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Know your rights

Last year during the Puerto Rican Day festivities, Jesus Gonzales saw several police officers positioned on rooftops and riding horses down two blocks on Grove Street telling residents to leave their stoops and go inside.

This year, Gonzales was expecting much of the same and worked with a group of youth organizers and Make the Road New York to try to improve community safety during the annual Puerto Rican Day celebrations, held on June 8.

“Make the Road is promoting safety in the community – community safety instead of relying on the police to keep us safe,” Gonzales said.

Two groups of youth organizers met at Make the Road last Sunday to collect stacks of about one thousand ‘Know Your Rights’ flyers and pick up cameras to document any arrests or citations they encountered during their outreach efforts.

“Cops are the worst. They always want to shut us down. It never changes,” said Brian Collazo, a Bushwick resident and youth organizer.

Each year the day of the Puerto Rican Day Parade, the NYPD shifts officers from several adjacent precincts to help the 83rd Precinct patrol the neighborhood Sunday afternoon and evening. This year, officers from the 81st, 94th, 79th, 78th, 77th, 62nd and 88th Precincts were assigned to cover Bushwick, as well as Highway Patrol and Transit Authorities, setting up checkpoints and monitoring subway stations for illegal activity.

Despite Gonzales' concerns, the festivities were mostly peaceful this past Sunday. An officer with North Brooklyn Community Affairs said that Sunday was fairly quiet and other officers at points throughout the neighborhood confirmed this. According to DCPI, between June 2 and June 8, police in the 83rd Precinct responded to 34 crime complaints, as opposed to 26 during the same week period last year

During their outreach, Gonzales and the two youth groups only filmed three incidents of officers handing out citations, and believed that the presence of the cameras caused the officers to alter their behavior.

“We gave out almost one thousand cards on Sunday,” Gonzales said. “Many people do not know their basic rights when they encounter police officers such as the right to an attorney and the right to remain silent.”

Gonzales was encouraged by the number of flyers the organizers handed out and that the cameras were able to document incidents in real time. He has already received phone calls from as far away as the Bronx from people asking more information about ‘Know Your Rights’ programs and Make the Road.

“[Make the Road] is being recognized as an organization that deals with police brutality,” Gonzales said. “There’s a real need to educate the community about their rights and have cameras document behavior.”

For more information about Make the Road, visit

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