NEW YORK CITY CANDIDATES ARE ASKING FOR YOUR VOTE. ASK THEM WHERE THEY STAND.
On June 22, 2021 New York City will conclude its primary election for city-wide offices, including mayor, city council members, district attorneys, and the city comptroller. (See our guide to NYC’s new ranked choice voting.) Together, these offices control the city’s budget, policies, and priorities – and the pathway to a more just and fair NYC.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Learn about the issues and what to ask your candidates:
New York City officials have a big say over the budget, powers, and scope of the NYPD. To protect New Yorkers from police abuse, officials must reduce the number of contacts between police and the public, and ensure NYC has a truly independent and transparent civilian oversight agency. (See our guide to transforming policing in NYC for more.)
Ask candidates about the powers and scope of the NYPD:
- Does the candidate believe there are areas where we over-rely on police? How?
- Where and how would the candidate reduce the funding or staffing of NYPD?
- What would the candidate do to ensure that the NYPD respects the rights of protesters?
- Should the police be a part of the response to homeless individuals in public spaces?
- What is the proper role, if any, for police in schools?
- What will the candidate do to ensure that city laws barring police and corrections officials from working with ICE are actually followed?
- What would the candidate do to ensure independent civilian oversight of the NYPD?
- How does the candidate plan to engage communities most impacted by the NYPD’s policing in decision-making around public safety?
On the NYPD, city leaders have the power to:
Stop Criminalizing Homelessness. Nearly 80,000 people in New York City were estimated to be homeless as of January 2020 – and that number has grown during the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite a lack of adequate housing, the NYPD and other city agencies have engaged for years in deliberate targeting of homeless people in public spaces. This includes the use of so called “sweeps” carried out by the Department of Homeless Services, the NYPD, and the Department of Sanitation, which threaten unsheltered homeless New Yorkers with the destruction of their belongings if they do not leave the public spaces where they have been sleeping. Despite the risks, and in direct contrast to the CDC’s recommendations, the city continued to employ these tactics while COVID-19 was rapidly spreading, despite the lack of any promise of safe housing upon being displaced. We simply cannot police our way out of homelessness—the NYPD’s current tactics are both cruel and counterproductive.
Stop Criminalizing Students. New York City schools are occupied by one of the largest police forces in the country. The NYPD School Safety Division employs approximately 5,090 school safety officers and 113 armed police. Cops outnumber social workers and guidance counselors in New York City schools by more than two to one. For decades, police in schools have overwhelmingly targeted Black and Latinx students, brutalizing them, criminalizing youthful behavior, and making schools feel more like prisons. New York City lawmakers must significantly reduce the money spent on policing Black and Brown communities and use that money to protect school budgets. We must get cops out of the classroom and invest in real education solutions.
Stop Criminalizing Protest. In the weeks after George Floyd’s killing at the hands of police in May 2020, New Yorkers flooded the streets demanding – among other things – that police be held accountable. NYPD officers ran over, beat, pepper-sprayed, and tossed peaceful protesters to the ground. In many instances, these violent tactics were explicitly approved and even praised by NYPD higher-ups, and Mayor de Blasio. One unit has played a central role in an aggressive response to protests and crowd events: The Strategic Response Group, or SRG. The SRG is a specialized NYPD unit designed for counterterrorism response, and which has expanded to become the NYPD’s ‘first responders’ for any large crowd events. News reports have detailed how the SRG has not only escalated brutal tactics against peaceful protesters – but also employs numerous officers with extensive histories of misconduct. And the SRG was present and responsible for the abusive and escalating tactics deployed against protesters over the past year. City leaders should not tolerate the NYPD’s aggressive surveillance and abuse of protesters.
Stop Police Collusion with ICE. New York law rightly bars the NYPD from detaining people on behalf of federal immigration authorities. But ICE continues to pressure local law enforcement and local government agencies to search for, arrest, and deport people, and to separate families who are part of our New York. Doing so opens the door to unconstitutional racial profiling and diverts our local resources to enable ICE’s cruel agenda. Because of ICE’s collusion with local law enforcement, many immigrant New Yorkers live with the fear that living daily life in the open and interacting with government agencies – whether in a routine police traffic stop, attending school, or visiting a public hospital for care – could lead to being torn away from family. Leadership plays a critical role in ensuring that New York City is in practice – not just in promise – a real sanctuary for our immigrant community members.
IMPROVING PUBLIC HEALTH
The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the inequities in New Yorkers’ access to health care and health itself. NYC’s leaders must have robust plans for ensuring access to vaccines, services for New Yorkers in need, and reproductive justice. Ask candidates about health inequities in our city:
- What is the candidate’s plan for responding to New Yorkers in mental health or substance abuse crises?
