Council liberals call Bloomberg’s Boston comments ‘degrading to our public dialogue’

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On Tuesday, the day after two bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon finish line, Mayor Michael Bloomberg updated reporters on the attack's implications for New York City, and issued what seemed like a warning to his would-be successors about accounting for criticism in the formulation of security policy.

"The moment that we let our guard down, the moment we get complacent, the moment we allow special interests to shape our security strategies, is the moment that the terrorists are waiting for," said the mayor, with police commissioner Ray Kelly at his side. "As a country, we may not be able to thwart every attack. We saw that yesterday. But we must do everything we possibly can to try."

It wasn't clear which strategies the mayor was referring to, though both stop-and-frisk and the NYPD's surveillance of Muslims are likely candidates, given the criticism they've inspired from the Democratic mayoral candidates, civil libertarians and representatives of black, Latino and Muslim communities in New York.

Brad Lander and Jumaane Williams are both members of the City Council's Progressive Council, both regular critics of those NYPD programs, and both proponents of a bill that would create an inspector general to watch over the police department.

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They took umbrage.

Today, they sent a letter to the mayor in which they wrote, "We find it distressing that you would politicize the memory of those killed in the tragedy in this way."

Here's the full letter.

April 17, 2013

 

Mayor Michael Bloomberg

City Hall

260 Broadway

New York, NY 10007

Dear Mayor Bloomberg,

We write regarding your comments at yesterday’s press briefing about the horrible attacks at the Boston Marathon, in which you said “the moment we allow special interests to shape our security strategies is the moment that the terrorists are waiting for.” By “special interests,” you appear to mean New Yorkers who support legislation in the City Council to prohibit bias-based profiling by the police and to create an NYPD Inspector General.

We find it distressing that you would politicize the memory of those killed in the tragedy in this way. To suggest that New Yorkers who stand both against terrorism and for civil liberties are “special interests” that “the terrorists are waiting for” is both inappropriate at this tragic moment and degrading to our public dialogue. We ask that you reconsider your comments.

Like you, and all New Yorkers, we grieve for the lives lost and shattered by the attack. Like you, and all New Yorkers, we long for safer streets. We mourn each person killed in our city by gun violence. We remember powerfully the lives lost on September 11th. We want the NYPD to be vigilant and do all it appropriately can to keep all New Yorkers safe from terrorist attacks.

At the same time, we believe that we can and must keep New Yorkers safe without violating fundamental Constitutional rights. If we have a “special interest,” it is simply equal justice under the law. We are concerned that the NYPD’s Stop, Question and Frisk policy targets African-American and Latino young men, and LGBTQ residents, without reasonable suspicion, the vast majority of whom are guilty only of fitting a bias-based profile. We are concerned that the NYPD’s intelligence program profiles Muslim mosques and student associations for undercover surveillance, even in the absence of any specific leads.

We believe that a prohibition on bias-based profiling by the NYPD will make for better and fairer policing. You yourself have said repeatedly that the NYPD does not engage in profiling based on race or religion, but instead does its police work based on reasonable suspicion. City Council Introduction 800 would simply make this the law in our city, so that current and future New Yorkers can count on this legal protection.

We believe that an NYPD Inspector General will make New Yorkers safer, identify opportunities for the NYPD to improve public safety for all and help make sure that NYPD policies comply with the law. As you know, nearly every other NYC agency has an IG, as do the FBI, CIA, US Justice Department, and most other big-city police departments. They conduct investigations and make recommendations for improvement, including in areas of policy. City Council Introduction 881 would provide this same resource for the NYPD. Before last month, no one ever alleged or feigned concern that an IG would cause confusion about who is in charge, and there is no evidence that this has ever been the case.

In one of the finest moments of your mayoralty, you stood firmly behind the Cordoba House and their right to propose a Muslim cultural center in Lower Manhattan, despite a loud and intolerant outcry. We ask that you follow that example, rather than demonizing those who are eager to protect both our public safety and our fundamental civil liberties.

We deeply appreciate the work that NYPD officers do every day, putting their lives at risk to keep New Yorkers safe. And we appreciate the work that you and Commissioner Kelly are doing to reassure us at this painful time. At the same time, we ask that you reconsider the language you use, in order to bring New Yorkers together as we respond and reflect, rather than drive us apart.