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?
“The police,” Nick continues, “then started moving the onlookers, including myself, down the street, telling us that we would all be arrested if we refused to move. A large bald-headed policeman from an NYPD ant-terror unit told me that if I did not move I would be arrested.”
Nick told him that he lived on this street and wanted to walk the opposite direction to his apartment. The anti-terror unit enforcer told Nick if he didn’t move, he’d be arrested.
But wait, as a second cop moved purposely toward Nick, the first one waved him off, pointing to my son and saying he was just a “victim of circumstance.”
Nick, however, decided not to get shoved into a cell—and what would happen to our innocent dog, Lulu?—and while being herded down our street by the first cop, he caught sight of a “plain clothes officer walking behind the bald officer with a video camera. This was just one of at least two plain clothes officers who were doing nothing but filming the protesters—as well as anyone on the street just looking at the protest.”
Fellow New Yorkers, let this be a warning to you: When you see demonstrators being orange-netted by Ray Kelly’s police on your street, scurry right home and don’t go out again until the coast is clear for the First Amendment!
More from Nick: “Many of the NYPD officers on the scene were wearing NYPD TARU insignia. TARU stands for the Technical Assistance Response Unit. TARU is the NYPD intelligence surveillance unit. They are the ones who take videos of protestors and download the images into a database that can be used to track a protestor’s activity.”
My fellow New Yorkers, pay attention to this: “This is done with the help of highly sophisticated facial recognition software funded by Federal spy agencies including the NSA [the utterly omnivorous National Security Agency], the CIA, and DARPA. TARU‘s past surveillance activities have been covered by the Village Voice.”
So there was Nick, wholly unaware that his face was being memorialized in a network tracking the protest history of persons caught in the protest—or just observing it.
Nick has shown me a range of evidentiary videos on the Web, including those by the overall protest organizer, Occupy Wall Street, on YouTube. Also, Ed Pilkington (“Wall Street Protests Reveal Slice of America’s Barely Tame Brutality,” CommonDreams.org, September 27) adds: “It’s the officers’ insouciance that is most shocking. They engage the pepper spray as if they were handing out parking tickets and just as calmly walk away.”
In my next column, I’ll focus on what must and can be done about this culture of police abuse permitted under Kelly. As Wiljago Cook of Oakland, California—a protester since the first day of Occupy Wall Street—said, “Police brutality wasn’t ever really on my agenda, but my eyes have been opened” (Washington Post, October 3).
Occupy Wall Street has expanded to cities across the nation—with clamorous rhetoric but with hardly any specific real-life changes demanded in how to make Congress and the executive branch restore this to a self-governing constitutional country—attention to NYPD’s lawlessness has faded.
Going up Fifth and Park avenues while chanting: “Hey! You millionaire! Pay your fair share!” doesn’t bring the hordes of America’s jobless any change they can believe in.
Did you know, as the Voice reported on April 16, that the NYPD “has a $20 million payroll of cops who don’t work because they have ‘killed or assaulted people, violated civil rights, beat up their wives or girlfriends, driven drunk or hurt bystanders,’ according to a report by the New York Post.” It’s dubbed the “rubber-gun room.”
And did you also know—reported on WNYC on June 13—“Last year, the city paid a historic $136 million to settle claims against the NYPD. More than 40 percent of these settlements stemmed from civil rights claims or things like excessive force and false arrest”?
Have you heard our lordly mayor say anything about that?
Peter Vallone, chair of the City Council Public Safety division, has proposed legislation (WNYC, June 13) that “would bring more transparency and accountability to the whole police tort claim process.”
Vallone is usually a strong supporter of the NYPD, but his eyes have also been opened over time, and so his bill “would require that the city’s lawyers disclose to the City Council specifics on all settlements reached on behalf of the NYPD including the precincts and officers involved.” It should also include the NYPD “white shirts”: lieutenants, captains, and inspectors who bullied some of the Occupy Wall Street protesters.
What has happened to that bill? In any case, the New York Civil Liberties Union, whose eyes are never closed to this NYPD culture, has outlined “what a good oversight system of the police department would look like. We think,” says the NYCLU, “the Vallone bill is a good start, but it’s not enough.”
The public will be encouraged to join in with recommendations, including the huge number of New Yorkers over the years who have been stopped and frisked. And not only them. Commissioner Kelly is certainly welcome to participate. But the mayor’s too busy screwing up the traffic with bicycle lanes.
Now, at last, after the feverishly overinflated Occupy Wall Street is being heralded by media across the country as our version of the “Arab Spring” (and look what’s happening in Egypt), a tiny but dramatic illustration of a demonstration—unlike Occupy Wall Street—has been reported on page 23 of the Daily News. It should have been on page 2 or 3, accompanied by editorials.
Barry Paddock reported on October 13: “Hundreds of teenagers who say they’ve been targeted by cops because of their ethnicity marched over Brooklyn Bridge yestrerday to protest the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policies. One said cops have stopped and questioned him some 20 times . . .
“Organizers with the Campaign for Just and Fair Policing complain that blacks and Latinos are nine times as likely as whites to be stopped . . . A record 601,055 people were stopped and questioned last year, NYPD stats show, and the department is on track to top that this year.” And in 2012?
Don’t Occupy Ray Kelly. Demand, with nonviolent demonstration, waving the Fourth Amendment, that Bloomberg fire him—with Kelly guaranteed his total due process rights.