Last month, in a dispatch for The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote, "The police are representatives of a state that derives its powers from the people." The gravity of Coates's words are not lost on me, and I have considered the sentence's trueness many times in the preceding weeks. "We, the people," our founding fathers inscribed in the preamble to the Constitution. But our present condition—one that finds the NYPD constantly at odds with the community it is designed to protect—is a reality our founding fathers perhaps had not predicted: a citizenry devoid of power, and a petty police force with no sense of moral obligation to the communities it serves. The deaths of Eric Garner and Akai Gurley—and all the lives the NYPD has unfairly taken, and will likely take again—are what happens when the people have no power. I am troubled.
According to a report from DNAinfo's Murray Weiss, the NYPD is investigating social media death threats against cops from alleged gang members who are apparently promising to turn tonight's New Year's Eve celebrations into "Kill a Pig Night." But who are these violent tweeters? Do they exist at all?
A ceremony at Madison Square Garden yesterday morning marked the graduation of 884 new officers into the New York Police Department. When Mayor Bill de Blasio took the podium to address the graduating class, praising them for their courage and determination, he was greeted like an unpopular high school principal: with boos, jeers, and the turning of backs. When he talked about the officers facing "problems [they] don't create," someone in the audience called back: "You created them!"
It's been over a month since 18-year-old Vonderrit Myers, Jr. was killed by a St. Louis police officer. Details offered of the moments that led up to his death are today still sparse and sometimes conflicting. An investigation is underway, but there are already a few aspects of the incident that should raise questions.
It's been ten months under Bill de Blasio's leadership and little change has come to New York City. With his first year in office nearing an end, the everyday reality for many of the city's residents remains inescapable: police harassment and brutality have become a constant, and conditions only seem to be worsening. Despite the promises of de Blasio and Commissioner Bratton to overhaul the department in lieu of recent events—the death of Eric Garner, beating and pistol-whipping an unarmed Brooklyn teen, slamming a pregnant woman to the ground, and the arrest of a man who was legally permitted to perform on a subway platform—much has remained the same. To put it bluntly: the NYPD has lost control of its officers.
What is our responsibility to the homeless? That might seem too big a question, but it is something I wrestle with occasionally. It's impossible to avoid the less fortunate men and women who populate our streets—the father forced to seek charity from strangers on subway cars so he can feed his family or the woman struggling to get back on her feet after being laid off. Sixty-thousand people look for shelter every night in New York. And what of those individuals unable to secure a bed, with no other option than to sleep under the lights of our unforgiving city?
Amid the police terror that has swept the nation these last few months, there has been a missing facet from the conversation: the fact that women are brutalized by cops just as severely as men. For every John Crawford and Ezell Ford there is an Ersula Ore or a Marlene Pinnock (you can view the footage of Pinnock's beating by a California Highway Patrol officer here).
In July, a man was assaulted by police offers for allegedly falling asleep on the train on his way home from work. "For what?!" the man yells repeatedly, as officers attempt to cuff him. "I ain't do shit...I just wanna go home." The pain and distress in his voice are audibly clear, and the reasons for which he is being arrested seem arbitrary at best. "Record all of this, please!" he says to others on the subway car. This incident would seem outrageous if the occurrence of police officers abusing their power—a power, we should not forget, that is entrusted to them by the public—weren't so commonplace in New York City.
Given the substantial media attention surrounding the recent killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner by law enforcement, it can be hard to remember that not all police officers are bad. But the opposite proves just as true, however unpleasant the reality: not all police officers are good. In fact, a recent study released by the Pew Research Center reinforces this belief: nearly 50 percent of black people have "very little" confidence in local police to treat blacks and whites equally. The report also found that "70 percent of blacks say police departments around the country do a poor job in holding officers accountable for misconduct."
Turnstile jumping is on the rise in New York City subways. Today, the New York Daily News published an analysis of data that detailed the increase in arrests for fare-beating busts made by officers. In the last five years, turnstile jumping apprehensions have ballooned by 69 percent—24,747 arrests were made last year as opposed to 14,681 in 2008 —and will likely increase in 2014.
It's been a bloody, bloody summer here in New York City. The death of Staten Island resident Eric Garner at the hands of NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo in July—Pantaleo used a chokehold to restrain an asthmatic Garner, which resulted in death—may be the most public and widespread incident of police brutality this year, but it hasn't been the only one. Rosan Miller, Jahmil-El Cuffee, Stephanie Maldonado, and Denise Stewart were all violently harassed and assaulted by NYPD officers within the last few weeks. And those are just the reported cases that caught media attention. On Tuesday, Internal Affairs announced an investigation into the department involving a case where four "officers repeatedly struck a shackled and handcuffed patient on a stretcher before the New York Fire Department EMTs intervened to end the beating."
"This isn't a race issue." That's the most common response I've gotten in the past three weeks when talking about police brutality. And while that is partially true —this isn't just a racial issue—blacks and Latinos do face a greater threat from the police force here in New York City. That the most recent incidents of police brutality circulating in the media—Eric Garner, Stephanie Maldonado, Jahmil-El Cuffee, Rosan Miller, Denise Stewart—involve people of color is no coincidence.