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News > World

NYC Protesters Speak Out Against Police 'Homeless Shaming'

  • Demonstrators protested against what they called

    Demonstrators protested against what they called "homeless shaming." | Photo: Reuters

Published 19 August 2015

Some say the police union’s action is in fact a move against New York’s Democrat mayor Bill de Blasio.

Protesters gathered in front of New York City hall Tuesday, demonstrating against a recent campaign launched by a local police union asking citizens to photograph the homeless, what protesters call “homeless shaming.”

The Sergeants Benevolent Association – a local police union representing some 12,000 current and retired NYPD officers – has faced a wave of criticism after initiating a campaign called “Peek-A-Boo, We See You Too,” which they advertised across their social media platforms and through personal emails sent to all their members.

SBA President Edward Mullins wrote to fellow sergeants, “As you travel about the City of New York, please utilize your smart phones to photograph the homeless lying in our streets, aggressive panhandlers, people urinating in public or engaging in open-air drug activity and quality of life offenses of every type.”

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That request was extended to people outside of the police union through local media, such as the New York Post who included in an article last Monday an email address where any citizen could send such photos to the SBA.

Critics say the SBA is spearheading an immoral and dehumanizing campaign, stereotyping homeless people as criminals or aggressive and violating their right to privacy.

Protesters at Tuesday's demonstration held signs that read, “Stop Hating on the Homeless,” and shouted, “Poverty is not a crime.”

Protester Adriene Holder of the Legal Aid Society told RT the union’s strategy is “extremely misguided.” She also advocated that the “dangerous and divisive” campaign “is implying is that these folks are dangerous. In fact, that is not the case. These folks need help. They need help with housing, they need help with services.”

In the original letter to union members, the SBA claimed that taking photographs of the homeless is for the benefit of the city because the images would be forwarded to the “proper agencies” and it would hold elected officials accountable for the degradation of public streets.

Despite the loud public outcry, many people responded positively to the SBA campaign, sending sending in their photos, which later appeared on the union's publicly accessible Flickr page. The social media website has since removed the images from their account, but the SBA said it was a technical glitch and the photos will be back up shortly.

Reports by MSNBC have accused the SBA of playing politics; it is widely know that Mullins is an outspoken critic of New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“It's an attempt to shame the mayor but actually shaming the homeless,” said MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry Sunday about Mullins' mission to hold city officials accountable. She also added that the union president is using the homeless as a “prop to go after the mayor.”

Homelessness is a serious issue in NYC. In April 2015, the group Homes for Every New Yorker released a report saying the number of homeless people sleeping in shelters has risen to 60,000, including 25,000 children.

The group has called on the city to create more affordable housing and to raise the working minimum wage to a living wage.

Protesters Tuesday echoed this call, adding that the solution to the problem is not to take photographs of homeless individuals and post them online.

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