The Photo Issue 2015

Positions Taken

This spring, Dru Donovan collaborated with a group of men from the Fordham section of the Bronx to stage photographs that revisit their previous encounters with the NYPD.

by Dru Donovan
25 July 2015, 4:00am

This article appears in The Photo Issue 2015

Photos by Dru Donovan and Eve Arnold / Magnum Photos

This spring, Dru Donovan collaborated with a group of men from the Fordham section of the Bronx to stage photographs that revisit their previous encounters with the NYPD. In the following pictures and text, the men re-create and describe the scenes of their experiences.

MOHAMED: It was late at night, and I was going out to get milk for my son [pictured, center], who was barely two at the time. A police van followed me from my building, and as soon as I turned the corner, they stopped, and four or five officers got out. When I asked them what the problem was, two of them got their hands on me and put me against the wall. There was one guy giving instructions: "Check the crotch. Spread the legs. Make sure he doesn't have anything stuck up there." I felt like it excited them, like they were having fun with it. No matter how much they offended me, I knew I couldn't defend myself at that point. They grabbed my wallet and saw my student ID, then started scolding me about how it was dangerous to be there. They told me they were trying to protect me from my own neighborhood. I lived right there. How could they protect me from being in my own home? Every time I walk by that corner I remember how I was pushed up against that wall. Standing at that wall to revisit the experience there with my son watching made me think of what he is going to deal with. It makes me want to prepare him better.

EASY AL: We was all on the block, sitting in front of the building, telling jokes and stuff. And the police just ran up on us and they just started snatching everybody off the stoop. They put us all against the wall, and they had us on our knees. And my knees were killing me. They were yelling, "Who got the drugs?" We were all quiet while they threatened to beat us down. They had one guy shackled up on a leash, like a dog. The fear in that moment is that you don't own anything. You do not own anything. Because they have the power to take away your freedom. They have the power to take away your possessions. They have the power to take away your life.

BRANDON: I met up with my probation officer, and he said I had violated probation. At the time, I wanted to make a call because I had gotten driven up to his office by my mother. She had parked right in front of the probation window, but they had a two-way mirror. You can see the outside from the inside, but you can't see the inside from the outside. I had my phone in my hand. And he told me, "You can't make a call." But I wanted to let her know what was going on. So when I tried to make a call, he called for backup. They came in the probation office and threw me against the wall, trying to get my hands. He had one hand touching my upper back and his other hand trying to reach for my phone. He got it and threw it on the floor and grabbed my other hand. They read you your rights, and after that, it's like you have no control. They'll put the physical force on you, arrest you, and forget about you.

Ronny: I had just moved to New York, and I was driving with a friend back to my apartment. I was new to the area, and I accidentally turned the wrong way down a one-way street. Just as we made the turn, three cruisers pulled up with their guns out. I stopped the car with my hands on the wheel, and the cop yelled out, 'Hands up! Hands up!' So I put my hands up. And then somebody else yelled, 'Put your hands back on the wheel!' In my mind I was thinking that I could probably die over the stupidest thing, like putting my hands in the wrong place.

Petersburg, Virginia, 1960. Activists are trained not to react to provocation at a civil strike. Photo by Eve Arnold/Magnum Photos

A page from the Magnum archives with Arnold's notes about the series School for Nonviolence