I did two radio interviews on my book The End of Policing while in the Bay Area. You can listen here:
Against The Grain: Policing in a Time of Austerity w Saha Lilley.
Up Front with Brian Edwards-Tikert and Cat Brooks
In a new development, The Daily News is reporting that the young man, Alando Brissett, violently arrested at Target had mental health issues. According to his grandmother: "he often returned bottles at the Target to make some extra money. She said he had trouble remembering things, which made it hard for him to hold down a job. He had dropped out of community college, she said. “He's not a bad kid, he's not a rude kid,” she said of Brissett, adding he often does her laundry for her without her having to ask. “It hurts me,” she said of the video. “You cannot harm my grandson. He's not a criminal.”
Did police know they were dealing with someone who may have been cognitively impaired? Did they bother to check> Did they approach this young man in a standard, aggressive manner? Did this contribute to the escalation of force.
And here's the big question: What was the basis for the arrest? They had grounds to talk to him, but no one has adequately explained why he was arrested. The Daily News reports that he was arrested after being asked to leave the store. But that rarely needs to lead to an arrest. He should be escorted out. if he makes a fuss, then perhaps there's a mental health issue that needs to be addressed, rather than going right to using force. Did police make any kind of real effort to resolve the situation without arrest and force?
City Council Member Jumaane Williams and State Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte have issued a statement about the reason for police contact with young man and attempting to explain the use of force. The statement is here. Their statement is consistent with my view that the use of force may have been technically appropriate. What they fail to address is the level of community reaction. Rather than dealing forcefully with the crisis in policing, they mostly explain away the community's feelings, justify police action, and continue to support hiring more police. This incident should trigger calls for more substantial changes in the scope and nature of policing in New York, not just calls for calm and understanding.
Read my analysis and watch the video in the previous post.
WILLIAMS & BICHOTTE RESPOND TO CONTROVERSIAL ARREST AT FLATBUSH JUNCTION
For Immediate Release:
July 28, 2015
BROOKLYN: Today, Council Member Jumaane D. Williams (D-Brooklyn), Deputy Leader and co-chair of the Council's Task Force to Combat Gun Violence and Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte (D-Brooklyn), Vice Chair of the New York State Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators and Chair of Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprise (MWBE) Oversight Subcommittee, released the following statement after a controversial arrest was made by the New York Police Department at the Flatbush Junction Target. A video posted online shows police punching a man as they pinned him to the ground while arresting him for trespassing. Click here to view the video.
STATEMENT BY COUNCIL MEMBER WILLIAMS
& ASSEMBLY MEMBER BICHOTTE
"It is without question painful to see video of another unarmed black person undergo what appears to be excessive, forceful detainment by police. At the same time, and in this charged atmosphere, we must take caution not to unnecessarily inflame while addressing very real and valid concerns on police-community relations. As elected officials of this area, we believe we must do both.
"Given that the 14-minute video began with an arrest, it is appropriate to understand what led to the incident. Though a formal investigation is still underway, it appears that the gentleman arrested was at the Flatbush Junction Target a day earlier and had several exchanges with employees that led to at least one feeling unsafe. The man reportedly came back the following day and Target employees eventually called for NYPD assistance. This information was gathered after speaking with those who had first-hand knowledge of the incident and from members of the NYPD's 70th Precinct. From what we've learned, it seems that NYPD initiating contact was warranted and requested. It must also be noted that while on the floor, the man's hands appear to be underneath him and out of sight, which could reasonably cause concern to officers. We know it's not practical to believe that every lawful arrest will be done without any force at all. Additionally, we must be careful not to treat every incident like the most egregious ones, lest we appear to weaken very legitimate concerns.
