The New York Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to the New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly on Monday morning. The letter requested the race of all victims that members of the department have shot in the last 10 years, according to a press release from the American Civil Liberties Union.
The NYCLU reportedly made the request because the New York City Police Department’s Firearms Discharge Report for 2006 contains no data regarding the race of shooting victims, and because of the case of Sean Bell.
The shooting death of Sean Bell caused shock and outrage that reverberated through the United States. NYPD officers allegedly fired over 50 shots at Bell, and two of his friends, neither of which were armed. Bell died after being shot four times in the neck and torso in the early morning hours of his wedding day. The case had many up in arms, including civil rights activist Al Sharpton who is now serving as the Bell family’s personal adviser.
The case drew condemnation from many notable figures including New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Three of the Five officers involved in the shooting were indicted in March of 2007 on charges of manslaughter, assault, and reckless endangerment.
Bell’s case raised disturbing questions about the situation facing people of color in New York City, questions which the NYCLU feels may be partly clarified by prompt action from the NYPD in revealing the requested information about the race of police shooting victims in the past ten years. The letter from the NYCLU to the NYPD states in part: “as highlighted by the Bell shooting, the role of race in police shootings remains a serious concern for many.”
NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman made these comments regarding the request for information: “NYPD shooting practices raise important policy issues, particularly when race may be a factor.”
NYCLU Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn commented further: “We believe the NYPD must be more transparent when it comes to shooting incidents.”
The NYCLU made the request for documents regarding the race of shooting victims under New York State’s Freedom of Information Law. The civil rights group has also requested that the NYPD release the Firearms Discharge Reports for each of the ten years in question. As a matter of policy the NYPD does not currently release the discharge reports to the public something the NYCLU believes should change. The group wishes for these reports to be made available to public advocates outside the NYPD as well as the general public.