Given the substantial media attention surrounding the recent killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner by law enforcement, it can be hard to remember that not all police officers are bad. But the opposite proves just as true, however unpleasant the reality: not all police officers are good. In fact, a recent study released by the Pew Research Center reinforces this belief: nearly 50 percent of black people have "very little" confidence in local police to treat blacks and whites equally. The report also found that "70 percent of blacks say police departments around the country do a poor job in holding officers accountable for misconduct."
This mistrust from the public is not something to be taken lightly, especially when it is obvious that something is so clearly wrong. Jazmine Hughes, writing for Gawker last week, referred to the problem as a "state-sanctioned brutality against black men" as she recounted the many fears black parents have watching their children navigate a world where police view them as target practice. And although a disproportionate percent of police brutality cases are reported by blacks and Latinos each year, the issue is one that affects people in all communities.
For someone who is entrusted with protecting the neighborhood he or she serves, there must be complete transparency and accountability in matters of abuse. The deaths of Brown and Garner, while deeply unfortunate, have helped to shine a light on the failings of local law enforcement. To believe the continued brutality enacted upon citizens by police in recent years has happened in a vacuum is to miss the point, and problem, altogether. A pattern has emerged, and individuals who bear no guilt are often targeted, harassed, and, in the most extreme cases, gunned down.
Beginning today, Gawker will publish stories from New Yorkers who have been victims of, or witnesses to, police harassment and brutality by the NYPD. We have taken the position—and events in Missouri and elsewhere have demonstrated—that police brutality is a national crisis, and not limited to streets of New York or Los Angeles. But examining the actions of the country's largest and most famous police force, and giving a voice to the victims of its violence, is a start. When a video like this is sent to me—where a young man is so savagely beaten by a group officers in front of a crowd—it is clear as ever: our freedoms and our lives are under attack. I can only hope these stories serve as a reminder that no injustice by an officer of the law should go ignored.
This was about three years ago. I was minding my own business, living somewhere in East Williamsburg. (I'm a white male in his mid 20's). I went to visit a friend, who happens to live in a less-than-pristine building for low-income residents. He is a great friend, and he and his neighbors are quiet, kind people who mostly keep to themselves. I left his apartment after a few rounds of darts and video games, and entered a nearby café.
Two police officers in uniform followed me into the café and pulled me out, then proceeded to shove me into a concrete wall adjacent to the café and question me: "Where are you coming from?" I can only assume they thought I was in the apartment complex to buy drugs (I wasn't).
I asked if I was free to go and what I was being charged with, and one officer said "I'll find out when I search you." He then proceeded to don latex gloves and gave a really violent pat-down that left me with sore testicles for a few days. He also looked inside my underwear; mind you, this was on the side of a busy street in Williamsburg at about 11am on a weekday, and I had done nothing wrong—I didn't even jaywalk. I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. His partner, meanwhile, was looking at me like I was the scum of the Earth. This was the worst part: not being questioned, interrupted, or even being manhandled—it was the way his partner stared at me as they searched my genitals and the rest of me, his face not four inches from mine, his gaze seeming to say "You are less than me and I want you to know it." Not to in any way make light of being raped, but it felt like that, a little. I think all of us are terrified of police, and they have the guns and the government to back them up, so we're pretty much screwed.
Both of my parents are judges in NJ. One is a federal judge and one is a state court judge. My wife and I were walking my parents back to their car one night after a late dinner. We were in Midtown and 4 NYPD officers had surrounded one young black man and were pushing their fingers into his chest and screaming profanities at him.
My father, turned to them as we were walking by and said, "Officers, you should be careful, you don't want a harassment charge or a police brutality charge filed against you." The response from one of the officers was the following, "Mind your fucking business!" To which my father replied, "That's mind your fucking business, Judge." This resulted in a swift apology and the immediate release of the individual.
Lower East Side
I'm a white chick who was stopped and frisked by the NYPD because I was walking down the street with a black guy. That black guy happens to be my partner. He has had the dubious distinction of being stopped and frisked by the NYPD more times than I can count on both hands. Each time he's been arrested for offenses such as being in a park, riding his bike, or looking like he was selling drugs, he's been let go after he sees the judge. I, on the other hand, look like the last person in the world the cops would stop and frisk; I am, after all, white.
That didn't matter one day in the spring of 2010. We had left my dude's home in a housing project on the Lower East Side and were heading north into the wilds of the gentrified East Village. For some reason I had decided for the first time to not put my weed in either my panties or bra, like he always told me to do so the cops couldn't find it in a stop and frisk encounter. I think I was wearing a shirt with no bra, and I hate putting my stash in my panties because I always forget it's there when I sit down to do my business, and the next thing I know my stash has been flushed.
So I guess I was asking for it that day. We were walking down East 3rd Street talking and the next thing I knew some random guys were shouting at us to stop. Then we were, you guessed it, frisked. I freaked out, knowing that my weed was in my make up bag in my purse. All the times I'd stuffed it in my bra, making myself look like I had a lumpy boob, and never getting busted, and now my stash was sitting there, not on my person, about to get me locked up. I wondered if I could pray that it at best would spontaneously combust or at worst the cops would look and not see it there.
They didn't answer my prayers. The officer made me dump out the contents of the make-up bag and then he picked up the crumpled tissue. "What's this?" "I don't know officer." He unfolded it and sure enough the little baggie with about 20 bucks worth of weed revealed itself. My heart was racing; I was about to go to jail....
"I'm going to pretend I didn't see this," he said.
He gave it back to me, and I stuffed it into my bra. The other officers with him were busy harassing my partner for his ID. He didn't have it on him, he told them. "That's OK," the officer who frisked me said to them. "I know who he is."
He sure did. My partner has sued the city and gotten settlements for all the illegal arrests made against him. There's nothing cops like more than stopping and frisking black men, and there's nothing that pisses them off more than knowing a black man got back at them legally.
But it really pisses them off to see a black man walk down the street with a white girl, doing nothing more than talking. That's why I was stopped, frisked, and given back my weed that day. That was my warning that I could be harassed just like a minority for doing things minorities do all the time and get harassed for, that white people do and never get harassed for, unless they're with minorities who don't play when their civil rights have been violated.
Do you have a story to share? Have you ever been unfairly stopped or harassed by the NYPD? Has an officer used excessive force when it was unwarranted? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or post your encounter in Kinja below, and let your voice be heard.