‘Arrested for Breathing’


Members and supporters of the politically-charged rap group dead prez (dpz), who were arrested Saturday afternoon in Crown Heights, allege the incident was police harassment. Clayton Gavin, a/k/a Sticman, one half of the controversial rap duo, his DJ, Umi Bem Niilampti, and two other associates, Samuel Murrain, a/k/a Ness, and Harris DeJesus, a/k/a D-Don, were in the midst of a photo shoot when they were detained for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, among other charges, after refusing to show identification when queried by police. The cases against all but one of the defendants have already been dismissed.

According to Rosa Clemente, a dpz spokesperson and part of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM), at around 3:30 p.m., the group members were posing for a photographer in front of a Dean Street and Bedford Avenue building when they were approached by two female cops demanding their identification. In response, the group told the officers they were guests of a friend who lived at the address, and asked the reason for the ID request. Clemente says the police persisted, saying, “‘What’s the problem, just show us ID,'” and that the rappers asked, “‘For what? Why do we have to show you ID? There’s hundreds of people on this block, you ain’t asking them for ID.'”

dead prez claim that after this exchange the officers called for backup, more police arrived and the group was surrounded. Sticman says he repeatedly asked if he was under arrest, was told that he was not, but wasn’t allowed to leave or continue his work. “I was harassed and attacked by the police in my neighborhood,” Sticman told the Voice. “I was never told anything about being under arrest. . . . There were no complaints. I wasn’t violating any laws other than the law of being black and being outside.”

After the arrival of reinforcements, a sergeant ordered arrests. “He basically says, ‘Arrest them all.’ They arrest four people. They don’t arrest all the folks out there,” says Kamau Karl Franklin, an MXGM attorney and dpz co-counsel along with Marisa Benton. “Something I found interesting was that the photographer who actually was taking the pictures, who is a white guy from England, wasn’t arrested at all. . . . He was just pushed to the side, and, luckily, he kept taking pictures.”

“They also threw [Murrain] on the ground,” says Clemente, “and put their knee on his head, and his head is on the sidewalk and he is visibly bruised and cut and they didn’t pick up his shoes, so he’s at the precinct with no shoes.” In addition, both Sticman and Clemente say that DeJesus was roughed up and slammed against a vehicle.

Benton, a lawyer for the Legal Aid society contacted by dpz supporters, and the first attorney to see the men, finds the arrest curious. “The bottom line is they were arrested for breathing from what I could tell,” says Benton. “Definitely, it was an unjustifiable arrest. I understand the police officers got nosy and tried to find a reason to question them and get their IDs. This is something that happens a lot.”

The NYPD says that the officers were responding to a report of male trespassers at the location and observed a male urinating against a wall and several males congregated near a stairway. According to the police version, when the officers approached, and asked for ID to ascertain whether or not the subjects lived at the location, the subjects became disorderly and additional units were called in. The police also say that DeJesus kicked a female officer, causing her to sustain a minor injury to her left leg.

Franklin says that authorities alleged earlier that they saw suspicious movements—someone hiding something under a shirt—and that’s what prompted them to approach the group. He calls that assertion a total cover-up and lie. “It’s obvious what they were doing, they were taking pictures,” he says.

Franklin says his clients were within their rights to refuse to give IDs without being given a reason. “There is no pass law,” says Franklin referring to the one-time law in South Africa requiring all blacks to carry state-issued passes to enter urban areas. “They are not required to give ID [when] someone just walks up to them and demands ID, even if it’s a police officer. We have no basis for the initial stop.”

Charges against Sticman, Niilampti, and Murrain were dismissed early Sunday and they were released from the Brooklyn courthouse without appearing before a judge. “As we are waiting for arraignment, we don’t see their names on the docket,” says Clemente. “Then we go to get lunch, we come back. Stic, Umi, and Ness were released through the back door. They didn’t give them an explanation.”

“Prosecution declined to prosecute,” says Franklin. “Only [DeJesus] was held, and he is being charged at this present time with assault in the third degree, attempted assault in the third degree, menacing in the third degree, and harassment in the second degree—all misdemeanor charges. And the most amusing thing about the complaint is that there’s no charge here of disorderly conduct, no charge of resisting arrest, no underlying charges as to why they walked up to them in the first place and started demanding their ID.”

DeJesus was arraigned, released without bail, and still faces charges. dpz, who were recently released from their Sony contract, just performed Friday night at the New School University as part of the ACLU College Freedom Tour, where NYPD and school police presence was reportedly heavy.