A Fresh Movement Against the NYPD’s Culture of Misconduct – The Awl

byMichael?

Tracey

NewYorkCityCouncilMemberYdanisRodriguezhadarrivedonshortnoticetoobservethesuddenraidofZuccottiParkonNovember14th。

ButwitnessingtheremovalofOccupyWallStreet’soriginalencampmentprovedimpossible。

Instead,officersforcedRodrigueztotheground,cuttinghisface;“aseniorNYPDofficialwithwhomhehasworkedinthepastwasnearby,”theVillageVoicereported。

Atleasttenjournaliststryingtocoverthatday’seventswerearrested。

Freelancersandpeopleattemptingtoshootvideowerethreatened。

Officersinriotgearhitdemonstratorswithbatons,barringanyonefromevenapproachingthepark。

Later,theNewYorkTimesgeneralcounselwroteastingingletterofcomplainttotheNYPD,co-signedbytheAssociatedPress,localnetworktelevisionstations,andeventheNewYorkPost,whichhadopenlymockedOccupyWallStreetfromthebeginning。

TheNYPD’saggressive,adhocapproachtocounteractingOccupy-relatedactivitieshasattractedconsiderableattentionsincethedemonstrationsbegan。

Thishasreanimateddebateoverthedepartment’sday-to-daytacticsawayfromLowerManhattan。

ForsomewhohavebeenharassedorarrestedbypolicearoundWallStreet,thepastfewmonthshavebeentheirfirstpersonalexperiencetreadingthesystematitsleastfriendly?

—?

fromrougharreststobeingheldoverlylongwithoutarraignment。

Forsomeothers,navigatingtheNYPD’spresencehaslongbeenabasicsurvivalskill。

Theonlythingthat’schangednow?

Demonstratorsfromprivilegedbackgroundsarealsogettingatasteofthetruncheon。

“That’sagoodthing,”saidMalikRhasaan,co-founderofOccupyTheHood。

“Tobeintheshoesofothers。

Soyoucansee?

—?

‘Wow,thisisreallygoingon。

Theymacedawhitegirlouthere,whodidnothing。

’Butthathappensinmyneighborhoodallthetime。

”FoundedinSeptemberasoneofmanyOWSoffshootgroups,OccupyTheHood’saimwastoenfranchiseblackandHispaniccommunitieswithinthebroaderOccupymovement。

Earlyon,RhasaanvolunteeredhimselfasasortofemissarybetweenZuccottiParkandlessglitzyareasofNewYork,wheretherealityofa“policeaccountabilityproblem”goesalmostwithout?

saying。

BornandraisedinSouthJamaica,Queens,thesonofaformerNYPDofficer,RhasaanhashelpedtofacilitatetheemergenceofOccupytheHoodgroupsaroundthecountry?

—?

Chicago,Philadelphia,Detroit?

—?

andtranslatedthemeaningofpolice-relatedgrievancesbetweenculturallydissimilargroups。

“Ithinkwe’realllike,‘Nowyousee,’”he?

said。

Chiefamongactivists’concernsistheNYPD’s“stop-and-frisk”policy,whichempowersofficerstoproactivelydetainpeopleonthestreetatwill。

Theyarethenencouragedtociteanynumberofvaguepretexts?

—?

with“furtivemovements”beingapopularchoice?

—?

asjustificationforastop。

TheNYPDisprojectedtomake700,000detentionscity-widein2011。

In2002,only73,000wererecorded。

Thisspring,aWNYCinvestigationrevealedthatalargeportionofstopswereyieldingarrestsforpettymarijuanapossession,inviolationofNewYorkStatelaw。

PoliceCommissionerRayKellywascompelledtoissueadirective,orderingthatofficersceaseapprehendingpeoplewhocommitnoinfractionotherthanproducingthedrugafterpoliceinstructthemtoemptytheir?

pockets。

Insomeneighborhoodsdesignatedas“highcrime”?

—?

whichexcludesWallStreet?

—?

“stop-and-frisk”hasbecometheNYPD’sprimarypolicingtactic。

Consequentially,attitudestowardlawenforcementarealmostuniversallydisdainful。

Andsystem-widepolicestrategybecomesindistinguishablefromindividualmisconduct。

“Myquestionis,”CouncilmanJumaaneWilliamsofBrooklynsaidtome,invokingthepopularclicheddefenseofpolicewrongdoing,“howmany‘badapples’doesittaketomakea?

bushel?



