A Personal Perspective
BY MARCIA MOXAM COMRIE
There has always been a great concern in our community about the authorities rounding up or enticing African-American teens in our city to participate in police lineups. This was for use as “fillers”—and often without parental consent.
We may never know how many innocent kids have ended up in jail because they were mistakenly pointed out by a victim as the suspect in a crime. There is a policy against the practice, but like many other policies, it has been flouted.
Well, that may be coming to an end in the near future, thanks to one New York City councilman and a community board. Councilman Rory Lancman (District 24) met with residents in Community Board 13 last month to discuss the matter.
Lancman is chairman of the City Council’s Committee on Courts and Legal Services and it is in this capacity that he has been advocating to turn the policy into law and end the practice.
It is not unusual for the police to ask for community volunteers who, in general, fit the description of a suspect. But when would-be participants are underage, the police must get consent from the parents or guardians. Some in their hurry may bypass this step. That’s a no-no.
The teens are compensated—but generally speaking, teenagers are not mature enough to make decisions that could end up hurting their future. Parents should be consulted every time. Most parents would not consent to such a request. But they are entitled to the choice.
There was such a case in Bellerose last spring involving officers from the 105th Precinct that acted as the catalyst for the community, councilman and police to meet and hash out the matter.
Lancman, for his part, proposed Intro 1710, a bill that would exempt officers from picking up teens for lineups without parental consent. The bill will, according to the councilman, “codify existing NYPD policy into law.”
Good for him and kudos to the community board and the community. By raising their voices, they are on their way to changing the system. This is what we want our community and nonprofits to do. When we raise our voices in unison and involve our elected leaders, we can make important changes.
We get it that the police have a job to do. They must catch criminals and set the stage for trial. Having lineups is part of that process—at least, in certain cases. We know that their job is not easy and we appreciate them for their important service.
Conversely, we must protect our children from being used in a way that could be detrimental to their own freedom. Our kids should not be approached and carted off in a police car for a lineup that their parents know nothing about.
This City Council bill is a win-win. The police still get to do lineups, but innocent would-be participants are protected by their parents’ knowledge and consent. It is important for all parties to work together for the greater good.
Fairly or not, our community tends to view the police with suspicion. Working out an acceptable solution in this case proves that have rights and must work within them to serve the greater good when necessary.