A second City Council member has now come out with claims of bad treatment by rank-and-files police officers at a parade. In a remarkable letter sent today to NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly’s office and with Speaker Christine Quinn’s office copied, Upper West Side Dem. Gale Brewer recounts her own “recent experience with a belligerent and over-reactive officer” at the Gay Pride Parade in June.
In the letter, Brewer says that after she mistakenly went to the wrong block, an officer who “immediately adopted a belligerent attitude” refused to release her from the barricades and let her cross the street to join her fellow Council members.
“When an African American also peaceably approached the barrier with a similar request,” Brewer writes, “he grabbed her and pushed her backward.”
The appearance of a sergeant on the scene didn’t help matters, in the Council woman’s telling, as he conferred with the officer and then “clenched his fist and swung his arm upward in a little arc.” Finally, after several calls to Quinn staffers who in turn dealt with parade officials, a higher-ranking officer came and let Brewer through, she said in the letter.
Brewer, who’s white, said she decided to go public now about her experience because of the recent incidents around parades and protests, adding that “after the incident with Council Member Williams, perhaps I should have spoken up sooner.” In a phone call Tuesday evening, she told the Voice: “It wasn’t just Jumaane. It was all these things adding up,” mentioning the police handling of the Occupy Wall Street protestors generally and particularly the pepper spray incident, “and I felt like it was a parade issue.”
“The bottom line is no,” Brewer said when asked if she’d followed up on the incident privately with the NYPD or with the Speaker. “It’s not my style to call the speaker or anything. There must have been five staff members trying to help me that day. I didn’t pursue it afterward.” She added that at the time it seemed like an isolated incident, and that she couldn’t find afterward the paper where she’d marked the officers badge number.
In the letter, Brewer uses her experience as a peg on which to hang a much broader indictment of the department, suggesting a new willingness among public figures who haven’t been at the forefront of policing issues to aggressively criticize the Department. She writes of “an attitude of unwarranted belligerence… among officers assigned to work with crowds… an abuse of discretion, a pattern of needless and angry over-reaction, an attitude of contempt and insult toward both elected officials and private citizens, and an apparent license among the rank and file of the NYPD to act inappropriately and insultingly whenever they choose… widespread bad conduct… with little restraint and no accountability.”
Asked what she hoped to accomplish with a letter sent months later and without the officers’ name, Brewer said, “I hope that whatever culture that exists in the police and at the rallies is looked at very carefully and addressed. Nobody seems to be able to change the culture.”
I’ve asked the NYPD and the Speaker’s office for comment, and will update this post if I hear back from them.