The Legal Aid Society recently filed an Article 78 lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court against the New York City Police Department (NYPD) demanding answers about the Department’s gang policing tactics that ensnare entire communities and operate largely unchecked.
The lawsuit was brought after the NYPD denied a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request seeking to obtain basic information for a LAS client and his inclusion in the database. This efforts stems from Legal Aid’s “FOIL Yourself” campaign, which was launched in February to help New Yorkers submit FOIL requests to determine if they have been labeled by the NYPD as a gang affiliate.
“The NYPD’s gang policing is the epitome of government secrecy,” said Anthony Posada, Supervising Attorney of the Community Justice Unit at The Legal Aid Society. “The public knows virtually nothing about the Department’s gang enforcement tactics, and its database that ensnares black and brown New Yorkers at record speed under this Administration. We hope this lawsuit finally brings some daylight to an issue that the City Hall has long tried to keep in the shadows.”
The suit was jointly filed by LAS and law firm Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP, a long-time pro bono partner of LAS in representing indigent clients in criminal defense cases.
Background on the NYPD’s Gang Database
For years, the NYPD has maintained a Criminal Group Database to track and surveil alleged members of local gangs or crews. Over the past decade, the number of individuals designated as gang or crew members in New York City has increased dramatically, with thousands of New Yorkers indiscriminately caught in the NYPD’s gang labeling dragnet.
The Department’s anti-gang tactics overwhelmingly target communities of color. According to recent reporting, nearly 66 percent of those added to the database between December 2013 and February 2018 were black, and 33 percent were Latinx. Blacks and Latinos respectively make up 25 percent and 27 percent of the city’s residents. Over the same four-year period, only 0.8 percent of the 17,452 people added to the list were white.
Background on Petitioner
Keith Shenery is a 21-year-old African-American resident of Harlem, who was arrested for possessing a small bag of marijuana and a folding knife that was later found in his pocket. Mr. Shenery was charged with possession of a “gravity knife,” a crime that the Manhattan District Attorney prosecutes more harshly than any other New York City DA.
In this case, the prosecution repeatedly asserted that Mr. Shenery was a “gang member” according to the NYPD. However, there was no evidence supporting these assertions nor any such allegations in the indictment.
The Legal Aid Society and Kramer Levin seek the police records underlying this so-called gang membership.