NYPD: It’s Not Racist When a Cop Calls You the N-Word

Illustration for article titled NYPD: It’s Not Racist When a Cop Calls You the N-Word
Photo: Drew Angerer (Getty Images)

If you think that headline is clickbait, it’s not. It actually paraphrases the official New York Police Department’s training manual.


An official investigation into complaints of biased policing against the NYPD’s officers reveals, among other things, that the outfit doesn’t consider cops using racial slurs as evidence of bias; that the vast majority of people who accuse NYPD officers of racial profiling and bias are black; and, the almost unbelievable fact: that the NYPD has never disciplined an officer for racial profiling and biased policing.


In October 2014, the NYPD began a “Bias-Based Profiling” initiative that tracked and investigated complaints of racial profiling and police bias after a federal judge ruled that the city’s “stop and frisk” policy violated the Fourth and Fourteenth amendments of the Constitution because they disproportionately targeted black and Latino citizens. The court order demanded that the NYPD “begin tracking and investigating civilian complaints related to racial profiling and other allegations of bias.” Prior to that, the department did not even track complaints, Newsweek reports.

On Wednesday, New York City’s Department of Investigation, an independent watchdog agency, issued a report examining the NYPD’s investigations, policies and training related to complaints of biased policing between 2014 and Dec. 31, 2018. The report specifically focused on discrimination by police against people with protected status (race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc.)

When a person alleges that an NYPD officer used a racial slur, the NYPD doesn’t investigate the comment as an incident of biased policing. Instead, it forwards the complaint to the city’s Civilian Complaint Review Board (the primary agency charged with investigating officer misconduct including use of force, offensive language, abuse of authority, and discourtesy).

Some of the allegations of police bias and use of racial slurs against NYPD officers have included:

  • A traffic stop where police questioned a black man parking a Bentley because the man had a handicap placard but police thought he “looked fine.” Police ticketed the man for littering because they saw a cigarette butt on the ground, but only after calling the man a “nigger.”
  • Police arrested a store clerk while he was at work on suspicion of wielding a knife. Although they didn’t find a knife, they found a gram of marijuana and as they arrested him, asked: “Aren’t you supposed to be home today praying to your fucking God whoever he is, Allah?”
  • A white woman alleged that cops stopped her and her Arab male friend and asked if “She was ok, felt scared, or if [the Arab male friend] was harming her.”

Apparently, none of that is considered racist.

The NYPD’s training materials state that “an allegation that an officer used an [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer] LGBTQ-related slur, without any accompanying action, would not be classified and tracked as ‘profiling’ because, under NYPD’s interpretation of the profiling definition, words alone are not considered ‘action.’” But if an NYPD officer “used a racial slur and also took some type of action (or refrained from taking an otherwise warranted police action) based on the complainant’s protected status,” the NYPD would investigate the allegation themselves and attempt to substantiate the complaint.


To substantiate the claims, the NYPD doesn’t just consider whether or not the officer used a racial slur, but whether the officer took action with discriminatory intent. So, according to the NYPD policy, even if citizen proves a cop used a racial slur, it doesn’t count unless the investigators can substantiate that the cop performed another racist action and also did it with the intent to discriminate.

Unsurprisingly, the NYPD has never substantiated a claim of police bias.

The DOI’s report notes:

Although members of the public have made at least 2,495 complaints of biased policing since the creation of the “Racial Profiling and Bias-Based Policing” complaint category in 2014, all of which have resulted in investigations, NYPD’s investigators have not substantiated a single such claim out of the 1,918 complaints that were closed as of December 31, 2018.

Data: New York City Department of Investigation
Data: New York City Department of Investigation
Graphic: The Root/G-O

Not only did the NYPD fail to substantiate a single claim, but the DOI’s report also revealed that 68 percent of the complaints of police bias and profiling falls under the protected class of race. Furthermore, 66.5 percent of the racial complainants against the NYPD were black, even though only 22.6 percent of New York City’s residents are black.


The DOI makes a number of suggestions in the report, including:

  • Amending the NYPD policy to classify racial slurs and offensive language against protected classes as biased policing
  • Allowing the CCRB to take over police bias investigations
  • More intense training of recruits
  • Tracking bias complaints in the same manner as excessive force
  • Publishing the statistics on policing bias

“Today’s damning report by an independent government agency makes it crystal clear the NYPD cannot be trusted to police itself,” said the Center for Constitutional rights in a statement to The Root. “We wholeheartedly support the inspector general’s recommendation that the CCRB take over the investigation of racial profiling complaints. And, unless and until NYPD fundamentally changes how it polices and deals with racial bias within its ranks, independent federal oversight of the department must continue.”


But until then, the NYPD’s official policy will continue to be: It’s not racist when a cop calls you a nigger.

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