Police State/Civil Liberties

Policing Speech: Bill de Blasio wants the NYPD to investigate constitutionally protected conduct

By Seth Barron, City-Journal

Amid a staggering wave of gun violence in New York City, with shootings this year measuring 42 percent higher than the same period in 2020, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that he plans to deploy the NYPD to track down and question people who have expressed “hate,” albeit without committing any crime or violation.

Speaking to reporters about anti-Asian attacks that have occurred around the country, the mayor encouraged people who have “witnessed or experienced any act of hate” to report it. “Even if something is not a criminal case,” the mayor explained, “a perpetrator being confronted by the city, whether it’s NYPD or another agency, and being told that what they’ve done was very hurtful to another person and could if ever repeated, lead to criminal charges, that’s another important piece of the puzzle.”

Asked how the NYPD would confront someone who has done something “hateful” but committed no crime, de Blasio enlarged on his prescription. “One of the things officers are trained to do is to give warnings,” he said. “If someone has done something wrong, but not rising to a criminal level, it’s perfectly appropriate for an NYPD officer to talk to them to say that was not appropriate. . . . I assure you if an NYPD officer calls you or shows up at your door to ask about something that you did, that makes people think twice.”

The mayor did not go into detail about the kind of behavior he was talking about, but we can surmise—since he explicitly stated that it wouldn’t rise to the level of criminality—that it must involve speech. Racial slurs or negative references to racial or ethnic identity, while nasty and rightfully unacceptable in civil society, are generally not prosecutable. Promising to involve the police in pursuing people who make intemperate, obnoxious remarks seems like an odd way to prioritize public-safety concerns.

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