Ray Kelly Versus the First Amendment--On My Street

It’s past time to dig into the often brutish, unconstitutional culture of Ray Kelly’s NYPD. I’m not including all officers in that description. I’ve seen and gotten to know NYPD employees who are not part of the culture that arrested Councilman Jumaane Williams as he described it to the Voice’s Harry Siegel (September 20):

“I don’t know what else we need to show that this culture . . . based on their practices like stop-and-frisk are allowing police to believe they can treat black and Latino men any way they want.”

Not only blacks and Latinos. On Saturday, September 24, a mixed group of nonviolent demonstrators—many protesting the inequalities of capitalism, others focusing on the drug war, environmental issues, and the death penalty (holding a photo of the late Troy Davis)—marched from the Financial District to Union Square and such adjoining areas as 12th Street, where I live.

As some in the hordes of police turned violent, more than 80 protesters were arrested, the most since the 2004 Republican National Convention. They had no permit for demonstrating in the streets—hardly unusual—and yes, there was some obstruction of traffic. But did this justify, Commissioner Kelly, what happened to 19-year-old Rheannone Ball, seen on the front page of the September 25 Daily News forced down on the ground by cops and screaming in pain? “She said one second she was protesting and the next she was face down getting handcuffed. ‘There was a hand on my back and my fact got pushed to the ground. His arm was around my throat. I was panicking.’”

Other protesters were pepper-sprayed. As Jim Dwyer of The New York Times calls to our attention: “The law requires” that the label on pepper spray cans demands “the use of this substance or device for any purpose other than self-defense is a criminal offense under the law.”

Kelly’s cops, defending themselves against 23-year-old Mariana Flor, who was just talking in protest, shoved her into a police car: “They laughed at everyone and called us ‘liberals’ and ‘hippies.’ They told us we were losers.”

And hear this from Ray Kelly’s robotic official spokesman, Paul Browne, when asked about an NYPD deputy inspector, no less, spraying some demonstrators and walking off. Said Browne: The pepper spray was used “appropriately” (The New York Times, September 28). Browne often reminds me of the press secretaries for George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

Another eyewitness to New York’s finest in action, 23-year-old Meaghan Linick: “I was deeply disturbed to see them throw a man [down] and immediately they [the police] were pounding on him . . . I couldn’t believe how violent five people needed to be against one unarmed man” (Daily News, September 25).

Throughout the lengthy extended mayoralty term bought by Michael Bloomberg, I have not heard a disparaging word from him about this chilling NYPD culture. As of this writing, his likely apparent successor could be Christine Quinn. She, too, has been silent.

From time to time, I have actually seen an onlooker at a thuggish police arrest ask in protest for the cop’s badge number be smacked down and busted. When it happened on my street, I confess I tried to peek at the badge number but was too cowardly to say anything to the violent cop.

This happened to a vocal, but not violent protester, David Smith, on September 24: “He had been chanting, ‘Let them go,’ as people were handcuffed. [He] was then arrested by a senior officer who told him he was being charged with obstructing governmental administration” (The New York Times, September 25).

Echoes of Iran.

I now introduce an eyewitness that day: a former longtime civil liberties and civil rights lawyer in Phoenix who has also worked to secure justice for Native Americans. My son, Nicholas, on his blog “The Rule of Wolves” (nickhentoff.blogspot.com) reports:

“I was walking my dog in my neighborhood this afternoon [September 24] when I witnessed a chilling mass arrest of . . . social justice protestors on the corner of 5th Avenue and 12th street in New York City's Greenwich Village. The protestors, who were peaceful, were told by the police that they were in a restricted area. I grew up on 12th Street and 5th Ave. and hadn't received the memo that it had become an area restricted to peaceful protest. 

“The police were indiscriminately scooping up people using large orange netting. If you were within the orange net you were arrested. The police placed everyone arrested in plastic zip-tie handcuffs and seated them on the sidewalk against a wall two or three deep. I saw a number of elderly women with snow white hair among the group of people placed under arrest. 

“Legal representatives from the National Lawyer's Guild were shouting to the arrestees asking for their names. The NLG legal representatives were only able to get two or three names before the police brought out a second orange net and created a barrier between the onlookers and the arrestees.”

Earlier, I’d told Nick I’m working on my next book, titled: Is This Still America? Is it, Commissioner Kelly?

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