NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Police Department is violating homeless people's rights by ordering them to "move along" in public places, a civil liberties group said Thursday in a complaint to the city's Human Rights Commission.
"The NYPD has undertaken a concerted campaign to harass homeless people by ordering them to 'move along' when they occupy public space, alone or in groups, in the area around East 125th Street — even though they have not violated any laws," the New York Civil Liberties Union said in the complaint on behalf of Picture the Homeless, an organization with some 2,000 members, founded and led by homeless people.
"Through this practice, the NYPD targets homeless people because of their housing status, thus engaging in bias-based profiling," it said. "...Although being on the receiving end of a 'move along' order may sound benign, it is enormously disruptive and harmful for people who ... do not have homes where they can seek respite from police attention."
The complaint said that if the homeless person refuses to move "or expresses disagreement with the order, officers often threaten or carry out arrests, ticketing, removals to psychiatric hospitals, or destruction of their property."
"The city respects the rights of our homeless New Yorkers and has put in place a new comprehensive plan to reduce homelessness," the mayor's office said, adding that it would review the complaint.
The Human Rights Commission said it does not comment on complaints or open investigations.
The complaint cites police activities beginning around June 2015.
Last month, the city merged its homeless services and welfare agencies. The homelessness commissioner had resigned in December amid a surge in homelessness, which became a prickly political problem for Mayor Bill de Blasio.
The city estimates about 58,000 people live in shelters, up from 53,000 when de Blasio took office in January 2014; another 3,000 to 4,000 live on the streets.
Pressure from merchants is partly the reason for police activities in East Harlem, a neighborhood that lacks drop-in centers where homeless people could get off the streets and use the bathroom, shower or rest, the civil rights group said.
"Each time an NYPD officer deprives a homeless New Yorker of the freedom to sit, stand or rest in a public space, the NYPD signals that our public spaces and basic freedoms are reserved only for those of a privileged housing status," it said. "This punitive approach to our homelessness crisis violates not just our city's values, but its law."