Protect All Resident's Civil Rights: An Action Response to NYPD Raids on UWS Homeless Shelters

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On May 23rd, police raided a homeless shelter on the Upper West Side at 4 a.m., arresting anyone with an outstanding warrant. When challenged on this use of police force by advocates for the homeless, Capt. Marlon Larin defended the strategy and asserted that it would continue, despite remarks from Police Commissioner William Bratton expressing his disapproval.

On June 18th, JFREJ protested in solidarity with Picture the Homeless, and other individuals and groups involved in Communities United for Police Reform. This community pressure worked! The NYPD has agreed to stop future raids on homeless shelters.

Below, JFREJ member Neil Friedman shares his experience of the protest.

"As a resident of the Upper West Side for over 20 years, I am proud of our neighborhood’s reputation for liberalism and tolerance of all the diverse populations living here.  So I was shocked to learn that NYPD officers of the 24th Precinct had raided a large homeless shelter on West 95th Street called Freedom House on May 23rd around 4 AM to round up anyone staying there who had an outstanding warrant.  

Despite outrage expressed by advocates for the homeless, 24th Precinct commander Capt. Marlon Larin defended the tactic and said  it would continue.  However, on June 18th a major demonstration was organized by Picture the Homeless and other groups.  The       plan   was to rally in front of the shelter, then march to the 24th Precinct and join in the monthly community meeting that the Precinct holds.  I attended as a member of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, which is deeply involved in Communities United for Police Reform, along with several other JFREJ activists.  

Just hours before the demonstration, Police Commissioner William Bratton was quoted in press reports as calling the homeless shelter raid “well intended, but something that I’m not supportive of,” and saying such tactics would stop.  However, Capt. Larin of the 24th Precinct reported that he had received no direction to stop the raids, and that they would continue. The planned rally and march went on, with over 100 participants and speakers from Picture the Homeless as well as current and previous residents of Freedom House and formerly homeless people.  Speakers described the traumatic effect such an early morning raid would have in a shelter with many elderly and family residents, disrupting the precious sleep of people who already have enough trouble getting enough rest in their hectic lives and scaring all the residents, even the majority with no warrants outstanding.  

Leaders of the rally said they were gratified by Bratton’s remarks but wanted to make sure the new policy was implemented.  The demonstrators then marched to the 24th Precinct as planned and gathered outside the community meeting, held in the public library across 100th Street from the precinct house.  A few dozen joined the meeting inside and patiently held up their hands until they were called upon to ask questions or make comments after routine reports were done.

At the meeting Capt. Larin, although aware of his boss Bratton’s remarks that day, defended the raid and explained that his officers had gotten names of Freedom House residents through cooperation of the Department of Homeless Services and found that about 10% of them had outstanding warrants (meaning they had missed court appointments).  He said the job of the police was to arrest and “bring in” warrant violators from wherever they could be found.  (Warrants could be for serious crimes but many are for petty “quality of life” violations like holding an open container of liquor on the street.)  

Asked why the action was held at 4 AM, Capt. Larin said that’s when the people are most likely to be there.  Of 30-some outstanding warrants, 22 people were rounded up, he explained.  He denied picking on the homeless because they were weak and vulnerable, saying that “any building” with such proportion of warrant violators would be targeted.  Still, when reminded of Bratton’s new position, he said that raids on homeless shelters would not be continued in the near future.  

At the end of the meeting, Capt. Larin did agree to set a meeting with Picture the Homeless representatives to try to work out a more humane way for police officers to carry out their responsibility of apprehending warrant violators. 

This is a good start. As concerned residents of the Upper West Side, we expect more from the NYPD. This week’s action demonstrated that we will not tolerate law enforcement that seeks to protect our community at the expense of our most vulnerable members."