Everyone’s Tweeting Photos of Police Brutality Thanks to the NYPD’s Failed Hashtag
Twitter is a cool website where you can type any old thing into a box and senpecid it out into the ether for the entire internet to read. Some people use it to joke around, some people use it to be like, “HEY INJUSTICE IS HAPPENING, WHOA #GETINVOLVED” and some people use it in order to roleplay as characters from Sonic the Hedgehog. It’s a lot of fun, especially if you like heated arguments with total strangers.
Large institutions like corporations and government agencies use Twitter too, usually pretty badly. “Hey, we’re a pizza company, send us pictures of you eating our pizza and hashtag them #pizzapics” is an example of a typical lousy tweet from one of these accounts. Generally institutions try to drum up something vague called “social engagement”—basically they want to get people tweeting good stuff about them so other people see those tweets and, I guess, come to think good thoughts about the institution who started the engagement campaign. The New York Police Department was probably thinking they could do one of those social engagement thingies when they launched the hashtag #MyNYPD with this tweet:
What the person running the Twitter account probably failed to realize is that most people’s interactions with the cops fall into a few categories:
1. You are talking to them to get help after you or someone you knew was robbed, beaten, murdered, or sexually assaulted.
2. You are getting arrested.
3. You are getting beaten by the police.
2013: The Year in Bad Cops
Most Racist Police Department: New York City
The country’s biggest police force would be hard-pressed not to wind up with some very awkward incidents—when you have 34,000 officers, some of them are going to mess up. But a few bad apples can’t be blamed for the NYPD’s stop and frisk program or its CIA-style monitoring of Muslims. For all the cops’ spying on mosques, they produced no useful tips, and stop and frisk didn’t lead to many arrests either. Between January 2002 and June 2012, nearly 4.5 million New Yorkers were stopped on the street and searched for drugs or weapons, and nearly 90 percent weren’t doing anything illegal. The majority of these searches were performed on black or hispanic individuals, giving the whole thing a strong stink of prejudice. Though the policy’s supporters—including lame-duck Mayor Mike Bloomberg—claim this makes the city safer and that minorities aren’t singled out because of their skin color, civil liberties activists begged to differ and sued in 2010. In August, a federal judge ordered reforms and oversight to the officially racist policy, but two months later she was dismissed from the case for being biased against the city. Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has pledged to reform the practice once he takes office in January, even if some cops oppose his efforts.
Most Kafkaesque Definition of “Assault”: New York City, Again
A Manhattan grand jury, faced with the case of officers who shot two bystanders during an effort to apprehend an unarmed mentally unstable man in October, have decided assault charges are warranted, which makes sense given that, well, two people were shot. Except they have declined to charge the officers who shot the women, instead blaming the unstable man who had been darting in between cars and causing a bit of a scene on the day in question. He forced the cops to pull out their weapons and fire, apparently, and also made them miss. (By the way, he was eventually brought down by a Taser.)
Reverend Billy Talen Faces a Year in Prison for Protesting in a Chase Bank
At 1 PM on September 12, performance artist Reverend Billy Talen and his Stop Shopping Choir walked into a JP Morgan Chase asset management bank on 52nd Street. and Park Avenue in Manhattan. Forty-five minutes later Bill and his musical director, Nehemiah Luckett, were getting handcuffed on an F-train subway platform by the NYPD with charges of rioting, menacing, and disorderly conduct. Now, Billy and Nehemiah are facing a year in prison.
In the complaint filed by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, the bank’s manager, Robert Bongiorno, said he saw “the defendants, along with approximately eight other people, [were] running about the bank while wearing frog masks.” The frog people jumped on furniture and “repeatedly ran up to the faces of the bank’s employees and customers while screaming, in sum and substance, ‘WE ARE COMING FOR YOU!’”
Robert—who was reached by phone but refused to comment for this article—thought the bank was being robbed and, according to the DA, feared for his safety. He also told authorities that he “observed at least one customer or employee inside of the bank break into tears.”
