Who Protects New Yorkers from the NYPD?
Nicholas Heyward is a haunted man. He is one of many New Yorkers who have lost loved ones to the police. Nineteen years ago, Heyward’s son was playing with a toy gun in the stairwell of a Boerum Hill housing project in Brooklyn, New York, when he was fatally shot by an NYPD officer. Nicholas Jr. was 13 years old when he was killed.
“I heard Nick say, ‘We’re playing,’ and then I heard a boom,” Katrell Fowler, a friend of Nick Jr.’s told the New York Times shortly after the incident. Yet blame was placed on the boy’s toy rifle, instead of officer Brian George, who fired his very real revolver into the child’s abdomen.
The tragedy Heyward suffered has turned him into an activist. These days he spends much of his time calling for the Justice Department to review cases of alleged abuse committed by the NYPD, including that of his son’s. Heyward claims he had a deposition taken by his attorney in which officer George contradicts reasons cited by Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes—currently up for reelection and the subject of a new reality show on CBS—for closing the case.
“Hynes said the stairwell was dimly lit, it was not. Hynes said George was responding to a 911 call, he was not.” Heyward has written several letters to Hynes over the years, he said, without receiving a response. In 2001, he was granted a meeting with the Brooklyn DA, after confronting him at a press conference. Heyward pleaded his case in Hynes’s office but nothing came of it. The DA’s office declined to comment on Heyward’s allegations when I called them yesterday, saying that since the case is more than ten years old, the office did not have the case’s file on hand. But for Heyward, the the pain of the slaying of his 13-year-old boy are still very fresh.
“I want the officer who murdered my son to go to jail,” he said to me, dressed all in black and holding a school-portrait photograph of his son over his heart at a protest last Friday in front of the Federal Court building in Manhattan’s Foley Square to demand the Justice Department appoint an independent prosecutor to scrutinize the death of his son and those of other’s killed by the NYPD.
Heyward is not alone in his suspicion of foul play in Hynes executions of justice. The DA has recently come under great scrutiny for spending years refusing to review convictions that he and his predecessor obtained through working with a homicide detective of such dubious repute. Last week, the Hynes office was forced to reopen 50 cases in which NYPD Detective Louis Scarcella was involved, after the Times uncovered that he obtained false confessions, lied, and relied on testimony from a single, crack-addicted prostitute to obtain a number of convictions. While families of those convicted through Scarlla’s police plan to start bird-dogging Hynes, others, like Heyward, have vowed to win justice for those they will never see again.
Cops’ Military Tools Aren’t Just for Catching Terrorists
above: A SWAT tank parked in the Boston Commons on April 16, 2013. Photo via Flickr user Vjeran Pavic
On April 19, a million Bostonians stayed locked down in their homes while 9,000 cops combed the metro area for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving suspect in the marathon bombing. In Watertown, cops went door-to-door and removed homeowners at gunpoint before searching their houses. Tsarnaev was found in that town around 8 PM by the owner of the boat sitting in his backyard that the 19-year-old suspected terrorist had chosen as his hiding place.
The lockdown was something new. Not serial killers, not cop-killing cop Christopher Dorner’s LA rampage, not even 9/11 shut down a city like this. Still, Bostonians seemed fine with staying inside for the most part. Cops found their guy relatively quickly, and the city partied in the streets afterwards. During the manhunt, a tough-looking officer even brought two gallons of milk to a family with young children, serving as a perfect meme to refute any accusations of jackbooted thuggery. Even some normally anti-police libertarians urged restraint in reacting to the manhunt.
What shouldn’t go unmentioned, however, is that while the circumstances were unique, the military muscle displayed by law enforcement is hardly reserved for responding to rare acts of terrorism. Videos from the lockdown—particularly this piece of paranoia-porn, in which a SWAT team orders a family out of their home at gunpoint and one of the officers screams “get away from the window!” at the videographer—either look frightening or grimly necessary, according to your views. But haven’t we seen displays like this before?
NYC Cops Will Arrest You for Carrying Condoms
The woman asked Officer Hill why he was stopping her.
She wore jean shorts and a tight red shirt and had stood outdoors for half an hour. She’d had a conversation with a passing man. When Officer Hill searched her bag, he found a condom and $1.25.
He arrested her for “loitering for the purpose of prostitution.” On the supporting deposition, he filled in the blanks for what she was wearing and how many condoms she had.
When I read over the deposition in the PROS Network’s Public Health Crisis (PDF), a study of how the NYPD arrests folks for carrying condoms, I thought of all the tight shirts I’d worn while idling outside on delicious spring days. I thought, She sounds like me. She sounds like my friends.
The NYPD will arrest you for carrying condoms, but that depends entirely on who you are. If you’re a middle-class white girl like me, you’re probably safe. But say you’re a sex worker or a queer kid kicked out of your home. Say you’re a trans woman out for dinner with your boyfriend. Maybe you’ve been arrested as a sex worker before. Maybe some quota-filling cop thinks you look like a whore.
Then you’re not safe at all.
Like most laughably cruel tricks of the justice system, you probably wouldn’t know that you could be arrested for carrying condoms until it happened to you. Monica Gonzalez is a nurse and a grandmother. In 2008, Officer Sean Spencer arrested her for prostitution while she was on the way to the ER with an asthma attack. The condom he found on her turned out to be imaginary. Gonzalez sued the city after the charges were dropped. But if the condom were real, why should she have even been arrested at all?
