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2021 Mayoral Election

ANALYSIS: Andrew Yang Believes He Can Reform the NYPD

Mayoral candidate Andrew Yang spoke on Thursday about police reform. He was frequently interrupted. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

Shout it from the rooftops: Andrew Yang still doesn't know jack about the NYPD.

With just five weeks until primary day, the front-running mayoral candidate continues to spout dubious platitudes about the nuts and bolts of governing New York City, assuring voters that he'll appoint the right people to work out the details for him.

On Thursday in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, the topic was the NYPD, with Yang saying he would reform the way police are hired to diversify the department's leadership and improve public safety, yet he was ill-prepared for a basic question about a recent sea change in law enforcement: Did he agree with the repeal of 50-A?

"50-A?" Yang said, pondering the question out loud. NYPD Lieutenant Edwin Raymond, a Brooklyn City Council candidate and outspoken critic of the police department's quota system, quietly reminded Yang that 50-a is shorthand for the section of state civil rights law that long shielded police disciplinary records, which was finally overturned last year.

"I think we should get more transparency in terms of police officers and their records," Yang eventually responded to Post reporter Julia Marsh's question — one that should be low-hanging fruit for any candidate who is trying to prove that they aren't an "empty vessel" for a former police union lobbyist.

Raymond loaned Yang a ton of his credibility as a whistleblowing cop throughout the press conference, as Yang repeatedly turned to the officer to answer press questions about his own positions.

"We can make our people safe and do so in innovative ways that give police officers more ability to use their judgement, and it includes measures like this warning system that is going to enable us to track people that have been doing things that don’t rise to a certain level, but cumulatively they do end up rising to a certain level," Yang said, pitching his idea of having NYPD officers document the "warnings" they give to people committing low-level offenses. People who earn enough warnings would be cited or arrested.

Isn't this just another way of criminalizing homelessness, Yang was asked.

"The objective is not to be needlessly overly aggressive, initially," Raymond explained. "Because of the culture of the department, what is often said is, 'How do we know the cops are working if we can’t count the summonses?' By documenting the stop, the leadership can’t say that cop is not quote-unquote working."

Should the NYPD even be involved in responding to calls about mentally distressed New Yorkers, considering they end up killing so many of them? Why not shift police resources to different agencies to address what is often not a policing issue?

"In the long run, that makes absolute sense," Raymond said. "As someone who has responded with other professionals, they at least want police in the background."

Michael Sisitzky, senior policy counsel for the NYCLU, told Streetsblog that Yang's idea for a kind of "warning database" sounded similar to the kind of  policing that New Yorkers have spent decades trying to reform.

“Our focus should be on fundamentally changing the function of policing, not coming up with new excuses to track, surveil, harass, and abuse New Yorkers," Sisitzky wrote in a statement. "Success or productivity should be measured through reducing unnecessary contacts between the public and police, not by maintaining a commitment to broken windows and overpolicing of Black and Latinx communities."

Streetsblog asked Yang in separate questions for him to differentiate his policing strategy from that of his top opponent, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, but his answers were vague. At one point, he said he alone could reform the police department because he doesn't "owe 100 people favors from 10 years ago." Both he and Adams have said they would maintain the NYPD's massive budget at current levels. Both want to bring back a specialized anti-gun unit. Both believe in residency requirements for police officers, and both insist that they would also empower violence interrupters and community-based solutions to crime.

So what is Yang's big idea? How will he be a better public safety mayor than Adams?

"The big idea is that we need a 21st-century approach to policing that helps the NYPD evolve to meet the needs of our time in a way that’s consistent with our community and our values," Yang said. [Point of information: The 21st century is already one-fifth completed.]

Segenie Reid, a PLG resident for more than three decades, was watching Yang nearby. Reid said she hasn't figured out who to vote for, but knows what her top concern is: "Police brutality, that’s my main issue."

"We need more police in the neighborhood. But you need the police to know the people in the neighborhood," Reid said. "I walk sometimes and I say hi and they look at me like I have four heads."

As for Adams, Reid was circumspect. "I don’t know. I am trying to figure him out."

Early in Yang’s opening statement, a heckler arrived bearing a Maya Wiley poster and, much more prominently, a substantial voice.

”Ask him why he hasn’t voted in New York City!” the man repeatedly screamed.

The man later told Streetsblog that his name was Miles Earl, and said he was "between 25 and 75" years old. He described himself as a neighborhood resident who “actually cares about this neighborhood and this city, unlike this phony, who didn’t live in New York City during the pandemic and hasn’t even voted in New York.”

Earl said he wasn’t specifically a Wiley supporter and did not work for her campaign (Wiley's campaign manager disavowed the tactic).

“I don’t work for anyone’s campaign. I work for everyone in this community,” he said, declined to identify any specific position he holds. “I work for this guy! [pointing to a homeless man who had been ignored by Yang during the press conference]. I work for the fruit guy over there! Hey, man, what’s up!”

He said he was moved to disrupt the Yang event because “the guy is a total fraud!”

“I’m concerned about him. And I’m concerned about Eric Adams. Neither of these guys can be mayor. But Yang is a farce. He lost his presidential bid and now he comes to New York and says he wants to run the greatest city in the world – and he hasn’t voted here?!"

As Earl taunted Yang, he earned a heckler of his own. “You don’t speak for me!” yelled one woman, at one point using a Creole curse. That set off a bit of a carnival scene, as reporters started covering the verbal melee — which attracted the attention of a man in a window above the fray.

“Shut up down there!” he yelled from the window (photo below). “Let him talk! That guy wants to give us $1,000!”

Yang's hecklers got their own hecklers — in the form of a man screaming, "Shut up! He's going to give us $1,000!" Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Yang's hecklers got their own hecklers — in the form of a man screaming, "Shut up! He's going to give us $1,000!" Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Yang's hecklers got their own hecklers — in the form of a man screaming, "Shut up! He's going to give us $1,000!" Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

— with Gersh Kuntzman

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