These guys can't do anything right lately. Photo via Flickr user Spencer H. Johnson
Ever since Mayor Bill de Blasio took office in January, the Democrat has made it his mission to repaint the public image of the New York City Police Department. But the outrage that plagued former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration hasn’t exactly been confined to the dustbin of history. In July, the choke-hold death of Eric Garner, a Staten Island man stopped for selling “loosies”—individual, untaxed cigarettes—served as a horrific reminder that the NYPD is still composed at least in part of sadistic jerks. That episode was made all the worse by de Blasio's follow-up advice that if the cops come around, your best bet for survival is to just chill out and let them arrest you.
The notorious stop-and-frisk program is slowly winding down, but the boys in blue can’t seem to let go of old-school brutality. This despite heightened media scrutiny since unarmed teenager Michael Brown was gunned down in Ferguson, Missouri, over the summer. (Massive protests are expected there this weekend.)
Just last week, NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton told reporters that he had it out for bad cops—“the brutal, the corrupt, the racist, the incompetent”—and even showed his department a video of cops beating the shit out of people as a warning. But if these past few days have served as any indication, Bratton—whose "broken windows" policing mantra holds that we should go afer low-level, quality-of-life offenses like subway panhandling—has his work cut out for him.
Late one August night in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Kahreem Tribble, 16, was apprehended by the police for having 17 baggies of weed on him. He was arrested, and later pleaded guilty to the violations. But on October 7, a video surfaced in which Tribble is seen getting punched and then pistol-whipped by two cops during the arrest. A third officer can be spotted idling nearby, watching his colleagues treat Tribble to a broken jaw. The trio are now under investigation, and, according to DNAInfo, Commissioner Bratton is “angered and embarrassed by it.”
That video came on the heels of the Garner family announcing that they will be suing the city and the eight police officers involved in his death for $75 million. It's worth noting that choke-hold complaints against the NYPD are the highest they’ve been in a decade.
In early June, Marcel Hamer, 17, was walking home from school in Brooklyn’s Clinton Hill neighborhood when a plainclothes cop approached the black teen and accused him of smoking marijuana. “It’s just a cigarette, mister!” Hamer can be heard pleading in the video, which was released to the Brooklyn Paper. He then got thrown on the floor and punched in the head for no good reason. The family is suing the NYPD for causing brain damage.
Also on Wednesday, the New York TImes reported that plainclothes officers have arrested some 60 people in the Port Authority Bus Terminal’s second floor bathroom for "public lewdness." Apparently, the undercovers like to wait at the urinals, on the lookout for masturbators. The accused, who are being represented by the Legal Aid Society, claim they were just pissing and they've been victimized by overzealous cops.
Lamard Joye, 35, was in Coney Island celebrating his birthday last month when cops stopped him to conduct a search. Soon after, as the video above shows, an unidentified police officer took a wad of cash from Joye’s back pocket—$1,300, he claims—and then pepper-sprayed him when he asked questions. The Brooklyn DA’s office is investigating the matter, reported the Daily News on Thursday, but Joye still hasn't seen a cent of his money.
Later in the day, it came out that a local cable news team’s camera was broken by police because they dared to film on a public sidewalk. Seriously. And this was layered aggression, too: The NY-1 reporters were interviewing African American students who had reportedly been told to get out of posh Park Slope by cops immediately after leaving their own school.
Capping off what has been a PR shitshow of a week, the Brooklyn DA’s office vowed Thursday to look into all these “troubling” videos. The US Justice Department is also considering a request by six members of Congress to look into the NYPD’s broken windows doctrine, which critics say has the effect—intended or not—of criminalizing being black or brown in New York.
There's still plenty of time left for Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner Bratton to steer things in the right direction. But they've got a hell of a long way to go.
John Surico is a Queens-based freelance journalist. His reporting can be found in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Village Voice, among other outlets. Follow him on Twitter.