Op-Ed: New Yorkers Deserve to Know the History of the Cops Involved in Eric Garner's Death (NY Daily News)
By Donna Lieberman
It’s been two years since the death of Eric Garner and New Yorkers still don’t know whether the officers involved in his death will be disciplined. The grand jury process was shrouded in secrecy and failed to indict a single officer for what the medical examiner called murder. This case is emblematic of law enforcement policies that disproportionately harm people of color: a criminal justice system that does not hold officers accountable for wrongdoing and where secrecy is the order of the day.
That's why the New York Civil Liberties Union has strongly supported the Legal Aid Society’s request for a summary of substantiated complaints against the officer who killed Eric Garner. These records from the Civilian Complaint Review Board are essential for understanding how something like this could have happened: Were there warning signs and could more have been done to prevent it? Instead the city is shielding officers behind a statute, Civil Rights Law 50-a, that limit disclosure of police personnel records. But the CCRB is not a part of the NYPD—it is an independent agency—and the summary of a substantiated complaint against an officer is not a personnel record. What’s more, the purpose of the Civilian Complaint Review Board is to ensure that police disciplinary investigations are independent and not shrouded in secrecy.
Our state Freedom of Information Law is unequivocal that the government must resolve questions regarding disclosure in favor of maximum access, because the people‘s right to know is central to democracy. For years prior, the City had routinely turned over disciplinary summaries to the Legal Aid Society. Now, a “progressive” administration that came to office promising police reform is in the business of keeping the public in the dark about policing. The Mayor and the Police Commissioner claim they want Albany to fix 50-a , but the city’s lawyers are appealing a judge’s ruling that the CCRB’s Garner summary must be disclosed. The public has a right to know whether the NYPD is ignoring substantiated misconduct complaints and allowing officers to act with impunity. It’s time for a little sunlight.
Donna Lieberman is the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.