- What is the role of police, if any, in responding to New Yorkers in mental health or substance abuse crises?
- Does the candidate have a plan to expand culturally-competent, community-based services to meet public health, mental health, and substance use needs?
- What will the candidate do to ensure that COVID-19 vaccines reach the New Yorkers with the highest need?
- How will the candidate ensure the provision of vaccines to those detained in jails?
- How will the candidate work to reduce maternal mortality rates and eliminate the stark racial disparities in birth outcomes?
- How will the candidate improve access to reproductive health care information and services, including abortion care?
- What is the candidate’s plan to ensure medically accurate, age-appropriate, LGBTQ-inclusive comprehensive sex education for all public and charter school students?
On public health, city leaders have the power to:
Provide Services to New Yorkers with Mental Health and Substance Abuse Needs. New Yorkers in crisis deserve the care and support of trained, community-based, culturally competent health professionals, including peer supporters and people with lived experience with the mental health system – not law enforcement officers who specialize in addressing crime. Such crisis response professionals must have the training and expertise to safely stabilize individuals in crisis and connect them to services and/or treatment, if necessary, and to do so in a way that dramatically reduces the risk of serious injury and death to those individuals in crisis and, indeed, to members of the community. Crisis response services must be driven by experts, and fully integrated into the city’s existing emergency response system (such as training to divert 911 calls to crisis response when appropriate). The design, implementation, and monitoring of such a crisis response system must be driven by impacted communities.
Ensure Equal Access to Vaccines. New York has long pinned its hopes on emerging from the coronavirus pandemic on the development and distribution of an effective vaccine. We now know that wealthier, whiter neighborhoods in NYC have received vaccines at much higher rates than the poorer neighborhoods that are disproportionately home to Black, Brown, and AAPI communities, essential workers, and – relatedly – those who have already borne the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic. New York City leaders must do everything in their power to ensure that all of our communities – particularly those who endure increased COVID risk coupled with multiple burdens, including limited English language proficiency, digital illiteracy, and lack of online connectivity – are able to easily schedule vaccination appointments and receive vaccines. And for those that can access a vaccine, they also need to feel secure doing so – which means protecting personal information, including from police and immigration authorities, and ensuring culturally competent vaccine distribution. And the city must have a clear and comprehensive plan for ensuring vaccine access to every New Yorker in jails and other congregate settings, who depend on the government for access to health care.
Promote Reproductive and Birth Justice. True reproductive justice means that NYC policies must support people in their decisions about reproduction and family – whether that means deciding to become pregnant, seeking pregnancy-related patient-centered care through birth and beyond, or ending a pregnancy. Enabling individuals to make decisions best for their own families, lives, and health starts with changing the dialogue and culture and ensuring young people have access to the information they need to make healthy decisions. This is why the NYCLU supports medically accurate, age-appropriate, LGBTQ-inclusive comprehensive sex education for all public and charter school students. Comprehensive sex ed is so much more than just teaching young people how to avoid unintended pregnancy; it is a critical tool for building a culture of consent and preventing sexual assault and violence. Yet New York State does not currently require comprehensive sexual health education in public schools. As a result, many schools across New York do not provide any sexuality education, and when they do, it is too often inaccurate, incomplete, and stigmatizing. New York leaders must ensure that all young people have access to the information they need to be healthy and have healthy relationships.
New York City leaders must also center reproductive justice by ensuring that pregnant people have access to quality health care. As a baseline first step, people must be able to access health care. Public health insurance must be extended to people for one year after pregnancy to ensure seamless access to care and improved health outcomes. In addition, policy makers must recognize the discriminatory harm of nonconsensual drug testing in health care settings – which can lead to family separation and poor health outcomes for both children and parents – by ensuring all pregnant patients give written, informed consent before drug screening and testing. And for pregnant people who decide to end a pregnancy, New York must ensure that anyone who needs an abortion can access one regardless of geographical location or insurance.
Unfortunately, for people who give birth, there remain stark racial disparities in health outcomes. Black women are nearly four times more likely than white women to die of causes related to pregnancy or childbirth. This disparity holds true even when socioeconomic status is accounted for; and while Black women of higher socioeconomic status have worse maternal mortality outcomes than white women across the board, poor Black women are at an even greater risk. In New York, 67 percent of the maternal deaths that occurred from 2012 to 2013 involved women insured through the Medicaid program. New York leaders must have a plan to eliminate this racial public health crisis.