"With that said, there are still questions that should be asked around the NYPD's use of force-- particularly punches used to effect an arrest. In fact, it was the aggressive punching that seemed to alarm the shoppers more than the arrest itself. These questions include: Was this person mentally or emotionally disturbed? Was the use of force reasonable to get the person to comply if he was not complying? Was this use of force incorporated in department training or were these actions out of frustration? Is this same force used equally across the city, irrespective of neighborhood, class or race? These are realistic questions based on a reality that has legitimately led to the charged atmosphere we are in today. Still, they must be asked responsibly with the attempt to balance actual, not perceived, problems with over policing and the real difficulty and uncertainty of each policing encounter. Today, these questions and more will be sent in a letter to Target and the Police Department and we will await a response. Additionally, it's our hope that investigators move swiftly in dealing with this case and are transparent with their findings.
"This time next week, our city will be preparing to hold its annual National Night Out for police and community to come together. In light of this and other incidents - including the questions that linger and the charged climate we are in - it's our hope that New Yorkers across the city attend this event to once again bring a loud voice to these concerns and to help build stronger community engagement/relations. Though it's just a small step toward fixing our damaged public safety system, it's a good place to start."
Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte represents the 42nd Assembly District in the New York State Assembly representing Brooklyn communities of Ditmas Park, Flatbush, East Flatbush and Midwood. Assemblymember Bichotte has been appointed
Chair of the Oversight of Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprises (MWBEs)Subcommittee and elected as Vice Chair New York State Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators. She currently serves on the following committees:
Housing, Government Operations, Economic Development, Small Businesses, Banks and Social Services.
As the current Assemblymember and District Leader, Rodneyse Bichotte has been outspoken advocate on issues concerning immigration, unemployment, education reform, health care access, senior citizen centers, affordable housing, women's and LGBTQ rights, as well as other issues affecting the quality of life in the community.
Below is video from a very troubling incident in a Target Store in Flatbush, Brooklyn from July 26th. Police are arresting a young man in the store. As in several other videos on this blog, the young man is not fully cooperating with police. It appears that he is making it difficult for them to get handcuffs on him. The police follow fairly standard procedure for such situations, which is that they jam his head into the ground to immobilize him and then use punches to inflict pain to get him to comply. While this may not be the best, most just, or least violent way to handle this situation, it is standard procedure and totally in line with police training and the law. No amount of new training or enhanced internal or judicial accountability will make any difference in reducing this kind of behavior.
What is more interesting, and more troubling is the reaction of on-lookers. Flatbush is a mostly Caribbean American neighborhood with some African Americans as well. It's low income, but not as bad off as East New York, Brownsville, and some other New York City neighborhoods and these are folks with some money in their pocket to spend at Target.
Notice that multiple people in the store immediately react negatively to the use of force by officers. Then they begin to actually berate the officers, closing in on them. This kind of things makes cops crazy. it is extremely threatening to them. As a result they call for extensive emergency back up, which arrives quickly and in large numbers.
Fortunately, the incident ended there. The large number of officers who arrived quickly took control of the situation and no further force was needed and the crowd never actually physically intervened. We are left, however, with a not very reassuring impression. It was clear that a large crowd was on the verge of interfering with the arrest of someone in a large public place. That should be a giant red flag to the police and political leaders. This represents a significant breakdown in police authority and indicates an underlying crisis of police legitimacy. Police work will become more dangerous and difficult if people react so strongly to what was in essence proper police procedure.
Then there are the what ifs. What if police had not been following proper procedure and really had used excessive and unwarranted force. Would the crowd have been more likely to physically intervene, setting the stage for a radical escalation of police tactics? What if back-up had not arrived so quickly? Was that crowd on the verge of taking action? What if the back up that did arrive had overreacted. Officers could very easily have assessed the situation as more threatening and come in using force. It would be interesting to listen to the radio traffic to hear how urgent the call for assistance was and what kinds of instructions if any were given to arriving officers.
The police and political leaders have a lot of work to do to restore public trust in the police, especially in communities of color. So far the main action taken in response to the death of Eric Garner and the national wave of protests has been to institute some enhanced training of questionable value and to hire more police. This does not send a signal to the public that police are approaching their job in a new way and that the public should give them the benefit of the doubt in difficult situations like the one shown here. Hopefully back-up will continue to arrive quickly.
