Defenders, Community Groups & Activists Announce “FOIL Yourself” Campaign Against NYPD Gang Database

Gang Database Rally.jpg

The Legal Aid Society

Family members of New Yorkers impacted by "gang" policing, The Legal Aid Society, Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Black Youth Project 100 NYC, Bronxites for NYPD Accountability, The Bronx Defenders, Brooklyn Defender Services, ICE-FREE NYC, JustleadershipUSA, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, The Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, National Lawyers Guild – NYC Chapter, Police Reform Organizing Project, The Policing and Social Justice Project at Brooklyn College, Red Hook Initiative, Reform RICO, Rockaway Youth Task Force, WeCare, Youth Represent and others unveiled a “FOIL Yourself” campaign at City Hall against the NYPD gang database to help impacted people and communities obtain basic transparency and accountability in how Department classifies New Yorkers as gang affiliates.

The groups also called on the Committee on Public Safety and Chairman, Council Member Donovan Richards, to hold public hearings examining gang policing tactics in New York City. A letter signed by over 30 legal and community groups was recently sent to Council Member Richard seeking a commitment on this issue so that family members, legal experts and community groups can voice their concerns.

“The NYPD’s gang database is black box and the antithesis of government transparency,” said Anthony Posada, Supervising Attorney of the Community Justice Unit at The Legal Aid Society. “If the NYPD won’t disclose their tactics or criteria, we’re prepared to FOIL the Department with impacted community members to get the answers we need. We also hope the City Council hears our cries and convenes an oversight hearing on this matter immediately.”

"The rally and letter are important and bring us closer to an open dialogue to discuss some of the ways that gang policies are being used – or should I say misused. Public hearings are part of our rights. We need to be very clear how these tactics are being used against our communities." said Taylonn Murphy Sr., anti-violence activist and father whose daughter was killed amid youth violence and whose son was arrested and sentenced as part of gang conspiracy case.

Anthony Posada of our Community Justice Unit speaks out against the NYPD's Gang Databse at a recent rally

Anthony Posada of our Community Justice Unit speaks out against the NYPD's Gang Databse at a recent rally

Currently, law enforcement maintain and share databases alleging gang affiliations of individuals who are not notified or given the opportunity to challenge such designations. Information is collected on adults and juveniles (as young as 12 and perhaps younger) alike. Individuals are added to the databases, not based on criminal conduct but based on area of residence, association and appearance.

Like the stop and frisk strategies that the NYPD relied upon in the recent past, the databases are likely to be over inclusive and inaccurate. Unlike the stop and frisk records, the databases are secret, do not require even a suspicion of criminality, and are not subject to Fourth Amendment protection and judicial review.

Gang databases are a key piece of a broader gang policing agenda that has intensified over the past few years. The NYPD's regular use of militarized "gang" raids targets Black and Latino residents across the city. Last year, the police department and multiple federal agencies launched the city's biggest "gang" raid ever in the Bronx, leading to the indictment of 120 people. The pre-dawn operation broke the record for biggest gang sweep ever set by a controversial 2014 raid in West Harlem.

The foil requests will seek information including:

  • All records related to the person submitting the request;
  • Whether or not the person was included in the gang database;
  • Information about how the person’s records were used, shared, stored, maintained or destroyed

“Specious and discriminatory ‘gang’ allegations have been used to justify military-style raids by police, indefinite detention without bond by ICE, and invasive surveillance of young teenagers by all levels of government. We are calling for the City Council to hold a hearing on the NYPD’s so-called ‘gang’ policing practices, including their apparent collusion with ICE, to investigate these critical matters,” said Lisa Schreibersdorf, Executive Director of Brooklyn Defender Services.

"No white teenagers in Park Slope are classified as "gang members" and subject to police surveillance, questioning and arrest based on what they wear, who they greet in their neighborhood or which building they grew up in. Though the NYPD calls it precision policing, there is nothing precise about secret gang databases and "gang raids" that target and criminalize whole communities based on race and class. These practices only widen the net of black and brown youth entrapped in our criminal justice system and New Yorkers deserve, at the very least, more transparency and accountability around this issue," said Rena Karefa-Johnson, Staff Attorney, Youth Represent.