What Happens After Police Shoot Innocent Bystanders?
On Wednesday, a judge ordered the city of Torrance, California, to release the name of the police officer who shot at surfer David Perdue during the February manhunt for former LAPD cop Christopher Dorner, who at the time was out to murder as many of his ex-colleagues as he could. At the time the officer came after Perdue, Dorner had already shot two sheriff’s deputies, killing one, and gunned down the daughter of a LAPD officer and her boyfriend.
Fearful that Dorner might go after a local LA police official next, Torrance cops pulled over Perdue on February 7, asked him a few questions, then let him drive away. A few seconds later a second cop car rammed his truck, and an unnamed officer fired three shots, all of which (thankfully) missed. Perdue’s attorney also alleges that he was dragged from his vehicle afterwards. Dorner, by the way, was black and Perdue is white.
Perdue wasn’t the only victim of the police and their sudden inability to see color during this manhunt. A pair of newspaper carriers—47-year-old Margie Carranza and her 71-year-old mother, Emma Hernandez—were fired on by LAPD officers that same day because their pickup truck apparently looked like vaguely like Dorner’s. That incident provoked a backlash against the LAPD after Hernandez was hit in the back twice and her daughter suffered a hand injury. In fact, Torrance police said they were responding to the report of these mistaken shots when they fired on Perdue. The mother and daughter received a combined $4.2 million from the LAPD for their troubles, while Perdue has refused to settle with the city for the $500,000 they offered him.
We Spoke to Innocent Men Who Were Stopped-and-Frisked
Recently, Steve Ferdman commented on a Reddit thread about stop-and-frisk. We emailed him, and he agreed to tell us more about what had happened to him.
When were you stopped-and-frisked?
Steve Ferdman: Last summer.
What happened when the police approached you?
A plain-clothes cop tapped me on the shoulder from behind and said, “Hi.” Three other plain-clothes cops surrounded me and pulled their badges over their shirts—they were tucked away as they initially approached. One reached into my pocket grabbing my Leatherman pocket tool. They then asked me where I was from, if I had ID, and why I had or needed a Leatherman pocket tool. Bewildered, I explained that I often use the tools to tune the carburetor on my motorbike and to take the seat off my bicycle when I park outside. Then, I asked for clarification as to why he was reaching into my pockets without my consent for something that is readily available at 100 percent of hardware stores in America. Rather than answering, they quickly finished running my ID, handed it back to me along with my multi-tool, and said, “Have a nice day.” They then all stood there mean-mugging me as I walked away.
Do you think stop-and-frisk is racial profiling?
With regards to stop-and-frisk, it’s obviously a racial profiling issue. I think people would be less offended by stop-and-frisk if it were enforced in all areas equally—I’d actually have a blast watching tourists and wealthy folks get stopped-and-frisked. If you can arrest a black teenager for a dime bag of weed, why not stop an investment banker and lock him up for the bag of cocaine in his pocket? Sadly, you’ll never see random searches on Madison Avenue. It’s an uptown and outer-boroughs thing—which is why it’s deplorable.
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Ray Kelly’s Path to Becoming America’s Next Big Brother
On Friday, Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat who’s been in the Senate for 15 years and in Congress for 32, recommended the appointment of Ray Kelly, the longest-serving police commissioner in New York City history, to take over the US Department of Homeland Security after the just-resigned Janet Napolitano leaves. Pretty much immediately a chorus went up praising the idea of NYC’s top cop taking the reins of the country’s most dystopian-sounding agency. “Kelly should have been Obama’s pick the first time around—a confidence-inspiring law-enforcement leader with federal experience,” wrote John Avlon in the Daily Beast, a sentiment that’s been more or less echoed by a host of prominent officials. “He’s so professional and so dogged,” Juan Zarate, who was a top national security advisor in the George W. Bush administration, told me. “In some ways he’s the perfect choice.”
In other ways, he sounds like a nightmare.
