One decade ago this summer, a federal court found the New York City Police Department’s abusive stop-and-frisk practices unconstitutional. Three mayors and six police commissioners later, the department is still unlawfully stopping, questioning, searching and intimidating people, according to the latest report from the court-appointed monitor charged with ensuring the NYPD starts following the law. Not surprisingly, officers disproportionately target Black and Latino men like us and our loved ones who were killed by the NYPD.
As the father of Antonio Williams and brother of Allan Feliz, both of whom were killed by the NYPD in 2019, we know firsthand that policing does not mean safety for our communities.
We know it from the holes in our lives and families where Antonio and Allen used to be. We know it from every young person we’ve seen stopped by police for not swiping their MetroCard, every homeless New Yorker who’s been harassed and had their only property demolished and every protestor maced or brutalized by cops.
We know it from the pain we share with the families of Delrawn Small, Kawaski Trawick, Ronald Anthony Smith, Eric Garner and many others who, like us, are still fighting for the NYPD officers who killed their loved ones to be held accountable and fired from the NYPD.
Full transparency about the NYPD’s daily activities in our communities is the only way to even begin to have hope of creating true community safety. That’s why we’re joining with New Yorkers from across the city to demand the City Council pass the How Many Stops Act immediately.
Right now, the NYPD can approach anyone they want and ask questions like what their name is or where they’re going – what the NYPD classifies as “Level 1 or 2” stops. These kinds of encounters are some of the most common interactions between officers and New Yorkers. And because they don’t rise to the level of a stop-and-frisk (considered Level 3 stops) – when officers must have “reasonable suspicion” of criminal activity – the NYPD is not required to track or publicly report on any of these encounters.
The NYPD refers to these as “low-level encounters” but we know too well they are anything but. They are frightening, we don’t feel free to leave and, in the worst cases, the consequences are fatal.
On Sep. 29, 2019, my son, Antonio Williams, was simply waiting for a cab in the Bronx when plainclothes anti-crime unit officers jumped him. Antonio’s only crime was “standing while Black.”
The NYPD had no reasonable suspicion for stopping Antonio. This was one of these so-called “low-level” stops about which we have no transparency. Antonio should have been free to leave, but when he did, officers chased him, beat him and gunned him down in a hail of 15 bullets. They were so reckless that when they shot at my son from over 50 feet away in the dark, they also killed one of their own officers.
Since New York City Mayor Eric Adams took office, police harassment in our communities has only gotten worse. The new report from the federal monitor was no surprise to us because we’re living this reality everyday.
Just last year, Samy Feliz and I were hanging out in Washington Heights when officers from a Neighborhood Safety Team (the mayor’s revamp of the unit that killed Antonio) approached me for no reason – another supposedly “low-level” stop. An officer started asking me questions and then asked to search me, but he kept his hand on his gun the whole time. I said “yes” because I knew if I wasn’t careful, I might suffer the same fate as my brother, Allan. This was not consent. It was coercion and intimidation.
Nothing will bring Antonio and Allan back, but the How Many Stops Act is an essential step toward preventing future loss of life. This transparency is more urgent than ever. Since taking office, the mayor has expanded the NYPD’s budget to a stunning record-high of $12 billion, no strings attached. At the same time, he has systematically expanded the NYPD’s power and presence in our communities, doubling down on broken windows policing, failing to hold abusive officers accountable and running wild with unconstitutional stops. He and his police commissioners have refused to fire the officers responsible for killing our loved ones, the very officers who could stop you tomorrow.
Ensuring real oversight and transparency of the NYPD could be a life or death matter. We cannot afford to wait for another police killing or act of brutality before our city leaders take serious action to turn the tide. The City Council must pass the How Many Stops Act today.
Shawn Williams is the father of Antonio Williams. Samy Feliz is the brother of Allan Feliz. Both were killed by the NYPD in 2019.