Testimony of Shawn Williams, father of Antonio Williams, given at the New York City Council Public Safety Committee's hearing on Mayor Adams' Gun Violence Blueprint on March 30, 2022
My name is Shawn Williams and I am the father of Antonio Williams, who was gunned down in cold blood by Anti-Crime Unit officers in 2019. I want you to remember my son’s story. Antonio’s murder is just one example of what units like the so-called “Neighborhood Safety Teams” are really about – targeting, racially profiling, and brutalizing Black and Latinx New Yorkers. We all want a safer New York, but Mayor Adams’ Blueprint and, in particular, his modified plainclothes units, will only inflict more violence on our communities.
In spite of what the mayor wants New Yorkers to believe, these Neighborhood Safety Teams are nothing new. The NYPD has always had specialized anti-crime units, and they are responsible for harassing and brutalizing more Black and Latinx New Yorkers than most if not all other officers.
Mayor Adams claims these units will reduce gun violence, but history tells us they will only perpetrate more violence. In 1999, the first version of these Neighborhood Safety Teams – the Street Crimes Unit - murdered Amadou Diallo. Because of community organizing and public outrage, in 2003, the SCU was supposedly disbanded, but the NYPD really just rebranded and expanded it. To cover their tracks, the NYPD changed the unit’s name from “Street Crimes” to “Anti-Crime.” That rebrand changed nothing, because those same units went on to murder my son, Eric Garner, Saheed Vassell, Kimani Gray, Carlos Lopez Jr. and so many others until they were finally disbanded in 2020. Now, Adams has repeated history with another rebrand and he is deploying them to majority Black and Latinx communities. He has set up them up to racially profile.
These units won’t reduce gun violence or keep our communities safe. There is plenty of data that proves that over-policing and criminalizing communities makes conditions like poverty and inequality that lead to an increase in violence crime worse.
Mayor Adams’ says these NSTs are different because they have modified uniforms and body cameras and have been retrained. But we’ve heard this all before. Politicians and the NYPD always say, “We will retrain officers and it will be different this time around” but we always get the same outcome: violence, harassment, and more lives lost.
The main problem with these units has never been what they’re wearing. The bigger problems are their mandate, culture, and structure. No matter what their uniforms are, the officers in these units have been directed to aggressively target Black and Latinx people. They are directed to rely on their own subjective judgment and racist stereotypes that Black and Latinx men carry guns, are in gangs, and commit crime. They’re told that they don’t need to wait for facts or evidence of a crime before targeting and using excessive force against our communities.
These are the exact same practices the Anti-Crime Unit used to kill my son. In 2019, Antonio was simply waiting for a cab in the Bronx when plainclothes Anti-Crime officers jumped out at him and unconstitutionally tried to stop him. He was doing nothing but existing as a Black man, but they chased him, tackled him, punched him, and gunned him down in the street in a hail of 15 bullets. They were so aggressive and without a care for human life that they also killed one of their own in the process.
My family and I are demanding all of the officers responsible for my son’s murder be fired from the NYPD. These officers are: Sgt. Jason Valentino, Det. Daniel Beddows, and Officers Brian Mahon, Keith Figueroa and Robert Wichers.
With the mayor’s “Neighborhood Safety Teams” now flooding into our communities, other young Black and Latinx New Yorkers will be killed just like Antonio was.
I urge the City Council to use your oversight powers to push back on the Mayor’s Blueprint. Stand with my family and other families who have lost loved ones to the NYPD in calling for an end to these Neighborhood Safety Teams and the Adams administration's reliance on over-policing and criminalization for public safety. Stand with us in demanding that:
All NST officers’ discipline records be made public, as is our right with the repeal of 50a.
All specialized training and protocols for these teams be made public.
The Mayor and NYPD’s oversight structure and evaluation plan for these teams be made public.
Please ask the mayor: where is the evidence that these units will work to reduce violence and what will he do when they inevitably harass, brutalize and kill New Yorkers? All we have is evidence showing that units likes these violate New Yorkers’ rights, are more abusive than other officers, and have murdered too many of our community members.
This is not how we keep our communities safe. Real safety comes from firing abusive cops and ensuring access to quality healthcare, education, jobs, and services that our communities need to survive and thrive. Rather than flooding hyper-aggressive officers into our communities, the mayor should fire the officers who killed my son, Delrawn Small, Eric Garner, Allan Feliz, and Kawaski Trawick and invest in community-based solutions that do not rely on law enforcement and lift up New Yorkers rather than criminalizing them.
Please stand with the families in demanding real community investment and an end to the Neighborhood Safety Teams.