WilliamshasalsobeenroughedupbytheNYPD,butearlierthisyear,attheHaitianWestIndianDayParadeinBrooklyn。

Ontheirwaytoafunctionforcityofficials,oneseniorofficergrantedWilliamsandacolleaguepermissiontoenterarestrictedarea。

Momentslater,despitetheirrepeatedattemptstoidentifythemselves,anothergroupofofficerswrestledbothmentothegroundandplacedtheminhandcuffs。

Policesoonclaimed?

—?

withoutmerit,asitwouldlaterturnout?

—?

thatanofficerwaspunchedduringtheepisode。

Williamssaidthiswasa“bald-facedlie。

”TheNYPD’sInternalAffairsbureaulatersanctionedacaptain,CharlesGirvan,forhisroleinthealtercation。

OnNovember3rd,WilliamsconvenedapressconferenceatOnePolicePlazawithStateSenatorEricAdamsandAssemblymanHakeemJefferies。

Thethreewarnedof“apoliceculturethatisbeingallowedtofesterandgrow,”Williamssaid。

SenatorAdams,himselfaformerpoliceofficer,calledontheJusticeDepartmenttointerveneandlaunchafederal?

probe。

“TheNYPDisnotaccountabletoanyone,”Williamstoldme。

“That’saverydangerousthing。



InandaroundZuccottiPark,demonstratorshavebecomealmostinuredtoarbitrarypoliceintervention。

Peoplehavebeenarrestedforwearingbandannas,forusingsidewalkchalk,andforstandinginareasthatcanbedeemedrestrictedatofficers’discretion。

AnNYPDpanopticonunitstillloomsoverthepark,evenpost-eviction,surveillingoccupants24/7。

Buthoweverdisconcertingorover-reachingtheNYPD’stacticsmightbe,they’renoteveninthesamerealmaswhatgoesoneverydayinHarlem,Brownsvilleor?

Jamaica。

“Thepoliceinminoritycommunitiesareaccustomedtostoppinganybodytheywanttostop,”saidRonKuby,acivilrightsattorneywhohasfollowedtheNYPDcloselyforyears。

He’snowrepresentingoneofthewomenwhowaspepper-sprayedbyDeputyInspectorAnthonyBolognainSeptemberduringanOWSmarchtoUnionSquare。

“Iknowyoungpeoplewhohavecommittednocrimes,whohavedonenothingwrong,whohavebeenstoppedfive,ten,twentytimes?

—?

beforetheygetoutofhighschool,”Kubysaid。

“That’saregularoccurrenceforyoungmenofcolor。

Andthepolicedoitwithimpunity。



**?

*

Soallthiscametogetherwhen,onOctober22nd,agroupaffiliatedwithOWSsetoutspecificallytoprotesttheNYPD’s“stop-and-frisk”policybywayofnonviolentdirectaction。

Around150peoplegatheredinthecenterofHarlemforthefirstofitsevents。

ThingsproceededwithafamiliarOccupyfeel?

—?

aGeneralAssembly-typegathering,handmotionsand“micchecks”allincluded。

JohnHector,a25-year-oldNavyveteran,addressedthegroup,tellingofwhenhewassubjectedto“stop-and-frisk”afterreturningfrom?

Iraq。

“Hedecidedhewasgoingtobefunny,”Hectorsaidoftheofficerwhohadstoppedhimonenight,“andaskedusifweknewhowtodothe‘chickennoodlesoup。

’Heaskedustodanceforhim。

Hesaidthatwastheonlywayweweregoingtobeletgo。

Itwashumiliating,embarrassing,andIhatebeingrepresentedlikethatinfrontofmycommunity。



Hectorlatermarchedwithstudents,clergy,andcriminaljusticeprofessorstoHarlem’s51stpoliceprecinctbuilding,passingtheiconicApollotheaterenroute。

“BringbacktheFourthAmendment,”onemarcher’ssignsimplyread。

Hector,whohadnopreviouscriminalrecord,wasarrestedwhenheand35othersattemptedtoblocktheprecinctbuilding’sfrontentrance。

RichardBrown,anotherHarlemnativewhoaddressedthecrowdthatday,toldmeofhisownexperiencewith“stop-and-frisk。

