“We are here to awaken from the illusion of separateness.”
— Thich Nhat Hanh
Nowhere is the crisis of over-policing more urgent than right here in the Bronx. Our borough has the highest rates of poverty and our residents are some of the most heavily policed. The NYPD has continued its grim legacy of unjustly killing black and Latino Bronx residents — from Anthony Baez and Amadou Diallo to Malcolm Ferguson and Ramarley Graham.
We write as two faith leaders of different traditions and identities — a black Christian man and a white female Rabbi — to shatter the illusions of separateness in favor of upholding justice. In the face of urgent injustices that not only manifest themselves in these killings — but also the daily abuses residents experience from discriminatory and abusive policing — it’s time that we collectively recognize that the way some New Yorkers in our city are policed is different from others, based on race, income, housing status and other identities.
The Christian tradition we draw from at Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice inspires us to use our faith to make connections across traditions so we can take care of all of our brothers and sisters. The Jewish teaching of b’tzelem Elohim says that all humans are made in the image of God and therefore should be valued and treated with dignity. Ensuring that police treat communities of color with respect and transparency upholds the basic human right to live a dignified life.
The Right to Know Act, currently pending in the New York City Council and co-sponsored by Bronx Councilman Ritchie Torres, would be a step towards treating all New Yorkers with dignity. It would place common sense requirements on officers to identify themselves to civilians during encounters, and protect basic constitutional rights against searches for which there is no legal justification.
This would help create a culture of greater transparency and accountability within the NYPD. It is critical that police uphold the rights of civilians in order to respect the law and have broad legitimacy amongst the larger population. That must be an expectation we have for those tasked with the enormous capability to take life and liberty, particularly when a significant power imbalance exists between them and civilians.
Yet in the face of a historic national movement during the past year, the City Council has yet to take steps to address the moral crisis we face in our city. New Yorkers from all walks of life have marched and protested against abusive and discriminatory policing, and a broad coalition of community groups from across the city has united around a call for greater accountability in policing practices. We have collectively awakened from the illusion of separateness to unite and demand justice and accountability.
It’s time for the City Council to heed these calls. By passing the Right to Know Act, we can take an important step towards addressing this crisis, and ensuring all New Yorkers live with dignity.
David R. Shuffler Jr. is the executive director of the South Bronx-based Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice (YMPJ) Rabbi Jo Hirschmann is the coordinator of clinical pastoral education at Hebrew Union College, a member of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ)’s Rabbinic Council, and a resident of the Northwest Bronx. YMPJ and JFREJ are members of Communities United for Police Reform.