What is our responsibility to the homeless? That might seem too big a question, but it is something I wrestle with occasionally. It's impossible to avoid the less fortunate men and women who populate our streets—the father forced to seek charity from strangers on subway cars so he can feed his family or the woman struggling to get back on her feet after being laid off. Sixty-thousand people look for shelter every night in New York. And what of those individuals unable to secure a bed, with no other option than to sleep under the lights of our unforgiving city?
The problem is only worsening. In August, the New York Daily News reported a six percent increase in homelessness since Mayor Bill de Blasio took office. Certainly, one would hope, the least privileged among us deserve the protection of the police. But this is not always the case.
As part of an ongoing series, Gawker is publishing stories from New Yorkers who have been victims of, or witnesses to, police harassment and brutality by the NYPD. Police brutality, which we believe should be treated as a national crisis, is not limited to the streets of Chicago, Ferguson, 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.
Four of this week's stories were submitted with the help of Picture the Homeless, an organization devoted to mobilizing the city's homeless in an effort to impact social and political change for the better. Our intent is to help paint a more complete portrait of what many homeless individuals face when confronted with police hostility. Lastly, going forward, each personal account will include the gender and race of the victim. Names of individuals, for now, will remain anonymous.
So, again, I ask: What is our responsibility to the homeless?
On July 23, 2014 at 9 p.m. in the St. Ann's area of the Bronx, I was sprayed before I was handcuffed and arrested. I was not read my rights. I was strip searched - I did not consent to this search. I was charged with consumption of alcohol on the street (open container). The container I was carrying was closed. Two officers (male and female). The male officer took control of the matter. I had to take off my sneakers and socks. I was kept in custody for one day at 161st Street, and let go with a desk appearance ticket after being processed at the precinct. I still have the mark of the handcuffs. I lost my job because I missed work. Racism is out of control— that's why I got arrested for no reason. [male, black]
I got a summons for consumption of alcohol on the street, but I wasn't arrested. I've been homeless for over a year. A couple months later I was arrested for being unlawfully in the park after hours - 9PM. They were asking me weird questions. I was in the Manhattan Tombs for twenty hours. I lost my shelter bed, I lost my laptop, passport, birth certificate. My hand might be injured from how tight the handcuffs were. The judge dismissed everything with a $120 fine. I felt like I was less than human. I felt like a target. [male, white]
I moved to Bushwick with a boyfriend who ended up being abusive. When the cops came to our house on a noise complaint they could tell (given the aggressive bruising on my face). They took him into the police station and forced me to ride with them. When I got there, the young officer pointed out we were in fact the same age and that I shouldn't be with a guy like my boyfriend but instead a guy like him. I thought nothing of this at the time until a week later when he came to my house while I was sitting on my stoop and began sort of just talking to me for like an hour. So I made an excuse and left. Then I noticed their car outside a lot and I thought this must have something to do with my protection order. I then began to receive random visits from him outside my home just to talk and even a phone call from him personally on the number I had listed on the Police report. I have since moved back to the city to avoid both the ex and the weird young officer. He also called me pretty while I had a very large black eye and had just been thru a very traumatic experience. I felt very uncomfortable, him being very close to me, touching me in what I assume was to be a comforting way. His actions definitely affected my decision to go forward with the case. I felt he was targeting me as an injured and weak woman. [female, white]
I was targeted by security at a McDonald's - the police were involved and they called an ambulance. I was taken to Metropolitan Hospital, where I stayed for one night. They put me in the psych ward. Security was giving me problems because I am a homeless woman with bags, and they called the cops for allegedly taking too long in the bathroom. They cuffed me and took me to the hospital. One officer punched me in the face because I was not cooperating with him. I was never charged with anything. [female, black]
I was arrested in July, in the Bronx (Prospect Avenue) and charged with disorderly conduct. I was kept at the 49th Precinct in a disgusting, smelly room with twenty other people, for six hours, before being let go with a desk appearance ticket. The judge dismissed the case. I had to pay a $100 summons. I also missed three days of work and lost my job as a result. Because of the missing income, I am in housing court right now. When I got my property back from the precinct, my wallet and flashlight were missing. I still don't know what I was doing that was disorderly. [male, Hispanic]
Share your story with us. 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.
[Image via Getty]