By Anna Merlan
By Keegan Hamilton
By Albert Samaha
By Darwin BondGraham
By Keegan Hamilton
By Anna Merlan
By Anna Merlan
By Tessa Stuart
On May 16, 2007, McFarland was killed by a single gunshot to the head. He was found near the intersection of Knickerbocker Avenue and Linden Street in Bushwick. Police arrested a 16-year-old named James Kelly, a former friend of McFarland's that police believe is a member of the Linden Street Bloods. Kelly is currently awaiting trial for second-degree murder.
The Bushwick Community students say that the news of Freshh's death came as a shock. Some heard it had been over a fight involving a girl. Others learned that the family was planning a funeral in Coney Island, where McFarland's father lived, and they made plans to attend.
Police, meanwhile, say that they received tips that the funeral would be marred by gang retaliation, stirred up by McFarland's killing. Commissioner Kelly later wrote that some of these tips had come from City Council members, who were worried about widespread violence.
The Bushwick Community students, however, didn't know that the police department was preparing to head off what it believed to be a brewing gang war.
Two of them, Asher Callender and Kenneth Frederick, began using MySpace to organize students for a mass outing to the funeral. They had special T-shirts made ("RIP Freshh," "Team Freshh"), and some students stopped by the school the morning of the funeral to pick up permission slips from Principal Randall. A few parents trailed behind as they left from Putnam Park for the Myrtle Avenue L train station to begin their trip to Coney Island.
Police, meanwhile, moved into place.
As police officers converged on them, the students say they were terrified.
They were shoved to the ground and against walls. They were handcuffed and loaded into patrol cars.
"The way they were treating us," Frederick says, "it was like we were the mafia or something."
"I come from a neighborhood with a lot of cops and stuff, and I'm used to them," says another student, Luis Pacheco. "But this time, they way they came out and stuff, they way they attacked us on the way to the train station, I couldn't believe that."
Witnesses, however, say the students were remarkably unflappable.
Callender hollered to his fellow students, telling them to remain calm. Frederick, meanwhile, asked the officers arresting him if they wanted to see his permission slip.
Students say it was no accident that they didn't freak out, or struggle, or fight the officers, which would have made a bad situation worse. And that's because, at Bushwick Community, they'd been taught better.
Since 2002, a popular special education and social studies teacher named Brian Favors had taught Bushwick Community students how to handle themselves with the police, preparing them for exactly the kind of situation they faced that day.
"We learned that the police stopping and frisking you all the time isn't a normal thing," says Callender. "Most of us feel like we're used to that. It's just part of our daily lives. Even if you get arrested for something you didn't really do, you know, you go to bookings for the night, you find out that resources are there to combat these things. I mean, if you really know and understand what these police are doing, and you know you're not doing anything wrong, there's people you can talk to."
Favors, 34, a dreadlocked man with two master's degrees in education, speaks in the measured, modulated tones of a schoolteacher. His wife, Lurie, is a civil rights lawyer. The two own a small restaurant on Marcus Garvey Boulevard in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Food for Thought Café.
For five years before the arrest, Favors had been teaching students about the law and how to handle themselves in encounters with police.
"A lot of our kids had been so used to being violated that they didn't know it was their right not to be," he says. "Like walking home from school, being searched, and being asked to stand up against a police car—this is something kids in different neighborhoods never experience."
Favors invited lawyers and other rights advocates to his classes, and students received handbooks titled "Know Your Rights," which instructs them on how to handle themselves during a stop-and-frisk, a common occurrence in Bushwick. (Callender says he's memorized the handbook.)
The lawyers that Favors brought in told his students: Stay calm. Know what a legal search is, and what isn't. Take down badge numbers. Don't say anything that might be perceived as a threat, even as a joke.
"It shed a lot of light for people like us, who go through things like, you know, you're walking past, a police might put his hands on you or grab you. And then you're in court for harming an officer. But now you know your rights," says Callender. "So when you know that, you won't act so irrationally the next time you're stopped."
Another former student of Favors's (who was not involved in the arrest), Quincy Gardner, is now 22 and attends Long Island University: "Throughout the school year, we learned about injustice and just about how strong we are as a people. So, when things like that happen, you always learn that there's a system in place. And we learn when we go about the system, we have to go about it strategically," he says.