Resistance to Riot Police lines - people respond with stones
Alex S. Vitale
January 30, 2015
Commissioner Bratton announced this week that he was creating a new Strategic Response Group of 350 officers. Housed in the Counterterrorism Bureau, they would be outfitted with new heavy weapons and trained in special tactics for dealing with terrorism, civil unrest, and protests…yes, protests. This is an example of exactly the kind of false conflation of threats that has led to a massive expansion of militarized policing across the US over the last 30 years.
If any city has a legitimate claim to needing specially armed and trained police to deal with terrorism it is New York. Critics of militarized policing have largely given the NYPD a pass on the creation of such units because they have been limited in both size and mission. The current Counterterrorism Task Force has dozens of officers outfitted with machine guns and other combat grade equipment including armored jeeps, but their mission has been largely limited to protecting high profile targets such as the UN and foreign embassies.
The commissioner’s proposal raises many troubling issues. Criminal Justice Professor Peter Kraska has painstakingly documented the explosive and alarming increase in police paramilitary units across the US. These SWAT type units were created initially as a response to extremely rare armed confrontations with police in the 1970’s. Very quickly, however, these units found that they had almost no such incidents to respond to and instead were put to use on the front lines of the War on Drugs—driven by a massive infusion of Federal funds for that purpose. Thousands of these units, in cities large and small, spend the vast amount of their time serving search warrants—mostly for low level drug dealers. Washington Post columnist Radley Balko has documented in excruciating detail the ways in which these practices have eroded civil liberties and produced massive collateral damage against totally innocent people whose homes have been violated, pets shot, and themselves killed in a never ending litany of mistaken raids.
During the Occupy movement we witnessed another misuse of these teams. Time and again non-violent demonstrators were confronted by heavily armed and armored “robo-cops,” who often deployed high levels of force including tear gas, and other “less lethal” weaponry. Last year the images of militarized units, paid for largely out of anti-terror funds provided by the Department of Homeland Security, confronting street demonstrators in Ferguson, shocked the national conscience and undoubtedly contributed to the violence and disorder on the streets there.
Up until now, however, New York has largely avoided these problems. Both during Occupy and more recent protests against climate change and police misconduct, the NYPD has avoided a militarized response. While there have been many criticism of their handling of Occupy, and litigation continues, we did not see heavily armed NYPD SWAT or Counterterror teams policing the demonstrations, and no use of high tech “less lethal” weaponry. The NYPD already has special Task Force teams in each patrol bureau with extensive training in protest policing, but these teams don’t utilize the kind of heavy weapons and armor being proposed for the new teams.
In fact, in the last year we’ve actually seen a dialing back of aggressive and restrictive protest policing tactics that had been common. The NYPD showed remarkable restraint and flexibility in handling the massive climate march in September and a mass sit-in on Lower Broadway the next day. Similarly, they showed great wisdom in taking a soft approach to the police accountability and racial justice protests in recent months.
Ironically, the low point of the policing of those demonstrations was when the existing Disorder Control Unit utilized a Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) on a small group marching in the street after a minor scuffle. These devices are capable of causing short and long term health problems and should be used only as a last resort to avoid baton charges or higher levels of force, none of which were warranted in this case. The decision to use it seemed driven by the availability of a new toy much more than any practical law enforcement purpose, and signals exactly the problem of “mission creep” that the possession of this hardware poses.
Protests are not acts of terror, even when they are disorderly and disruptive. There is no legitimate basis for lumping them into the same category as terrorism. To do so is to fundamentally abridge their legitimacy, which flies in the face of the Frist Amendment. The NYPD has shown itself perfectly capable of managing a wide range of protest activity without relying on heavily armed police. The militarization of protest policing would be a dramatic step backwards for the NYPD and would serve to undermine their credibility and legitimacy.
Alex S. Vitale is professor of sociology and coordinator of the Policing and Social Justice Project at Brooklyn College and author of The End of Policing and City of Disorder: How the Quality of Life Campaign Transformed New York Politics.