”Ashewalkedhomeonemorningin2009fromhisconstructionjob,aplainclothessergeantapproachedhiminthestreet。

Withoutwarning,Brownsaid,thesergeantpunchedhiminthethroat,andwithinsecondshewasontheground。

“Ifitthecharacteristicsofsomebodyelse,”Brownsaid。

“AftertheybeatmedownandrealizedIwasthewrongperson,theyhadtopursuethe?

case。



SowhenBrownarrivedatthestation,hesaid,“heroinmagicallyappeared。

”That,naturally,landedhimatRikersIslandfor20days。

Ajudgeeventuallydismissedthechargesandreprimandedthepresidingofficer,butBrown’slifewasturnedupsidedown。

He’snowintheprocessofsuingthecity。

“Eversincemycase,I’mmoreawareofwhat’sgoingonwiththepolicedepartment,”Brownsaid。

“I’mactuallyscaredofthem。

Igotbeatup,man。

Iwasbleeding。

Theywouldn’ttakemetoahospital。



**?

*

JoanneNaughton,aformerNYPDnarcoticsdetective,toldanaudienceattheNewYorkCityStudentsforLibertyConferenceinOctoberthatthepracticeofplantingdrugsonsuspectswasnotsomethingsheregularlyobservedoverher20-yeartenure。

“Butwhenyouhaveunenforceablelaws,”shesaid,“itdoesn’tsurprise?

me。



“Officersmaydoafriskonlyiftheyhaveadditionalreasonablesuspiciontobelieveasuspectisarmed,”Naughtontoldmeafterthespeech。

“Notcarryingdrugs,butarmedwithagun。

I’msuretheydon’thavereasonablesuspiciontobelievethateverybodytheystop?

—?

hundredsofthousandsayear?

—?

iscarryinga?

gun。



“Sothesestopsareillegal,unconstitutional,andinviolationofNewYorkStateLaw,”shesaid。

“Butthemayorlikesit。

Itlooksgood,itlooksmuscular。

Itlooks?

tough。



TheOWS-affiliatedgroup’snextactionwasheldinBrownsville,Brooklyn。

TheTimesfoundthatbetweenJanuary2006andMarch2010,theNYPDcarriedoutnearly52,000stopsinasingleneighborhoodthere?

—?

anareaofjusteightcityblocks。

Fewerthanonepercentofthosestopsyielded?

arrests。

AmongthoseaddressingtheBrownsvillerallywasGbengaAkinnagbe,theactorwhoportrayedChrisPartlowon“TheWire。

”“Wehavetoremember,”AkinnagbetoldmeasthegroupmarchedfromtheMarcusGarveyHousingProjectstothe73rdNYPDprecinctbuilding,severalblocksaway,“Thepolicearedoingexactlywhatthey’retrainedtodo。

Soyouhavetogotothe?

source。



“It’sfunny,peoplegetangryatthepolice,butthey’rejustfingerstotheproblem,”hesaid。

“They’rejustsymptoms。

YousawdownonWallStreet,whenthosekidsgotsprayedwithmace?

Thatshitwasmild,”hesaid。

“Thishappenshereeveryday。

Literally,every?

day。



IlosttrackofAkinnagbewhenwearrivedattheprecinctbuilding;disparatecrowdsformedasthosewillingtoriskarrestseparatedthemselvesout。

Demonstratorsagainattemptedtopeacefullyblockthebuilding’sentrance,astheyhadinHarlem。

Policestartedtakingpeopleintocustody。

ThenIsawAkinnagbe。

Hewashandcuffed,andhesmiledasofficersloadedhimintoanNYPD?

wagon。

The“stop-and-frisk”group’sthirdactiontookplaceinJamaica,Queens,hometownofRhasaan,theOccupyTheHoodco-founder。

“Iwasraisedhere,Ihavechildrenhere,Iliveheretoday,”hetoldthecrowdgatheredoutsideKingPark。

“I’vealsobeenbeatenhere,stoppedhere,andfriskedhere。

Ihavefriendswhodiedatthehandsofthepolice?

here。



“Thisdoesn’thavetostopnow,”hesaid。

“Ithastostopright?

now。



WithRhasaanatthehead,amultiracialandmultigenerationalcrowdofmorethan100peoplemarchedthroughJamaica,headedinthedirectionofanotherNYPDprecinctbuilding?

