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Meekins asked for Sullivan's badge number. Meanwhile, two other men, recent Bushwick Community graduate Jesus Gonzalez and a current student, Mario Cox, had also followed Favors into the hallway.
Sullivan, meanwhile, soon had the support of additional officers. One of them testified that Sullivan said Favors had threatened his life. (And there was some confusion over that last word—was it "life" or "wife"? Sullivan testified to the latter, but, apparently, his cohorts heard the more alarming word "life.")
Believing that an officer was under threat, the others responded with great force. Ten or more officers converged on the four men, who were thrown to the ground in a mass scuffle. All four were charged with felonies for assaulting officers.
As a result, Favors was automatically reassigned to one of the school district's infamous "rubber rooms," where teachers are sent to rot when they are accused of wrongdoing.
Students say they were stunned. The man who had taught them how to handle themselves with police was now facing prison time for a shockingly stupid courtroom confrontation.
Last month, on June 25, two events were happening simultaneously.
At Bushwick Community High School, about 60 students were graduating.
Meanwhile, in a courtroom in downtown Brooklyn, Neil Ross—a district judge shipped in from Manhattan—was reaching a verdict in the charges (now reduced from felonies to misdemeanors) against Brian Favors and his three co-defendants.
Insisting that his verdict was not a referendum on the competence of the New York Police Department, Ross found the four defendants—Favors, Cox, Gonzalez, and Meekins, the bystander who had been mistaken for Favors because he was a black man with dreadlocks—not guilty on all charges.
The testimonies by police in the case had been very suspect: One officer, James Kelly, admitted on the witness stand that he hadn't even read an affidavit that bore his signature.
Favors walked out of court and into a crowd of supporters that included a handful of his former students. To thank them, he asked them to look at the court building and consider the people inside who might not be guilty of their charges, but who don't have such a strong group backing them up. He then invited everyone to a party the following night at his café.
Favors has been released from the school district's rubber room, but he hasn't decided if he'll go back to teaching full-time at Bushwick Community.
"One good thing about the rubber room is that it gave me time to develop some of my other plans in education," Favors says. Those plans include working on his consulting business, Breaking the Cycle, which has him going to classes to give lectures like the ones he gives to his Bushwick Community students about their rights. "I didn't care whether we won in a court of law. I knew we had a victory in the community. We won either way."
Over the course of the previous year and a half, all but one of the criminal cases against the Bushwick 32 have been dropped or dismissed. (One student with prior charges accepted a plea bargain.) The last of the cases was dropped in February.
Kenneth Frederick says that he and other students have been planning to use their portion of the settlement money to start a group they'll call "Parties for Poverty." Others say they'll use the money for college—after their attorney, Michael Scolnick, is paid his bill.
Callender, the student who managed to quell his anger at the police and keep his fellow marchers calm, says that he's prepared to be stopped and frisked yet again.
"Of course the anger is still in me. It still lives in me, every time I see a police car drive by," he says. "But you have to step down with it."
Frederick, meanwhile, who just wanted to show the police his permission slip, says he and his fellow students—dismissed as dead-end kids by the school system, and as dangerous gang members by the city—can look back on what the students of Bushwick Community High School did in the wake of the arrests, pulling together to fight the city, as something he never thought possible.
"Believe it or not," he says, "we see this as a blessing. And it's not every day that you see 32 people who get locked up for no reason saying it was a blessing."firstname.lastname@example.org