Why would we want the country’s top security post to be filled by the guy who organized a sprawling, illegal program to spy on New York City’s Muslim community and who has overseen the emergence of a stop-and-frisk regime whose blatant racial bias is a national embarrassment and potential propaganda tool for our enemies? Whether it’s directing the Transportation Security Agency and our airports, managing immigration and border enforcement, or just generally having his way with a multi-billion dollar budget, the opportunities for abuse in a Kelly-run DHS are terrifying to contemplate.
Given that he has already worked closely with the CIA on controversial programs in New York and plenty of cities abroad, it’s hard to imagine Kelly being a force for restraint at a time when the Feds’ surveillance powers are under scrutiny from the public and the media. His returning to DC, where in the Clinton years he served as US Customs commissioner (among other posts), would reinforce the already widespread perception that the Obama administration is indifferent to civil libertarian criticism of its national security policy. In many ways, Kelly is even more authoritarian than the Obama Justice Department—when Attorney General Eric Holder recommended that the NYPD have an outside authority monitor the stop-and-frisk program, Kelly publicly “blasted” (to use the New York Post’s phrasing) his old buddy Holder.
I Got Raped, Then My Problems Started
Above: One of my cartoons that, apparently, make me a less credible witness to my own rape.
According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, one out of six American women have been the victims of rape or attempted rape. I am one of those women. I don’t think my story is particularly rare or special. It happens all the time—again according to RAINN, a rape occurs in the US every two minutes in this country—and just like 97 percent of rapists, my attacker walked free. I would like to share my personal account of what it is like to file a rape accusation though, so if you haven’t gone through the process you can learn about all the fun that comes with it. (I’m sure a lot of people, unfortunately, already have a pretty good idea of what it’s like.)
I’ll start at the very beginning: In early October of 2010, I went to meet my friends at a bar in Park Slope, Brooklyn. It was around 10 PM. There was a guy hanging out in my little cluster of people who I wrongly assumed was a friend of my friends. He was socializing pretty well with the group, as if he knew a few of us, and I didn’t give it a second thought. I was drunk. There was some cocaine use going on. While I was outside smoking a cigarette, the guy came out for a smoke too, so we talked. I didn’t flirt with him—I don’t really know how to flirt, and anyway, I wasn’t attracted to this guy in the slightest. He was about five-foot-nine with a thin yet muscular build and looked like he might be of Hispanic or Italian descent. Later, I’d describe him to the cops that way.
There was a disconnected look in his eyes, and at first I figured he was just shy and trying to connect desperately to others through drugs, as many people do. He didn’t flirt with me either, nor did he show any romantic or sexual interest in me. He did ask me if I wanted to do a bump of coke in his car, rather than waiting in line for the bathroom inside. His car was right in front of us, and even though I was nervous, I climbed in. As soon as the doors were shut, he locked the doors and started the car. I demanded to be let out, and as he started driving I told him to turn back and that my friends were waiting for me. He said, “Don’t worry. I’m turning back,” with a stoic expression carved into his face. He didn’t turn back. I kept asking where he was taking me, and soon he stopped responding.
He brought me into his spotlessly clean and creepy apartment where porn was already playing on multiple monitors placed around the room. I told him repeatedly that I didn’t want to have sex with him and that I wanted to go back to my friends. There was no ambiguity about the situation at all. I spent a lot of time pushing him off me. He threatened to kill me. He punched me. He pulled my hair when I tried to get away. Every time I told him to stop he slapped me in the face. He repeatedly called me a bitch and a whore. He ordered me to shut the fuck up. I ended up begging for my life. I even offered him money if he would just please not hurt me. The worst part of the ordeal was having to look at the massive “666” tattoo on his lower abdomen. I ran away as soon as I felt I had the opportunity to do so. He chased after me.
