A heated town hall meeting, End Broken Windows, was hosted by community watchdog group El Grito De Sunset Park and the Coalition to End Broken Windows as residents and organizations discussed the issue with acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, Public Advocate Letitia James, and State Assemblymember Felix Ortiz.
The event was held on Friday, June 30 at the Sunset Park Recreation Center, 4200 Seventh Avenue.
Broken windows policing is based on the belief that turning a blind eye to urban disorder and vandalism results in escalating crime and anti-social behavior. According to El Grito, the debate centered on the fact that low-level enforcement disproportionately targets poor communities of color and other vulnerable groups, as well as on the role of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
“The NYPD this year finally admitted that Broken Windows arrests put immigrants at risk of deportation,” claimed the group in a statement.
“In this particular time, these summons warrants are particularly tricky and dangerous because they have immigration consequences,” Gonzalez said during the meeting. “These summons warrants are arrest warrants so if you owe a $25 fine, not only can you spend 24 hours locked up in central booking which is ridiculous and unfair, but it can also be used to prioritize you for deportation.”
To deal with this, he said, “In Brooklyn, I’ve created an immigration affairs unit and hired immigration attorneys. The ADAs that work there understand the consequences of when they are offering, plea bargains and sentence recommendations, because my position is very clear on this,” Gonzalez said. “I don’t believe that any resident in this city should ever be deported because they committed a low-level offense.”
Josmar Trujillo of the Coalition to End Broken Windows, a group that exposes the political foundation behind Broken Windows policing and is working to dismantle it, told the spirited group what needs to be changed.
“We want to find solutions that are not police-based to problems in our city and we think that it’s time that the residents and community members who have been most affected have the biggest voice in how we do this,” he said. “The mayor has doubled down several times and said he is committed to broken windows policing despite what happened to Eric Garner, despite what happened to the families of street vendors here in 2014, and despite what happens to all those viral videos we share. We want to talk about interactions and how we don’t need some of those interactions and how there are solutions to some of those quality-of-life issues that don’t have a gun and a badge.”
Very personal stories were also told by attendees, including one by Nicholas Hayward Sr. of Parents Against Police Brutality, whose son Nicholas, Jr. was killed by police 23 years ago. “It happened on September 27, 1994,” he said. “Broken windows is partially to blame as to why Nicholas and countless others are being targeted in communities like the Gowanus Houses I grew up in. This is something that is not invisible to elected officials. They all know about broken windows.”
“I’ve been told for the last few years that New York is a sanctuary city,” added Albert Saint Jean of Black Alliance for Just Immigration. “It’s hard to believe when almost 80 percent of people deported back to the Caribbean are deported for low-level offenses or nonviolent offenses. It’s hard for me to believe that New York is a sanctuary city when I’m seeing El Grito footage of cops here in Sunset Park beating up pregnant women and children. If you get arrested for a low-level offense, your fingerprints go to a federal database so if you are undocumented you could be found quickly by ICE.”
James discussed the Trump administration as a main contributor to the recent situation.
“President Obama did deport a significant number of people and you can’t argue with facts,” she said. “However, as a result of what they’re doing now, is ICE on steroids. It’s above and beyond what President Obama did because Obama focused on certain categories. Now, under this administration and this president, they’re arresting individual for jumping the turnstiles or engaging in minor offenses.”
“Most of the time, we go to town halls that are controlled by elected officials, by the city of New York and it’s staged and set up in such a way where questions are scripted,” said Founder of El Grito Dennis Flores. “What’s taking place here is more than just presenting a video of police violence. It’s about the work that has to be done in the community to hold police and elected officials accountable and to make sure that process is clear and make sure as a community these public spaces are used to do exactly that.”