NYPD Accused of Helping ICE with False Gang Charges

Activists are accusing the NYPD of arresting youths for gang activity without proof, and working alongside ICE.’ (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

Just as President Donald Trump insists that undocumented immigrants are behind gangs like MS-13, which has terrorized areas of Long Island and, according to the police, committed recent crimes like the murder last Friday of a Salvadoran 20-year-old in Jamaica Hills, Queens, activists on Wednesday denounced the NYPD for using the same argument to work hand in hand with “la migra.”

Leaders of organizations like Legal Aid Society, Brooklyn Defender Services and Community Justice Unit staged a demonstration saying that, on top of maintaining a gang database in secret, the department is detaining minority youths for minor offenses and charging them with serious crimes. Thus, they are putting the undocumented directly in the hands of ICE, in contravening the protections put in place by the city, and staining those who have papers with a criminal record.

“For the past 18 months we have heard that some 2,000 people have been arrested and accused of being gang members. This is an impossibly high number in a city with such a low crime rate,” said Josmar Trujillo, organizer of the Coalition to End Broken Windows, on the same day the NYPD announced the arrest of 25 people in an early-morning raid in the Bronx. They are accused of being members of the “Hoolie Gang,” which has been linked to four murders and drug trafficking in that borough.

“About the Bronx arrests, we don’t know what happened. We are not saying that there are no gangs or that there is no violence, but we are saying that when the police grabs 10, 20, 30 or 100 people, they all get the same serious charges, and that’s not precision policing,” added Trujillo, who insisted that in those arrests the NYPD acts in tandem with ICE.

“We know that they work together because when they did the raid this morning all those agencies were together. They have been planning this for a long time and the city of New York is helping them,” said the activist. He also urged the chairman of the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety, Donovan Richards, to set up a public hearing to demand of the NYPD clarity about their handling of the gang database and the arrests.

“We want people to know that they can inquire to know whether they are in that database. There is no reason to mark somebody without telling them. The NYPD needs to be transparent and there can’t be secret lists,” said Trujillo.

Council member Donovan Richards Jr. during the hearing on the NYPD database. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

“Plan” to deport Latinos

Furthermore, according to Andrea Sáenz, a lawyer for Brooklyn Defender Services, many of the youths detained by the NYPD and unjustly linked to gangs are being deported without any basis or facts supporting the charges.

“The police are collecting that information. It’s not a lot of information, but it’s helping in telling ICE that those people must be arrested in the courts, on the street, in their homes (…) It’s all part of a plan to deport those Latino youths in big numbers,” said the activist, who criticized the de Blasio administration for promulgating protections for immigrants while allowing those unfair detentions. “If the NYPD is helping ICE every day, we are not protecting immigrants. It’s a falsehood.”

Jimmy Bar Fernández, a member of the organization Vocal NY who was detained for 16 hours on Sunday, joined in the protest. “I met many people there who were arrested for smoking pot or partying on Super Bowl Sunday and were being linked to gangs,” said the former police officer. “For 18 years, I worked doing the same job as the police. I know the patterns they operate under, and I know that they want to clean up housing projects, but the problem is that, if there are any gang members, they immediately say everyone is a gang member. That is no coincidence; there is a plan.”

Austin Finan, a spokesman for the de Blasio administration, denied the claims made by the activists and highlighted the fact that the New York City police only pursue criminals. “The NYPD’s precision policing strategy is aimed at the few criminals left in New York City who are committing violent crimes, not at innocent people,” said the official.

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Asked about the way the NYPD collaborates with “la migra” in the arrests of alleged gang members, the ICE office in New York said that the Homeland Security Investigations office is fighting the proliferation of the MS-13 gang in the Big Apple alongside federal agencies thanks to “the incredible help afforded by our associations with local authorities,” adding that they do so in compliance with the law.

“HSI does not discriminate or make prejudiced arrests but uses reliable information, collected through multiple sources, which results in the arrest of an individual,” said a spokesperson for ICE.

Anthony Posada, an attorney with Legal Aid Society, also called on New Yorkers to exercise their right to petition and request that the NYPD let them know if they are in the gang members database so they can defend themselves and avoid unpleasant surprises.

“We want to educate people with this campaign to issue a request to the NYPD, because, if we do not know if they are on those lists or not, how can we fight?” said the attorney. “This military style is being used to criminalize our communities and push them into the criminal system, with disastrous consequences for all.”

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