Will Anonymous Retaliate for Christopher Dorner’s Death?
Yesterday, a man who wasprobably Christopher Dorner barricaded himself in a remote cabin near Big Bear Lake, California, after shooting two police officers and killing one, before the cabin burned to the ground. Throughout the media’s coverage of this final showdown between the LAPD and the man believed to be Dorner, the hacktivist group Anonymous was stirring a pot of skepticism to an audience of more than 883,000 Twitter followers on their @YourAnonNews account, a following that is more than half of the Associated Press’s primary Twitter account.
It is not surprising that Anonymous would come to the defense of Christopher Dorner. For one, anyone who has read Christopher’s manifesto will know that his rage appears to stem from the way he was allegedly treated during his time in the LAPD. He describes racist harassment from fellow cops, and writes about his firing from the force after he made a complaint that an officer kicked a homeless man, a complaint that a judge dismissed. He also accused another officer of jumping onto a 70-year-old woman and twisting the “thin elastic skin” of her arm, saying that that same officer found humor in “draw[ing] blood from suspects and arrestees.”
In his manifesto, Dorner insists that he has, “exhausted all available means at obtaining my name back. This is my last resort… The LAPD has suppressed the truth and it has now lead [sic] to deadly consequences.”
Anonymous has always come to the defense of whistleblowers like Bradley Manning, who allegedly leaked information from the military to Wikleaks; Aaron Swartz, the co-founder of Reddit who leaked academic documents and may also have contributed to Wikileaks; and Barett Brown, who is facing 100 years in prison and did detailed research into the inner workings of American security firms. But of course, a murderous ex-cop is a lot harder to defend than these nonviolent liberators of information.
It’s not a problem of a few bad apples, as some people suggest, but instead a matter of irresponsible leadership, a pathological law enforcement culture, and a public ready and willing to sacrifice notions of justice, fairness and humanity for … what exactly?
SILENT BUT DEADLY: SCHOOL COPS ARREST STUDENTS FOR TALKING TOO LOUDLY, GRAFFITI, AND… FARTING
Fourteen-year old Kaleb Winston was wearing a “graffiti-patterned backpack” when the Salt Lake City police’s gang unit rounded him and more than a dozen other students up one December school day in 2010. The bi-racial freshman, who at the time held down jobs in the school cafeteria and as a basketball referee, was questioned and then photographed holding a sign reading: “My name is Kaleb Winston and I am a gang tagger.” Found guilty of nothing, the students’ personal information was nonetheless added to a “gang database.”
The National Rifle Association’s call to place armed police officers in schools nationwide in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut massacre has been derided as “revolting, tone-deaf” (Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy) and even a “completely dumbass idea” (Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter). It is all of those things. But what most reports neglect to mention is the fact that armed police are already present in many schools.
“I agree that the NRA’s suggestion is absurd” says Aaron Kupchik, a University of Delaware sociologist whose 2010 book Homeroom Security: School Discipline in an Age of Fear examines the now-commonplace presence of armed police in schools nationwide. “The public is missing the point that we’ve already made schools more into police zones over the past 20 years.”
More than a third of American sheriffs’ departments and nearly half of all police departments have officers assigned to local schools, according to Department of Justice statistics from early last decade. Students today are arrested in school for offenses that include talking back to a police officer, doodling on a desk with an erasable marker, farting, and being an eight-year old throwing a temper tantrum. In other words: criminalizing childhood misbehavior.
In 2011, Southeastern Washington high school students were told to leave class so that a dog could smell their backpacks to see if they had drugs. This far-from-atypical search did not, according to the ACLU, uncover any dangerous drug dealers, nor was it based on any reasonable suspicion that students were using drugs: of two students singled out for a “more invasive search and questioning,” one had, apparently, a marijuana pipe; the other was drug-free. No other drugs were found. And even if they had been…Eviscerating fundamental civil liberties seems like a high price to pay in order to track down a pot-smoking teenager.
Listen As Cops Threaten Young Men During a Stop-and-Frisk
In the course of the two-minute recording, the officers give no legally valid reason for the stop. - by Derek Mead
Motherboard’s piece about stop-and-frisk reminded me of The New Inquiry’s great Evan Calder Williams essay “Objects of Derision”. Specifically:
“A cop is tautologically specified as “untouchable” by the same order of law that he enforces, the same one that declares individual subjects to be no concern of the police. Because the declared rules of engagement have different conditions for those involved (for example, for you and an officer on the same street), an exchange between nominal equals is utterly impossible. The possibility of a struggle, conversation, encounter, or discourse on terms that apply mutually to both parties is denied. The two cannot both be understood as subjects in the same register. They are incommensurable.”
VICE: What inspired you to write a story about a dog-fucking cop?
Sam Humphries: It came from a logical place. I used to read a blog called dolphinsex.org. It was written by a guy who claimed to have an ongoing love affair with a dolphin in the Gulf of Mexico. Two things struck me: a) How do you go about having sexual intercourse with a dolphin? and b) Was this a two-way street—a physical and emotional relationship between two intelligent mammals?