Photos by Ol’ Skool Sean
Eric Garner and the Plague of Police Brutality Against Black Men
If you haven’t heard about Eric Garner yet, let me fill you in. He was a 43-year-old father of six who lived in Staten Island, and he died in the street on Thursday after as many as four New York police officers choked him and slammed his head on the ground. The NYPD told the Associated Press that they stopped Garner because he was selling untaxed cigarettes, something he’d been arrested for before. However, witnesses who spoke with local news website Staten Island Live have basically said that’s bullshit. Ramsey Orta, who was on the scene and shot a now infamous video that is making the rounds, can be heard in the clip saying that all Garner had done to get bothered by the police was break up a fight.
In the video, Garner denies any wrongdoing and asks why he’s being hassled. “Every time you see me you want to mess with me,” he says in an exasperated tone that most men of color across this country can relate to. Garner, who was 400 pounds and has been described by people who knew him as a “gentle giant,” suffered from chronic asthma and police claim his death was the result of a heart attack suffered during the arrest.
Police say that Garner made a “fighting stance” and resisted arrest. Which, based on the video clip, is complete nonsense, considering we can see him pleading to the officers, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe!” before going completely silent as several officers pile on him.
The video of Garner’s death is disgusting, but I can’t say I was shocked or even outraged the first time I watched it. At this point, as someone who’s read and written about some of these stories time and time again—and who’s had firsthand experiences with the way cops treat black males—this kind of reprehensible shit is not surprising at all. After so many cases like Amadou Diallo and Sean Bell, you start to feel desensitized by the seemingly insurmountable injustice that plagues communities of color.
Meet the Pier Kids: The Homeless LGBT Youth of New York City
If you’re gay in New York City, you’ve probably been to Christopher Street in the West Village to get drunk or visit the historic-landmark-turned-gay-tourist-trap known as the Stonewall Inn. Chances are that you’ve also seen what director Elegance Bratton calls the “pier kids”—the homeless LGBT youth who congregate at the Christopher Street Pier, looking for everything from food to drugs to potential johns. According to statistics from the National Coalition for the Homeless, 20 percent of homeless youth are gay or transgender (roughly 320,000 to 400,000 young people according to one conservative estimate).
Filmmaker Elegance Bratton was one of these kids for ten years. To teach his family about his experience, he has spent three years filming the lives of three homeless kids—Krystal, DeSean, and Casper—for a documentary called Pier Kids: The Life. Recently, I went to the pier to sit down and talk to Krystal, one the film’s stars, about the movie, the Christopher Street Pier, and being homeless in New York City.
VICE: How did you end up homeless in New York?
Krystal: It was a choice between going back to Las Vegas or staying in Philadelphia. I went to my brother’s house in Philadelphia after being kicked out of the house at 16 by my mother. After I had spent six months there—he had a family, and I didn’t want to impose my lifestyle on his kids—I just went out on my own after that. After two or three years, I came to New York City and found the pier.
Once you arrived in New York, how did you discover the pier and Christopher Street?
I had heard about some of the history about the riots, but I never really knew what the street was. But when I got here, I went to the food stamp office, and they gave me a pamphlet that told me that there was an LGBT community center that had programs. Some of the kids there said they were going to the pier after some of the support groups, so I went with them. It gave me a sense of being back on the west coast, with the water and people just hanging out, playing Spades and talking to friends, just finding some sense of normalcy in a situation that wasn’t normal.
In the finale of Keith Hufnagel’s Epicly Later’d episode, Keith juggles the responsibilities of pro skating and starting HUF—the brand that began as a backup plan, but took on a life of its own. He also looks back on some of the people who helped him most over the course of his career, and begins to do the same for the next generation of skaters.
You Can Kill Anyone with Your Car, As Long As You Don’t Really Mean
On May 29 of last year, Bobby Cann left the Groupon offices in Chicago, where he worked as an editorial tools specialist. Traveling north on his bicycle, he rode up wide, sunny Larrabee Street. As he entered the intersection at Clybourn Avenue, a Mercedes SUV traveling over 50 miles per hour slammed into him from behind. The impact threw Cann into the air. He landed unconscious, blood streaming out of his mouth and his left leg severed. Bystanders, including a registered nurse, rushed to help. Shortly after transport to a nearby hospital, he died.
