OP-ED: Erase The Gang Database

On Wednesday, myself and other young adults from the Public Safety Team at Red Hook Initiative (RHI) took a stand against the NYPD’s gang database by joining the rally at Brooklyn Hall against this system of criminalization. We were joined at the rally by elected officials, members of organizations from across the City–like Freedom Agenda, VOCAL-NY, the Legal Aid Society–as well as directly affected New Yorkers. 

The stories and words shared at the rally were essential because now I know the actual depth of how the gang database affects Black and brown people–particularly young adults and teens. 

The NYPD gang database, or “Criminal Group Database,” is an unjust system that criminalizes Black and brown people–including children. No one knows if they are in it and you don’t have to commit a crime to be added to the database. You can be added based on who you know, where you live, what colors you wear and even what you post on social media. There is no opportunity to challenge your inclusion or to be removed. We also know that you can be added into the database as young as 13. 

Solomon Acevedo from the New York City Public Advocate’s Office (Photo: Faith Anderson)

Young people like us in the Public Safety Team must speak out against the database. Part of why we speak out against unfair policing and treatment from the police is to show that we know our rights, that we will fight back and that we are educated.  

At the rally, we were encouraged to see that there are people in local government who care about ending the database’s fraudulent system; City Council Member Alexa Aviles was at the rally, and her words reassured us that she is with us in our fight. She highlighted how the gang database was here to criminalize, stigmatize and imprison people. Councilmembers Tiffany Caban and Sandy Nurse also spoke, to cheers, about working to abolish the database.

Speaker from the RHI Public Safety Team (Photo: Faith Anderson)

I remember coming home from middle school with a friend when both of us were stopped by the police. A male and a female cop asked us where we were going and whom we were associated with. They told us that we looked similar to someone they were looking for. The female cop slightly patted us down. I remember being so confused and scared. We were kids, only 12 and 13 years old; why were we being compared to someone they were looking for? How did we fit the description? 

Rally on the steps of Brooklyn Borough Hall (Photo: Faith Anderson)

The gang database isn’t here to protect people. It’s only here to keep people bogged down in the criminal legal system. It’s here to build fear because you can never be sure if they are on the list or not. It’s terrible that you don’t even have to commit a crime; you can just be associated with someone in the neighborhood you grew up in. 

The gang database is the digital stop-and-frisk, and even worse, you never see it coming. Erase the gang database now.

Faith Anderson is a member of the RHI Public Safety Team. She lives in Red Hook, Brooklyn. She goes to school at Kingsborough Community College, majoring in photography.

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