MRNY Joins Complaint against NYPD over Lack of Interpreters

Auru Cruz and Victor Sánchez, two of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the NYPD, claim discrimination on the part of police officers. (Photo via El Diario)

In September 2017, three immigrants filed a formal complaint against the New York Police Department (NYPD) with the city’s Commission on Human Rights for “systematically denying interpretation services to people with limited English skills.” On Monday, the organization Make the Road New York joined the complaint.

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“Make the Road New York has joined the complaint for this case, in which we denounce the NYPD for systematically and frequently failing to provide basic interpretation services to many members of the community, causing them incalculable harm and preventing them from receiving crucial assistance,” said Cristobal Gutiérrez, attorney with the immigrant rights defense association.

“All New Yorkers deserve equal access to critical services and to be treated with dignity and respect,” said the lawyer, explaining that an administrative order by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg in effect since 2008 requires all city agencies offering direct public services to “provide translation and interpretation services” in the languages most commonly spoken in the city.

“This mandate includes the NYPD, which is required to provide interpretation services to people wishing to report crimes or communicate with local police,” said the Make the Road representative, adding that the police has responded by saying that they are not obligated to provide translators because the order does not apply to them.

Víctor Sánchez, one of the three original plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the NYPD, said that, every day, immigrants like him who are not fluent in English, are exposed to having the crimes committed against them not taken seriously and to becoming victims of discrimination and even “harassment” and mockery on the part of some officers.

“On Jan. 8, 2017, I was a victim of a homophobic attack. I was physically and verbally assaulted. When I went to the 110th Precinct in Corona to file a report, they told me to speak English because they could not understand me. I asked for an interpreter, and they said there were none and to stop bothering them and leave. They did not let me in again,” said the Mexico native visibly frustrated, adding that he was also made to feel like a criminal.

“They said to me: ‘If you file the report, we may arrest you’ because there were different versions. I felt discriminated against. Then they said: ‘Better leave it at that, better keep on getting your therapies. Soon everything will pass, and you will be okay.’ They never wrote the report,” said Sánchez.

Another one of the plaintiffs, Guatemalan-born Aura Cruz, had similar experiences on two separate occasions, both of them in Queens police stations.

“Where I live, I was beaten in 2016 and was left with an injured eye. I went to the precinct to file the report, but they mistreated me. I asked to speak with someone in Spanish. Not only did they say that no one there spoke the language and that they could not find someone to translate, but one of the female officers also told me: ‘Go to school and learn English.’ I felt really terrible. I later went back with my daughter and was able to file the report by phone,” said the plaintiff.

She went on: “The same thing happened to me at a Flushing precinct. I was arrested because a coworker who used to sexually harass me called the police on me because I rejected him. He told them that I had a knife, which was false. When the NYPD arrived, they did not listen to my version and arrested me. I asked them to speak in Spanish, but they ignored me,” said Cruz, who has children.

Vianey García, director of Make the Road New York’s project to aid transgender people, said that she has witnessed the way victims of crimes are denied assistance.

“I have accompanied people to make reports at local police precincts more than 15 times, and they not only fail to offer translation services but also, when the time comes to describe the incident as a hate crime, they intimidate victims by telling them that they will be arrested if they lie instead of helping them,” said the activist. “Many people are afraid to report crimes and, in a community such as this one, where most of us are people of color and many are undocumented, these behaviors need to change and people need to be treated with respect by offering them translation services, which in many cases is critical.”

When asked about the claims, the NYPD said that the department is committed to providing police services regardless of the language spoken by an individual. “Every NYPD officer is equipped with a cell phone with which they can contact a certified interpreter 24 hours a day,” the spokesman said.

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