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.
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.
Partying with the Secret Police in Communist Romania
Illustration by Michael Shaeffer
Vacation options in communist Romania were pretty limited. When Labor Day, the big party holiday of the year, rolled around on May 1, many Romanians traveled to Costinesti, the only seaside resort for young people in the country. To reach it, they had to take the train to the last stop and walk another two miles, or hitch a ride on a farmer’s cart. Most of the country was poor at the time, so many travelers slept on the roofs of rented huts; the only sources of heat were campfires people made on the beach.
There were just two discos in Costinesti, and for some archaic reason, dancing was only allowed in them from 1 to 3 PM and 6 to 10 PM. Romanian beer was sold exclusively; other kinds of booze were only available at a store that catered to foreigners. And, of course, everyone was being watched all the time by government minders.
Sorin Lupascu, who DJed in Costines‚ti at the time, recalls, “You could drink until you fell on your face. The regime never messed with the parties, but the resort was filled with secret police who were scouting for new employees.” Government restrictions caused other problems too, according to Natalia, a math teacher who took teens on field trips to the beach: “The whole class could end up pregnant because condoms were illegal. At night I had to poke through bushes with a broom to stop them from having sex.”
After the fall of the Iron Curtain and ensuing revolution in 1989, young people had more options for partying. Many of them started going to Neptun, a resort town about 50 miles down the coast. Mariana, a hotel receptionist there between 1987 and 1996, described the change: “After the Revolution, people saw the first of May as a day when you could do whatever you wanted. Also, booze was on the market.” Things started to get wild: One year, Neptun’s Hotel Romanta was gutted by a massive fight among a group of friends who had rented nearly 70 percent of the rooms. Teo, a gynecologist who saw that brawl, told me, “The cops didn’t have the guts to break them up. They watched while beds, closets, and tables flew out of the windows.” The next year a confrontation between the customers of two pubs across the road from each other resulted in a brutal fight in the middle of the street that ended only when ambulances arrived.
Other destinations have also become popular in recent years, like the village of Vama Veche— where hippies laze about, ransack tents, fuck on the beach, and hit one another in the face—and Mamaia, where club kids celebrate their holiday freedom by robbing people and committing random acts of vandalism. And while these might not sound like the greatest of times, at least the secret police are nowhere to be found.
Need more partying?
Never Party with the Brick Squad
A Party’s Not a Party If You Don’t Punch a Fish
Historical Party Fouls
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?
Chipping Away at Stop-and-Frisk
Fifty-one-year-old Charles Bradley finished his shift as a security guard and took the subway to visit his fiancée. The two made plans to meet the day before. Charles had moved out of the apartment they shared on 1527 Taylor Ave., in the Bronx after a disagreement. It might have been a night of reconciliation. But instead, it was a night spent interrogated in a van, strip-searched at the station house, and called “a fucking animal,” thanks to the NYPD and Operation Clean Halls, which allows police officers to patrol private apartment buildings in high crime areas in New York City since 1991.
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.
The Snowman Vs. the Cops
Photo by Danny Ghitis
There’s a rumor on the internet that this photo of longtime MMA heavyweight and avowed anarchist Jeff “The Snowman” Monson squaring off with members of the St. Paul Police Department is actually a picture of Monson conducting a grappling clinic for members of the St. Paul Police Department. To Monson, the rumor is ridiculous, not only because he was there, outside the Target Center during the 2008 Republican National Convention, when the picture was taken but also because police don’t show up for grappling lessons in full riot gear. Also, if you look closely, you can see the cop in the middle has his hand on his Taser, another thing police in seminars don’t do. Monson says the cop was ready to use it, too.
“We were basically blockading the street,” Monson remembers. “And when the busloads of Republican delegates were being unloaded we just wanted to prevent them from going in the Target Center, basically making a human wall. The riot police swept us up and pushed us into a park and then arrested us for a) trespassing, which was strange because we were on a public street, and b) inciting a riot, which was strange because there wasn’t any riot. They had arrested the group of us and I was coming up to the front saying, ‘I’m coming through; you can arrest me.’ I was confronted by the cops saying, ‘No, you’re not coming through.’ I was saying, ‘What right do you have? There’s nobody here rioting. It’s peaceful. Nobody’s throwing rocks, nobody’s doing anything.’ They said, ‘You’re threatening us,’ and I said, ‘How am I threatening you? I’m unarmed. I’m in a tank top. We don’t have any weapons. We’re not doing anything.’ And I said, ‘How can we be trespassing? These delegates have no more right—it’s a public street. How can they walk on the street and we can’t walk on the street?’ That’s when the one police officer put his hand on his Taser and said he was going to Tase me if I tried to go through. I said, ‘It’s not going to look very good if I’m just talking to you and you just Taser me because there are a lot of people with cameras filming everything.’ Literally at that moment, one of the guys got a call on his cell phone saying everyone’s released. Basically, they arrested us long enough for the delegates to get off the bus and get into the Target Center, and then they said, ‘We’re dropping the charges. You guys can go.’”
In the spirit of ideological accuracy, it needs to be mentioned that Monson is really more of an anarchist/socialist than a pure anarchist. Don’t be fooled by the criminal mischief charge he picked up in 2009 for spray-painting an anarchy symbol on the Washington State Capitol in Olympia. He’s a card-carrying member of the International Workers of the World, otherwise known as the Wobblies. Following his loss last November to Fedor Emelianenko, Monson met with anti-fascist groups in Russia and Poland that were made up of anarchists, socialists, and anyone else uncomfortable with the rise of racist nationalism in those countries. One of the dozens of tattoos he has is the hammer and sickle. Unlike most people in the anarchy movement, he sees some value in the state.