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Natasha Duncan - CRC Public Safety Hearing Testimony

Good evening. My name is Natasha Duncan. I come from East Flatbush and am a public school teacher.


I’m testifying today because as someone who’s been active in NYC for years, I’m concerned about how this charter revision process has been put together in a really rushed way and I want to combat misinformation related to this commission’s stated public safety goals. Having hearings crunched into a 2 month period with no real advance notice that there would even be a charter revision process is not responsible governance especially when we’re talking about changing the city’s charter - the city’s constitution. On June 14, 2012, my younger sister Shantel Davis had just gotten into a car accident when Dt. Phillip Atkins jumped out of his unmarked vehicle in plainclothes with his gun drawn. He shot my sister in the chest at close range and then called it an accident. Shantel was 23 and unarmed. Dt. Atkins had already been named in seven lawsuits - and was known by the community as “Bad Boy Atkins” because of his abuse and violence -  but the NYPD never disciplined Atkins for past abusive acts and continued to shield him from discipline after he murdered my sister. 


It’s been 12 years and Dt. Atkins has never been disciplined or held accountable in any way for murdering Shantel. He’s been named in at least 5 lawsuits where settlements cost taxpayers $90,000 so far but he and the NYPD haven’t changed to prevent violent policing by cops like Atkins.  We all want and deserve to live in safe, healthy, thriving communities. Ever since my sister was killed, I have been working to empower youth in East Flatbush and make my neighborhood a better place than the one Shantel knew. I’ve been an active leader working for police accountability to make our communities safer and have helped to pass city and state legislation. 


Based on the little information that has been shared about this commission, and based on the Mayor and his NYPD’s track record of not firing officers who kill, brutalize and sexually assault New Yorkers, I’m concerned that instead of working on increasing police accountability, this commission may turn back the clock. 


The safest communities are the ones that have there sources to support people to thrive, not the ones with the most police. Tens of thousands of Black girls and boys need access to social workers, health and mental healthcare, educational support and employment opportunities. They need the possibility that comes from being supported to thrive, not the problems of being criminalized, policed, and disrespected on their way to school, in school and in their neighborhoods.


When you think about safety, it has to include addressing police violence. No one knows this better than families like mine. Continuing to allow the NYPD to go unchecked, with officers like Dt. Atkins facing no accountability, does not make anyone safer.


The NYPD already has outsized power in this city and it regularly overspends its already massive budget - in fact it overspent the FY23 budget by about $800 million, which is close to a BILLION dollars.. If anything, the charter should strengthen measures to hold abusive officers accountable for misconduct and increase the power of the city council to hold the NYPD accountable for violence, abuse and wasting taxpayer dollars. What the charter should not do is make it harder to pass police accountability legislation or decrease city council oversight of the NYPD or allow the City to continue to write blank checks to the NYPD to kill and abuse us with impunity. 


The New York City Charter is a serious document and revising it should be done through a serious process with real time for public input and careful consultation with advocates and community leaders, including families who have lost loved ones to the NYPD. It should not be done by ramming through rushed, misinformed or biased proposals that will result in increased abusive policing and increasing the already outsized and illegitimate power of the NYPD on city affairs. 


At this time, I urge you to refuse to put forward so-called “public safety” measures on the November ballot unless they specifically increase police accountability and force a reduction in the NYPD’s budget to account for costs of lawsuits against them. I also want to repeat that this process’ short time-frame is a major problem that makes it seem like the process is biased to only support proposals that benefit the NYPD and policing.



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