(re: “Shedding new light on NYPD complaints,” Aug. 6)
New York City is in a human rights and civil liberties crisis. We are in perpetual crisis, but that truth tends to remain hidden from many white and comparatively privileged people who choose not to see the crisis that impacts their neighbors daily.
I am referring to the New York Police Department and structural racism.
New York City and other cities erupted in a new Black Lives Matter uprising after the police murder of George Floyd. Ironically, the NYPD responded to police brutality protests with … police brutality. Protesters were hurled to the ground, trampled with horses, rammed with vehicles, tear-gassed, pepper-sprayed, waylaid on their way home before the curfew, kettled, beaten with batons, and endangered during the pandemic with needless jail time.
On July 28, the NYPD doubled down on targeting of Black Lives Matter activists and organizers. Plainclothes cops with the “warrant squad” seized 18-year-old homeless trans teen Nikki Stone off her skateboard during a peaceful protest, manhandling her into an unmarked vehicle as nearby protesters tried to protect her.
She was held overnight, charged with a misdemeanor.
The warrant squad has long targeted people in Black and brown communities, with no attention paid by those not similarly afflicted. A few days later, Black Lives Matter activist Yacine Diallo was sized and charged vaguely with “obstruction of governmental administration.”
As horrendous as these arrests are, they pale in comparison to the treatment of 28-year-old Black Lives Matter organizer Derrick Ingram. Ingram was besieged in his Manhattan apartment for five hours on Aug. 7, with NYPD pounding on the door, dozens of cops shutting down his block, two helicopters and multiple drones circling overhead, a K-9 unit barking in his hallway, and cops on his fire escape and in an empty apartment across the alley.
In an unprecedented military — and frankly fascist operation — against an individual New Yorker, NYPD demanded he surrender himself. He had the presence of mind to livestream his efforts to persuade the cops in his hallway to produce a warrant and slide it under his door so that he could photograph it and send it to his lawyer.
The NYPD had no warrant. On advice of his lawyer, Ingram went to the local precinct the next day, fearful that another encounter at his home could lead to injury, death or an opportunity for the NYPD to plant something incriminating — as has happened to many politically active people of color.
The complaint against Ingram? Causing temporary hearing impairment to a cop’s ear when using a bullhorn at a Black Lives Matter protest two months earlier. The charge was downgraded to a misdemeanor. The Manhattan District Attorney’s office stated: “Our office does not condone the extraordinary tactics employed by police. These actions were disproportionate to the alleged offense and unjustifiably escalated conflict between law enforcement and the communities we serve.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio is complicit in the NYPD’s escalating attacks on BLM as he straddles every incidence of police malfeasance. He ludicrously asserted that NYPD commissioner Dermot Shea — whom he has repeatedly shied away from firing — initially did not know the action against Derrick Ingram was happening. Our mayor reminds me quite a bit these days of a Vichy bureaucrat.
The military-style action against Ingram is a stark reminder of police overreach, the militarization of the NYPD, its bloated budget, its indifference to the city’s civilian political leadership, and its targeting of people of color and their organizations.
On Aug. 11, an organization I work with — North Bronx Racial Justice — held a protest march in Kingsbridge culminating at the 50th Precinct. We protested the NYPD’s racist brutality, and called for defunding the NYPD (budget of nearly $6 billion with a work force of 40,000), and investing those funds in neglected communities.
We remind the community of the beating of a Black teen in Marble Hill in 2017 by a member of the 50th Precinct, and the subsequent statement by then-commanding officer Terence O’Toole, who told The Riverdale Press that the next time his cops had to arrest the teen and “he fails to comply, we may have to shoot him.”
Despite our efforts to bring this heinous statement to the attention of the community, elected officials, the Civilian Complaint Review Board, NYPD internal affairs, and the city’s public advocate, O’Toole was promoted to internal affairs a year later.
When we sat down with his successor, current commanding officer Emilio Melendez, we were told that he had no concern about either the beating or his predecessor’s statement, and would not retract it. His demeanor was dismissive and amused.
In a recent Riverdale Press story, it was revealed there were 12 allegations against Melendez over 15 years, with one “substantiated by the CCRB.” Judge for yourself whether complaints against Melendez of racial profiling and strip-searching young Black men is of concern.
With the civil liberties and human rights of people of color under dangerously escalating attack, we are in crisis. Mayor de Blasio must fire Commissioner Shea and top NYPD leadership. But the buck stops with the mayor — he must resign.
Let’s join hands and work to defund and disarm the NYPD racist behemoth, shut down Rikers, demand no new jails, and replace the CCRB with an elected civilian review board.
We must begin to heal neglected and assaulted communities, and right the wrongs inflicted by police since the days that slave patrols roamed our streets.
The vast majority of police activities can far more appropriately be carried out by trained, unarmed civil servants. Another world is possible.