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Grassroots Groups Train NYers to Protect Each Other from Police Violence Thru “CopWatch” in Subway

With 500 New MTA Cops Entering NYC’s Transit System and the Expansion of the NYPD’s Subway Diversion Program, Organizers Anticipate and Prepare for Increased Police Violence

Note: Video clips are available upon request and photos can be found here.

New York, NY: On Saturday, February 1, 2020, grassroots organizations deployed “CopWatch” teams into the subways in the Bronx, Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn to train New Yorkers to monitor and document police violence and educate them about the dangers of the 500 incoming MTA officers and the expansion of the NYPD’s Subway Diversion Program.

“We first organized Subway CopWatch trainings last year when Cuomo announced his plan to add 500 new MTA cops,” said Justice Committee Representative Simone Gamble. “Now, with those cops hitting our transit system and the expansion of Mayor de Blasio and the NYPD’s coercive Subway Diversion Program, it’s more important than ever that we activate New Yorkers to protect one another. New Yorkers need a transit system that is functional, affordable and accessible and truly affordable, permanent housing. Over-policing our subways and bus lines will not get us any of this and will only lead to increased criminalization of poor and low-income people of color.”

In December 2019, the MTA approved Governor Cuomo’s plan to flood 500 new MTA officers into New York City’s transit system in a vote that community organizers warn will substantially increase the MTA’s deficit and will lead to the increased police abuse of youth, vendors, homeless New Yorkers and other low-income and poor people of color. During the same month, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the expansion of the NYPD’s Subway Diversion Program, an abusive NYPD initiative that targets homeless New Yorkers for summonses for violating minor MTA rules, such as taking up an extra seat with their belongings, and then attempts to coerce them into services in exchange for vacating the ticket. Homeless advocates and even NYPD transit officers have widely criticized this program as unjust and abusive.

“Picture the Homeless along with the Justice Committee and other organizations have to fight the abusive policies and practices of our current mayor and police commissioner, such as the Subway Diversion Program,” said Picture the Homeless Board Member and Leader Marcus Moore. “The fight against the Subway Diversion Program is a fight for our basic human rights. We need our elected officials to ensure we all have access to truly affordable housing. We don’t need trickery and politics.”

“Flooding our subways with cops is yet another intimidation technique to keep our communities believing we have no control,” said Malcolm X Grassroots Movement Lead Organizer Sala Cyril. “Communities of color, our youth, and homeless New Yorkers suffer most at the hands of these police and we need everyone's eyes watching as a step towards accountability. CopWatch as a form of self-defense.”

“With the number of police increasing in the subways, it’s more important than ever that people know and understand that they have the power to do something about the over-policing of marginalized communities,” said Equality for Flatbush member Emily Batista. “CopWatch trainings can empower people to feel confident enough to document police harassment and interaction and ultimately, keep each other safe.”

“Throwing away $250 million dollars to dump more cops into our already over-policed transit system will not make anyone safer,” said Jews for Racial and Economic Justice Organizer Leo Ferguson. “It's shameful that the governor and the mayor continue to spend our tax dollars on failed, racially-discriminatory broken windows policing tactics instead of investing in long-term solutions that actually create positive change. In a moment when Jewish New Yorkers are facing a surge in antisemitism, we desperately need better mental health services, better education, and community-building initiatives; we need to attack the underlying issues that divide our city – housing, inequality, and segregation; and we need to fix the damn trains. We don't need more cops.”

On February 1, five CopWatch teams of 5-7 members each patrolled the A, C, E, 4 and 6 lines throughout Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx. They provided New Yorkers in transit with a mini-training on best practices for monitoring and documenting the police as safely and effectively as possible, passed out literature explaining CopWatch further, and encouraged New Yorkers to sign-up to join their efforts and attend a full CopWatch training later this month.

“We took to the subways with others to encourage people to exercise their rights and film the police to expose and deter violence,” said TakeRoot Justice Advocacy Coordinator Aline Gue. “So many community members were engaged, some sharing stories about incidents they've witnessed. It was incredibly powerful."

“True accountability can only occur when residents accept the challenge of monitoring public servants,” said Vocal-NY’s Court Watch Coordinator Solomon Acevedo. “We demand an end to unnecessary violence against the vulnerable members of our society in the subway. Sadly, this is the only way to move towards justice with the NYPD.”

The Subway CopWatch Trainings were organized by the Justice Committee. Participating Communities United for Police Reform member and partner organizations include: Brooklyn Movement Center, Equality for Flatbush, FIERCE, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, Picture the Homeless, Take Root Justice and Vocal-New York.


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