Apparently President Obama thinks Raymond Kelly, the NYPD commissioner would make a great choice to replace Janet Napolitano as the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The White House has been floating the idea, but given Kelly’s record on race, African-Americans should be wary.
In an interview with Univision, Obama had words of praise for Kelly, saying he would be “well-qualified” to run the department.
“Well, Ray Kelly has obviously done an extraordinary job in New York and the federal government partners a lot with New York, because obviously our concerns about terrorism oftentimes are focused on big city targets,” the president said. “And I think Ray Kelly is one of the best there is. So he’s been an outstanding leader in New York.”
He added, “Mr. Kelly might be very happy where he is. But if he’s not I’d want to know about it. ‘Cause you know, obviously he’d be very well qualified for the job.”
Kelly has his share of cheerleaders
Leading Democrats seem to agree, including Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who hopes to nominate Kelly for the post, and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), who said New York’s top cop is “uniquely qualified.” Rep. Pete King, a Long Island Republican, said “I expected him to call me and tell me to knock it off, and he hasn’t yet,” adding that “I think he’d consider it.”
Kelly’s boss, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, like many Democratic leaders in Washington, is progressive-leaning on social issues and gun control, but not so concerned about those civil liberties issues such as stop-and-frisk and other heavy-handed, problematic police tactics. The Democratic base, however, does care about racial profiling and stands against the practice, as reflected in every party platform since 2000.
However, not everyone on Capitol Hill is buying what Kelly’s cheerleaders are trying to sell.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) believes Kelly would be a “poor choice” for DHS chief. On MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes, the congressman urged the need for “an effective balance between national security or effective law enforcement on the one hand and a healthy respect for our civil rights and civil liberties on the other.”
“He’s been a good administrator, and perhaps I could even support his potential appointment to this position in the absence of the massive aggressive stop-and-frisk program that he’s run, and the unconstitutional Muslim surveillance program, but that’s kind of like saying, I had a good year, if you don’t count the winter, spring, and fall,” Jeffries added.
Record on racial profiling
When it comes to the police commissioner’s record on racial profiling, the facts suggest Kelly is not doing the “extraordinary job” President Obama thinks he is.
Under his watch, the NYPD has been a hotbed of racial profiling. As The Atlantic reported, the NYPD has kept tabs on the Muslim community, infiltrating, using informants to bait Muslims, spying on hundreds or even thousands of Americans of the Islamic faith at mosques, colleges, the workplace, and the home—not for anything they did, because they committed no wrongdoing, but rather due to their religion and ethnicity.
In 2007, an NYPD report, “Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat,” offended Muslims by equating their religious customs with radicalism. And Kelly was interviewed for a 2009 NYPD “training film” called “The Third Jihad,” which was viewed by 1,500 officers and portrayed all Muslims as potential terrorists. The NYPD’s profiling of Muslims bore no fruit, no leads and no proof of acts of terrorism, and in any case compromised any investigations the feds were undertaking.
Not surprisingly, Muslim civil rights groups would oppose a Kelly nomination, and a coalition of these groups wrote Obama a letter telling him why.
Further, let us not forget that massive class action lawsuit filed against the city on behalf of black and Latino men who claim the NYPD stop-and-frisk policy is unconstitutional. The lawsuit, Floyd v. City of New York, was filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the law firms of Beldock, Levine, and Hoffman and Covington & Burling, LLP.
CCR compiled a report for the case based on NYPD stop-and-frisk data from 2010 to 2012. The group found that black and Latino New Yorkers are far more likely to be stopped than whites, accounting for 84 percent of stops.
The report found that more than 95,000 stops lacked any reasonable suspicion by the police. A mere 6 percent of these stops resulted in arrests, and contraband was found in only 1.8 percent of stops, with guns seized in only 0.12 percent of stops. You’d get a better yield with random stops.
Meanwhile, in 2011, a record 685,724 people were stopped, a 600 percent increase since Bloomberg became mayor. Eighty-eight percent did not result in an arrest or summons. Contraband was found in only 2 percent of stops, and weapons in a mere 1 percent of stops. That’s not smart policing, that’s racial profiling.
Further, the NYPD continues to use the terms “high crime area” and “furtive movements” in their reporting to justify their unreasonable stops, searches and seizures of men of color. Police used the term “high crime area” to justify 60% of stops, and “furtive movements” 53 percent of the time, regardless of the actual crime rate in the given area. It just doesn’t add up.
Racial profiling is so pervasive in the Big Apple that even high-ranking police brass are not immune. In 2008, two white plainclothes officers made a big mistake when they approached a black man in Queens for doing nothing in particular, ordered him to roll down the tinted windows of his SUV and step out of the vehicle. As it turns out, the man was three-star NYPD chief Douglas Ziegler, the head of the community affairs bureau and the highest ranking black officer on the force. Ziegler’s SUV was department issued, and he was wearing his ID badge around his neck. His wife, Neldra Zeigler, is the NYPD deputy commissioner for equal employment opportunity.
“Don’t you know who I am?” Chief Ziegler reportedly asked the officers.
Meanwhile, the Justice Department filed a statement of interest in the Floyd stop-and-frisk case, expressing its interest in ensuring policing practices are constitutional, and suggesting a court-appointed independent monitor for the NYPD should the court find the profiling policy unlawful.
A federal court in New York is expected to issue a decision in the case in the very near future.
And as for Commissioner Kelly, he simultaneously denies his department engages in racial profiling, and defends the racial profiling his department so blatantly conducts. In a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, he claimed the Bloomberg administration is guilty of saving 7,383 lives—mostly men of color—in the 11 years since the mayor took office.
“It’s understandable that someone who has done nothing wrong will be angry if he is stopped,” Kelly wrote. Yet he offered “The NYPD has too urgent a mission and too few officers for us to waste time and resources on broad, unfocused surveillance.”
Kelly called his critics’ charges of racial profiling unfair, “disingenuous” and at worst even “incendiary” in light of the Trayvon Martin death. Besides, these policies are successful in stopping crime, according to Kelly. “Sidestepping the fact that these policies work, they continue to allege that massive numbers of minorities are stopped and questioned by police for no reason other than their race,” he said. “The effect is to obscure the rock-solid legal and constitutional foundation underpinning the police department’s tactics and the painstaking analysis that determines how we employ them,” Kelly added.
Moreover, Kelly has said African-Americans are not stopped enough based on the crimes they commit, and that whites are disproportionately stopped too frequently.
Along with his attorney general Eric Holder, President Obama has spoken out against racial profiling—drone strikes notwithstanding— even touting his record as an Illinois lawmaker on racial profiling legislation.
It was laudable for the President to speak up on racial profiling and the Trayvon Martin shooting. But he undermines his stance against racial profiling if he picks Ray Kelly for DHS. Kelly’s legacy of racial profiling, of harassing black and Latino men and spying on Muslim Americans in New York is a disgrace. In the post-Trayvon era, such a choice is even more unacceptable.
David A. Love
Friday, 2 August 2013