—?

thistimethe103rd。

In2006,undercoverpolicebasedthereshotfiftybulletsat23-year-oldSeanBellandtwofriends,killinghimontheeveofhiswedding。

Theofficersresponsiblewereacquitted,andfiveyearslater,thesurroundingcommunitystillreels;chantsinvokingBell’sdeathbrokeoutintermittentlyalongthe?

march。

AswepassedthrongsofpedestriansgoingabouttheirSaturdayafternoonroutines,somewereinitiallyconfusedatthesightofwhitepeoplemarchingalongsideblacksandHispanicsthroughtheheartofJamaica。

Butwhentheyhearddemonstratorstalkingabout“stop-and-frisk,”aboutSeanBell,aboutabuseatthehandsoftheNYPD,itdidn’ttakelongforsomethingtoclick。

“Damn,Icangetbehindthat!

”oneonlookersaid。

Hepocketeda“stopstop-and-frisk”leaflet,aftershowingittoa?

friend。

Theman’ssentiment?

—?

instinctivehostilitytothepolice?

—?

seemedutterlyubiquitous。

Everyoneinthesepartsofthecityhasastoryinvolvinganabrasiveofficerandacousin,oraneighbor,orthemselves。

Thistypicallybreedscynicismanddisillusionment?

—?

andfromtimetotime,theangerandmistrustgetspoliticized。

Recently,morehavecometorecognizethatpoliceabuseisnotjustsomeminornuisance,butacriticalcomponentofalegalandpoliticalsystemthatroutinelydegradesthedignityofcitizenswhohappentoliveinblightedurban?

areas。

Abouthalfwaythroughthemarch,Rhasaantoldthecrowdtopause,andwedid。

Hewantedustolookaround,toreallyunderstandwherewewerestandingatthatmoment。

“Iamyourtourguide,”Rhasaansaid。

“Andthisthe?

hood。



**?

*

LastFridaybroughtanothermeetingofOccupyWallStreet’sSpokesCouncil,the“governingbody”thatgrewfromtheGeneralAssemblyinZuccottiPark。

(WorkinggroupslikeHousing,DirectActionandSanitationselecta“spoke”toattend,andtheydeliberateproposalsamongtheentiregroup。

)“StopStop-and-Frisk”wasaspermanentaparticipantintheSpokesCouncilas,forexample,SustainabilityorOutreach,andtherepresentativethatnighthappenedtobeawhitewoman。

RhasaanwasalsotherewiththePeopleofColorsubgroup。

“StopStop-and-Frisk”reportedthatitsstudent-ledmarchearlierthatafternoonthroughWallStreetandsomehousingprojectsontheLowerEastSidehadbeena?

success。

Thisrelativelysmallgroup?

—?

bolsteredbyOccupyWallStreetatlarge?

—?

ishavingabigimpact。

Thatmatters,becausewhenpoliticiansareaskedtocommentonpolicemisconduct,ofcourse,theplatitudetheymostoftentrotoutissomevariationoftheclassic“justafewbadapples”rationalization。

Wrong-doingcommittedbyasmallminorityofindividuals,thelogicgoes,oughtnottotarnishanentiredepartment’sgoodname。

Inrecentweeks,NewYorkMayorMikeBloomberghasdemonstratedaparticularfondnessforthislineofreasoning。

Butwhenanofficialdepartmentpolicyisatquestion,the“fewbadapples”argumentbecomesmanifestlyincoherent。

TheNYPDwillundoubtedlysettheirrecordforstop-and-frisksin2011。

Couplethatwiththedepartment-wideticket-fixingscandal,itsunprecedentedharassmentandarrestsofjournalists,internalallegationsofsexualviolencebyfemaleofficers,interstategunsmugglingrings,straight-upracism?

—?

and,ohyes,thatnighttimeparamilitary-styleraidonthesymboliccenterofaworldwidepoliticalmovement,nowformallyrequestedtobethesubjectofaDepartmentofJusticeinvestigation?

—?

andyouhaveapolicesituationinNewYorkCitythathasgoneawrysystem-wide。

“Stop-and-frisk”embodiestheNYPD’smethodsofdailypolicing;“StopStop-and-Frisk”istheonlyappropriateresponse。

MichaelTraceywritesformyriadpublications,typicallyonmattersofspiritualsignificance。

PhotobyShira?


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