What makes Cann’s story notable among the 700 or so bicyclists who are hit and killed in America each year is that San Hamel faces charges in Cann’s death. According to a recent report by the League of American Bicyclists, barely one in five drivers who end bicyclists’ lives are charged with a crime. The low prosecution rate isn’t a secret, and has inspired many towonder whether plowing into a cyclist with a car is a low-risk way to commit homicide.
The Cann case is an exception that proves the rule. “The criminal case is sort of about the outrageous nature of what happened,” Todd Smith, a civil attorney for Cann’s family, concedes. “[San Hamel was] driving under the influence on the city streets where things are congested, and [there was] the complete lack of braking of any sort, the enormous impact of a car of thousands of pounds going in excess of 50 miles per hour, hitting just the human body.” San Hamel’s blood alcohol level was 0.127 at the time of the crash.
Bicyclists who pushed for prosecution also helped the cause. Last summer, over 5,000 people signed a petition asking state’s attorney Anita Alvarez to refuse a plea bargain from San Hamel. Local activist Robert Kastigar, who started the petition, says he believes it encouraged the state to pursue the case. A representative of Chicago advocacy group Active Transportation Alliance says the involvement of activists is likely to influence stiffer sentencing.
Nationwide, incidents like Cann’s often result in misdemeanor charges, tickets, or nothing. Leah Shahum from the San Francisco Bike Coalition told the New York Times last year that her organization does “not know of a single case of a cyclist fatality in which the driver was prosecuted, except for D.U.I. or hit-and-run.” Kristin Smith, also of the SF Coalition, says that “Last year, four people were hit and killed in San Francisco and no charges were ever brought,” including for a collision captured on video that showed the driver was at fault. Last year in New York City, the bike advocacy organization Time’s Up pushed for changes in police investigations of bicyclist deaths by painting chalk body outlines on streets, marked with words familiar from NYPD reports: “No Criminality Suspected.”
I Got Drunk at the Sesame Street Gala and Met Cookie Monster
When you’re an aspiring journalist/writer/reporter/editor/media person, you’ll take whatever job comes your way. Some of those jobs are red carpet reporting at galas, movies premieres, fashion week parties—you get the idea. It sounds so much fancier than it actually is. It’s the kind of scene that leaves you contemplating your self-worth as you head back to your apartment across from a U-Haul depot. I know this, because I used to do this.
Luckily, I work for VICE now, and we don’t give a shit whether or not Barbara Walters had plastic surgery. Since I gave up those morally deprecating days, I’ve managed to ignored any red carpet invites from publicists and avoid all the rich people who say “GEY-luh” instead of “gal-uh”—until I got invited to the Sesame Street gala last week. I wanted to go, because I wanted to know Cookie Monster’s weight-loss secrets given his obvious issues with gluttony. And what did Elmo think of Katy Perry’s tits?
I grabbed our Photo Editor, Matthew Leifheit, and headed to Cipriani’s in Midtown, New York. I can’t lie; I was excited, but I knew what was in store: Yes, we’d get to go to a really fancy party with really fancy people in really fancy clothes, but depending on the publicist working that night, we potentially risked trespassing charges, if we walked past the velvet ropes.
Epicly Later’d – Keith Hufnagel, Part 1
Part one of the series is a look back at Keith’s formative days in early 90s New York City. Before HUF, and before everyone and their grandma had a pair of weed socks, he was just a kid, busting his ass to get sponsored.
To make this episode we sifted through a treasure trove of Hi8 and VHS tapes, including raw Keenan Milton and Gino Iannucci footage and an (almost) never-before-seen Fun Skateboards video. We hope you like it.
My Homie Sells Homies
In 1996 Bradley Ellison, a.k.a. Sugarman, started Sugar Daddies vending company in Staten Island. He placed thousands of machines throughout New York City in pizza parlors, supermarkets, and corner shops.
Due largely in part to a cash economy, his business flourished, shaking down every neighborhood kid for their milk money in exchange for a sticky hand, bouncy ball, or a handful of candies.
In 2004, he finally made it big with the “Homies” series (arguably the most popular vending toy of all time), grossing over $1 million in sales.
We traveled to New York City’s forgotten borough, Staten Island, to find out how Sugarman created a small vending empire—and how he subsequently lost it—one quarter at a time.