Responding to continuing instances of police brutality leading to the injury and death for everyday residents, dozens of protestors gathered in front of the Adam Clayton Powell State Office Building in Harlem Wednesday evening to call for Police Commissioner Bratton’s ouster.
“Offering ‘retraining’ for these officers minimizes the gravity of the problem,” said Danette Chavis, whose son died due to police conduct in 2004. She was referencing the recent case of Eric Garner, who was killed in Staten Island while being subdued via an illegal chokehold by police officers. “These officers should be criminality prosecuted with same swiftness that average citizen is arrested and prosecuted with a crime. There’s never a delay of justice on our end. If there was a video of one of us doing something like this, you can bet there would be charges. The same fate should await these officers.”
Chavis compared the modified duty–with full pay–the officers in the Eric Garner case received instead to a “paid vacation.”
The Answer Coalition, the National Action Against Police Brutality, the Copwatch Patrol Unit, Harlem Community Watch, NYS Blacks in Law Enforcement, Parents Against Police Brutality, Brothers and Sisters Who Care, and a range of individual activists and concerned citizens organized the gathering. A significant police presence–both uniformed officers and community watch units–encircled those who gathered.
“The mayor has to own up to the fact he made a grave mistake in reappointing Bratton,” Chavis said.
The commissioner previously served in his position in the 1990s and is considered part of the inspiration for the “broken windows” theory of crime prevention, targeting minor offenses to improve the experience of city life. Many residents support the policy, but recent events have shown how targeting minor offenses can lead to drastic consequences–Eric Garner, for example, was targeted for illegally selling cigarettes on a street corner, a relatively minor, non-violent offense.
At the same time, despite her call for Bratton’s ouster, Chavis held out hope the commissioner could make things right. “The Commissioner need not wait–he can take action now to show he takes our concerns seriously.”
That would mean a strict end to the use of chokeholds, already forbidden police procedure, but on display once again just days ago on a seven-months pregnant woman in East New York.
Carlton Berkley, a retired NYPD detective who worked in the department for twenty years, advised choke holds were declared off-limits as early as 1984, when he first joined the force, and that bystanders’ video, photo and audio is the only reason officers are increasingly unable to fabricate a story to justify their conduct.
“Bratton is claiming that bystanders taping, recording, and asking for badge numbers is making officers ‘excited,'” Berkley said, incredulously. “Is he serious? Read your own policy. Onlookers have the right to observe, to ask for shield numbers, to take photos. You can bet that if there was no video of Eric Garner, they would have claimed he tried to swing at the officers.”
Berkley added that he voted for Bill de Blasio in the last election and still wants to “give him a chance,” but that Commissioner Bratton is “leaving black and hispanic law enforcement out of the discussion, where they could lend valuable insight.”
Katherine Fort lives in Harlem’s Manhattan Houses, where police raided her apartment without a knock or a warrant during a massive gang crackdown in June. “They ran into my apartment with assault rifles pointed at my face, and my children’s faces. Their theory is they’ll just sweep an entire area, nab twenty people, and it’s okay if the charges stick with only two. But what about us? We were innocent. Now my kid’s impression of the police is total distrust.”
Her neighbor, Shari Peele-Brinson, said she endured her 6-year-old son having his photo taken (without her permission) at the Manhattan Houses’ courtyard playground and used in a story claiming he was part of the “next gang wannabes.”
“Everyone is assumed to be a criminal or future criminal,” Peele-Brinson said.
A number of additional speakers divulged their personal tales of tragedy at the hands of New York’s Finest: Juanita Young, who lost her son, Malcolm Ferguson. Sayid Mohammed, who lost his brother, Ron Singleton. Calvin Hunt, who claims he was assaulted by police at Eric Garner’s funeral in Brooklyn earlier this month.
Kirk Patrick, President of Harlem Community Watch, perhaps summarized the mood best.
“I’m tired of the cops beating up people. First it was 41 shots, then it was fifty shots,” Patrick said, referencing two previous police-related deaths, Amadou Diallo and Sean Bell. “Now it’s a chokehold. They’re lynching us. This has to stop now.”
Some NYCHA residents of the Gowanus Houses are pessimistic about the recent influx of officers.