Last week’s viral images of New York City Police Department (NYPD) officers handing out masks to crowds of white park-goers while violently attacking and arresting several Black and Latino residents for not properly distancing themselves has sparked widespread outrage...
“It would be great if the mayor would take a stronger stance because we know that ‘equal’ policing has not and will not happen, so we need more leadership in this area,” says Simone Gamble with the New York City-based police reform group, Justice Committee.
The group is just one of dozens of police reform and civil rights organizations that have been calling on Mayor de Blasio to not only curtail social-distance policing but also to suspend all arrests and summonses for low-level offenses, fire officers who engage in discriminatory and abusive policing, reallocate the NYPD’s budget toward increases in social services and essential community needs, and move unhoused and incarcerated people from the city’s streets and jails into emergency shelters...
While pressure is mounting on de Blasio to halt this kind of enforcement, police reform groups are also finding creative ways to observe and film the police as the city remains under lockdown. Justice Committee organizers are offering online cop-watch trainings specifically tailored to the COVID-19 crisis. The trainings encourage residents to watch and film the police from their windows, fire escapes and roofs, and while they’re out and about on essential errands.
Gamble has been doing cop-watch trainings in the city as part of her work as a leadership member of Justice Committee’s community defense body, and told Truthout she helped craft a new training to be specific to organizers’ needs amid the COVID-19 crisis. She said roughly 75 people attended an online workshop she held from her home in New York City’s Washington Heights neighborhood last week. Organizers are now hoping to expand and tailor the training to audiences beyond New York.
“We’re not encouraging folks to go out in the streets and cop watch like we normally do,” Gamble says. In addition to advising residents to observe the police from their homes and while on essential errands, she recommends that those engaging in cop-watch activities wear masks and gloves, and maintain at least six feet of distance between themselves and police.
“[The NYPD] is taking this moment to be emboldened in their attacks on our communities and using social distancing enforcement as a cover for that,” Gamble says. That’s why she’s asking cop watchers to be extra mindful and remain “calm, cool and collected” if and when they interact with police amid the pandemic.