The NYPD, for its part, had previously only asked for minor changes to the consent search bill. 

“I’m not sure what’s changed between candidate Adams and now Mayor Adams,” Avilés told The Intercept. “What is clear is he and the NYPD are now working the media circuit spreading falsehoods and fear-mongering about a common sense bill.” 

Williams also sponsored the measure to end solitary confinement, which requires all people incarcerated in city jails to have at least 14 hours per day out of their cell in spaces shared with other people.

Adams has publicly attacked Williams over the series of policing bills, including during an announcement alongside NYPD Commissioner Edward Caban earlier this month. Williams retorted that Adams lives in New Jersey, harnessing a long-standing attack against the mayor. 

The back and forth stems in part from a rivalry between Adams and Williams, who has publicly considered running for mayor. In the event Adams is removed from office, Williams would take over at City Hall. A federal investigation probing Adams’s 2021 campaign has fueled the tension between the offices.

Claims by Adams, his administration, and police that opposition to the measures are in the interest of public safety are misleading to the public, said Sisay, the Center for Constitutional Rights attorney. 

“In reality,” Sisay said, “if they truly cared about safety and the well-being of Black and brown New Yorkers, they would really be trying to figure out how to make the NYPD more transparent and accountable.”

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January 2024