What's the one right you know you have should you ever be arrested? The right to remain silent. You know this because you've seen it on TV, sure—but really you know it because in 1966 the Supreme Court decided in Miranda v. Arizona that what's become known as "Miranda rights" were important enough to require police officers to specifically inform anyone who was being arrested that they had them. People already had the legal right to remain silent, but by requiring police officers to spell it out, the law ensured that people knew they had that right.
Enter the Right to Know Act, legislation that would require NYPD officers to give certain information to anyone they've stopped: the officer's name and rank, a reason for why they've been stopped, an explicit statement that they have the right to refuse search when there's no legal justification for a search, and a phone number for the Civilian Complaint Review Board (if the person is not actually arrested). Officers are already supposed to do this as outlined in the NYPD handbook, but by requiring officers to actually spell it out, the Right to Know Act would make this information as common-knowledge as Miranda rights are today.
Unsurprisingly in a city that values the work of the NYPD while wishing to hold all officers accountable for the way they interact with the public, the legislation has strong support in the city council. But our own Astoria council member, Costa Constantinides, hasn't yet signed on to be a co-sponsor. If you'd like to see more transparent relations between the police and community members, call Constantinides' office at 718.274.4500 and let him know that you'd love to see him support the bill.
Why this is important to me: I've always had strong personal relationships with the NYPD. Every personal interaction I've had with an officer has been filled with courtesy and mutual respect—including times when I've been questioned or even arrested. I was arrested for disorderly conduct a few months ago as a part of a civil disobedience action aimed at protesting the Dakota Pipeline, and while I couldn't call the experience pleasant per se, I was treated with care and respect kindness at every moment. Officers were clear from our first interaction to our last about what they were doing, they answered questions we had to the best of their ability, and they told us precisely why we were being arrested. They did this presumably because it was the right thing to do—but also because there was press present. They had to be explicit with us or the press could have made it a bigger story than it needed to be. It made me even more certain that the transparency that marked my own arrest would help make relationships better if this was the norm for all interactions. I don't see this legislation as being anti-police. I see it as helping rebuild trust of this institution among all community members, which will allow the NYPD to protect and serve to the best of their ability.
If you'd like to learn more about the Right to Know Act, go here.