Brooklyn City Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo broke down in tears at an oversight hearing Wednesday.
"To talk about our children in that way," she said. "It is terrifying to hear about our children in that way, to be referred to as 'crews' and 'gangs' and 'takedowns.' I mean, it is just devastating to hear about how we see our young people."
"I just hope my son is never in a situation like that," the councilwoman said.
The hearing was called to examine how the NYPD goes after street gangs.
Activists and some city council members said too many young people of color are being unfairly swept up in large gang takedowns and treated as violent criminals.
They singled out the NYPD's controversial gang database, which contains more than 17,000 people — more than 90 percent of whom are black or Hispanic.
"They will take a group of young brother sitting in the park, see them hanging out together, and group them in a gang database," said Shanduke McPhatter of the advocacy group Gangstas Making Astronomical Community Changes.
"We have people barely teenagers — people barely out of middle school — who are being added to the gang database," said Josmar Trujillo of the advocacy group Coalition to End Broken Windows.
About eight percent of the people were under 18 — and some as young as 13 — when they were added to the database.
NYPD officials defended how they compile the list, saying there are many reasons why people are added to the database, including hanging out with gangs.
"Social media posts with known gang members, possessing known gang paraphernalia, scars, tattoos associated with gangs, frequently wearing of the colors and frequently use of hand signs. NYPD Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea read from a sheet of paper during the hearing.
Queen City Councilman Donovan Richards said those criteria are unacceptable.
"Anyone can walk to a store with a blue cap on, stand outside and eat a bagel, and associate with individuals who they grew up with and be put into this database," the councilman said.
The NYPD says the gang database is vital to keeping the city safe. Officials argue that if a gang member commits a violent act, they need to know everything about that person and their associates.
"Our gang members are responsible for the murders of over 500 people," Shea said.
One woman who spoke at the oversight hearing said she felt police conducting surveillance does nothing as teenage boys slip into gang activity so police can swoop in later to arrest them. Her son is facing charges.
"These police want to come here talking about they want to come in our community and they want to help. They haven't done s--t!" she said. "No one has ever knocked on my door and said to me, 'We see your son going down the wrong path, we want to help.' That has never been a conversation from any NYPD."