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NYPD: The Picture Is Bleak

MARCH 28, 2000. The Gully spoke with Norman Siegel, head of the New York Civil Liberties Union, about solutions to police brutality in New York.

Last week you and other New York City civil rights leaders asked for federal oversight of the NYPD. What has happened since?

Nothing. Nothing has happened.

You have said that very little systemic change will occur in the NYPD unless the federal government steps in. Why?

It's the only way. The Mayor and the Police Commissioner have made their position very clear: number one, there are no problems in the NYPD; number two, the only thing they'll do is a public relations response. I was a member of the Mayor's Task Force on Police/Community Relations and it became very clear to me then that they're in denial.

They're not even talking to us, and I don't just mean the NYCLU, but all the other civil rights groups.

Forty years ago in the Deep South, people in law enforcement and political office refused to talk to civil rights advocates. The only solution there was to get the Federal government to intervene and to sue. There's a parallel between what happened there forty years ago, and what is happening here now.

Given that the Feds seem to be dragging their feet, what else can be done?

In the absence of Federal intervention, we [the NYCLU] may sue New York City on our own. We're meeting with the ACLU on April 10. They sued Pittsburgh in 1996 and got federal intervention there. In the next few months, we may decide to sue the City ourselves. I don't know if we'll do it, I don't know if we have the resources, but we'll be considering it. A lawsuit would take about nine months.

If the Feds don't step in, what do you think is going to happen in the city?

diallo protesterTensions are rising. People are very angry. At the Dorismond funeral I tried to persuade people to get off the streets, and young people were telling me that they didn't care if they were arrested, they were ready to be arrested. I don't expect to be able to tell people what to do. As a lawyer, there's only so much you can do. The picture is bleak. But I'm an optimist and I think a way out of this has to be found.

Related link:

For The New York Civil Liberties Union

For Complete Coverage New York City

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