I didn’t really know what to do about the whole thing. I was scared to go to the police because it’s common knowledge that rape victims are often treated like shit, especially if they aren’t as virtuous as the Virgin Mary. I knew I’d be made to feel guilty about my intoxication, I knew I’d be asked about my misguided decision to willingly get into the car, and I already felt guilty and stupid about those things. A friend of mine convinced me that reporting it would be the right thing to do anyway. Her advice was to look “as broken as possible. Don’t wear black eye makeup and dress stylish like you usually do.”
Now, I think I look like I’m about 12 years old without makeup, and it makes me feel naked, but I went to the police station looking sad and makeup-less about 24 hours later. The cops were nice and cool about the whole thing as I filed a report, then I went to the hospital and got a rape kit. Afterward, I was interviewed by a detective who kept asking me about what I was wearing at the time and who told me that this case would probably never make it anywhere because I was intoxicated. Instead of focusing on what was done to me, most of his questions focused on why I didn’t fight back harder and run away sooner. The answer to both was because I was afraid and operating on a kind of autopilot—I never imagined anyone would accuse me of failing to get away.
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.
'No Condom as Evidence' Legislation Up for Debate in Albany
It’s the first Thursday of the month, and as per tradition, a cadre of affable, semirowdy hos have filled every seat in the Lower East Side’s Happy Ending Lounge.
Shivering from the residual cold, the crowd—pretty, riot grrrl types in Daria bangs and Doc Martens—lets out a collective giggle as Fiona Apple’s “Criminal” floats through the loudspeakers. “Tonight, we’re playing ho anthems,” the host explains, drowning out Fiona’s molasses admission that she’s been a bad, baaad girl.
The evening’s theme is “Pretty Woman Redux,” part of a monthly storytelling series from the sex-workers’ rights group, the Red Umbrella Project. For two hours, a handful of New York’s most articulate “hos” (as they endearingly call themselves), share intimate, industry tales.
As in past sessions, donations from the event will benefit a cause vital to every sex worker in the city: banning the New York Police Department’s well-documented practice of using condom possession as evidence of prostitution.
It’s a battle health rights advocates have fought for years. In every legislative session since 1999, proponents of a “No Condoms as Evidence” bill have asked state lawmakers to squelch the practice, citing evidence that it’s forced sex workers to stop carrying and using condoms all together. In every session, the bill has died on the committee floor.
In recent months, however, efforts to engage lawmakers have accelerated, thanks to studies released in 2012 by the Pros Network and Human Rights Watch—two Manhattan-based organizations that say the policy has led to a serious public-health crisis.
In the Human Rights study, among a slew of other anecdotes, a sex worker named Anastasia L., claims she had unprotected sex “many times” to avoid the risk of arrest.
Kimani Gray and Two Weeks of Struggle in Flatbush, Brooklyn
“This is about Kimani Gray!” interrupted Fatimah Shakur, the most vocal of a loose network of organizers who have been holding nightly demonstrations in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn since the 16-year-old boy was murdered by the NYPD on March 9th. A representative from the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) was attempting to tie Gray’s shooting into a larger context of police repression and economic exploitation, making the case for revolution in the United States. Shakur was not having it. “Revolution is alright,” she conceded, getting on the microphone, “but this is about Kimani Gray!” RCP members jeered. This was the impassioned tone of Sunday’s daytime demonstration—a march down Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn— which was attended by around 75 protestors, 25 reporters, and literally a thousand cops.
Daily demonstrations in the neighborhood began two weeks ago, after Kimani Gray was gunned down by two plainclothes cops with lengthy histories of misconduct, who ambushed the young man on the street. The cops jumped out of a vehicle and discharged seven shots, three into his back. The NYPD maintains Gray brandished a weapon. Many friends and neighbors, including an eyewitness, dispute this claim. The NYPD has attempted to smear Gray by portraying him as a gang member with a criminal record. Meanwhile, Gray’s school principal wrote his parents a heartfelt letter, portraying the boy as a bright, motivated student and a sweet young man. These are the kinds of discussions that follow when the police “kill you twice,” as the saying goes: once in body, once in reputation. The shooting of a young, black male by the NYPD is an occurrence so common in New York City that few could have predicted what happened next.