INVESTING IN EQUAL EDUCATION
New York City schools are rife with inequities and racial segregation. The reasons for this are many, including homelessness, testing policies that reinforce and worsen educational and structural bias, housing policies that further systemic racism, and much more. City leaders must understand educational inequities and have a plan to end them.
Ask candidates about educational equity:
- What is the candidate’s plan for purposeful school desegregation?
- What is the role, if any, of high-stakes standardized testing in schools?
- What is the candidate’s plan to ensure equal access to school and the internet for homeless students?
- What will the candidate do to ensure that every New Yorker has access to affordable, high-speed internet, regardless of what neighborhood they live in?
- What is the candidate’s plan for more affordable housing?
- What policies would the candidate pursue to ensure that zoning and land use planning results in housing and services for those most in need, including people with disabilities, those experiencing homelessness, and those with mental health issues?
On NYC schools, city leaders have the power to:
Bridge NYC’s Digital Divide. Even as New York City slowly re-opens from the COVID-19 pandemic, many continue to rely on the internet to work, attend school, go to the doctor, seek entertainment, and visit with loved ones. Unfortunately, New Yorkers do not all have access to reliable high-speed internet. Across the five boroughs, between 17 and 20 percent of New Yorkers lack internet access. Predictably, the brunt of this digital divide falls on particular communities. These communities are home to individuals who disproportionately live at the intersection of poverty and structural racism. Forty-six percent of New York City households living below the poverty line do not have home internet access. About 30 percent of Latinx and Black New Yorkers lack broadband internet access, compared with 20 percent of white New Yorkers. City officials must commit to a realistic, fast plan to offer affordable, high-speed internet to all city residents – including residents of NYC’s public housing and shelter system.
Ensure Equal Access to Housing. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibits municipalities from denying equal housing opportunity on the basis of race or disability – but too often, specific zoning proposals and development plans skirt these equity principles. Fifty years after the passage of the Fair Housing Act, New York neighborhoods remain starkly divided along racial lines. Deeply entrenched housing segregation not only affects the daily lives of New Yorkers, but persists across generations. The NYCLU has fought zoning and housing proposals that disadvantage communities of color and re-enforce racially segregated patterns in NYC. In addition, city leaders must ensure that low-income housing is built with a focus on accessibility and opportunity for disabled New Yorkers. For too long New Yorkers with disabilities were segregated into civil and criminal institutions such as nursing homes, psychiatric hospitals, jails, and prisons. To repair NYC’s history of racial discrimination and segregation in housing, city officials must commit to the creation of low-income housing through open, transparent, and inclusive public processes.
ENDING RIKERS ISLAND AND ITS CULTURE
In 2019, the City Council voted to close the Rikers Island jail complex and build four borough-based jails in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx. As the city struggles to propose a clear plan for the new jails, the horrors of Rikers continue, and officials risk replicating its culture of abuse and lawlessness. City leaders must end the abuse at Rikers, reduce the city jail population, and deliver supportive services.
Ask candidates where they stand on Rikers and city jails:
- How will the candidate ensure the provision of vaccines to those detained in jails?
- Does the candidate support fully ending solitary confinement in NYC jails?
- What is the candidate’s timeline and plan for closing jails on Rikers Island?
- Does the candidate have a plan for reducing NYC’s jail population?
On abuse in city jails, city leaders have the power to:
Reduce the Jail Population, Curtail Abuse, and Deliver Meaningful Support. Too many New Yorkers have died or suffered enormous and irreversible physical and psychological harm as a result of mistreatment at Rikers – including Kalief Browder and Layleen Polanco. An investigation during the COVID-19 pandemic found a disregard of social distance measures, severe overcrowding, an inability to keep facilities clean, a failure to distribute masks, and a denial of necessary treatment to people with underlying respiratory conditions. And the use of inhumane solitary confinement still exists in NYC. Although a state law regulating the long-term use of solitary goes into effect next year, NYC officials should act now to stop this inhumane practice for good. Jails should rely on evidence-based approaches to changing behavior – including meaningful educational opportunities, mental health services, and re-entry programs – rather than locking people in cages. The demonstrated failure to address Rikers’ harsh conditions – which only deepened during the pandemic – violates the rights of every person held on Rikers Island.
The city must reduce the jail population immediately. It should begin by releasing those held on pretrial detention, those held on technical parole violations, and those who have medical conditions that leave them particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. And moving forward, city leaders must have a plan to ensure any new jails emphasize rehabilitation and avoid the dehumanizing practices deployed at Rikers. The city must end the overuse of solitary confinement and provide robust physical and mental health services, rehabilitation, and re-entry programs. And as the City commits to building new jails, it is essential that it also continues every effort to reduce the jail population.