Dear NYPD,

Dear NYPD, Wow.

Dear NYPD,

Wow. Where do we begin?

First off, I’d just like to say that I understand the need for tough law enforcement. I have lived in neighborhoods on both the East and West Coast, as well as down South, in places some would consider the “wrong” side of the tracks.  While I have never been threatened or accosted in any criminally predatory situation as an adult, I understand that many others are in need of strong law enforcement, because there are idiots who simply cannot control their lower instincts. 

However, what is one to do when the idiots in question have a badge, a gun and have traditionally been licensed to kill when it comes to policing minority communities? We all know Black and Brown folks don’t have a great history with the New York Police Department.  While conservatives will certainly dive face first into minutia by saying Blacks and Browns are more criminally-inclined, thus in need of more policing, liberals will point to a lack of resources as the primary criminal motivator in offenders from depressed environments. But the ultimate truth lies between the two extremes. Most people of color in non-gentrified areas of large cities are just trying to make a living peacefully. They want to enjoy whatever comforts life affords them.  However, there are some that are just bat sh*t crazy and addicted to crime and the institutional lifestyle of a career criminal.  Some criminal offenders are simply so used to being wards of the state of New York that the very idea of a life outside of crime is a strain to comprehend. 

But when it comes to the policing of communities of color, you often act out Gestapo fantasies on innocent people that you are supposed to be serving and protecting. The words Courtesy, Professionalism and Respect are emblazoned on NYPD patrol vehicles. However, it seems that you have very little of those characteristics for the citizens of certain communities.

 

These words become hyperbole at best when applied to the African American community.  In my experience, far too many police officers have been ill-mannered, rude, dismissive and lazy.  In addition, many of you come off as racist, murderous and non-existent at the very worst when it comes to policing and profiling in economically depressed communities of color in New York. Yes, that racist part goes for Black and Brown cops as well. The “Us” versus “Them” dichotomy that is practiced by NYPD in our neighborhoods is historic and noticeable to all but you, it would seem.

This is not the viewpoint of all people of color in New York City, nor is it the viewpoint of most people of color in the state of New York.  This is me. As was the case when discussing the criminality of African Americans in New York City, I know that the truth lies somewhere in the middle. However, this year has shown the NYPD in a most unflattering light.  Every police apologist and his mother will reiterate with increasing fervor that incidents of police brutality are the result of a few loose cannons who are overworked and overstressed.  But those claims are on a different frequency as far as most Black and Brown people in the nation’s inner cities are concerned.  In other words, they’re not trying to hear that mess.  Let me be a bit more specific here: We’re not trying to hear that mess.  

On July 17, the members of the NYPD approached 43-year-old year-old Eric Garner, an African American resident of Staten Island, New York.  The stated reason? Garner was suspected of selling untaxed cigarettes.  A seemingly victimless crime for certain.  As a matter of fact, the City of New York considers it a bit of a minor crime as well.  According to the New York City Cigarette Retail License Application, violators who sell loose cigarettes are subject to a fine of up to $2,000 in New York City.   This is relevant because the arresting officers said they approached Garner for suspicion of selling untaxed cigarettes aka loosies.  However, eyewitness Ramsey Orta says Garner had just broken up a fist fight.  For those that don’t know, only the most respected individuals in the hood have enough clout to place themselves in harm’s way to break up a fight. 

According to Orta and others, Garner was looked at as something of a big brother or father figure in the Staten Island community.  But that day, the NYPD didn’t see a respected man of his community, or a father of six children.  They only saw a former perpetrator as they zoomed in on him as soon as they arrived on the scene.  Eric Garner was killed for a crime he is only alleged to have committed.  A crime that, if properly prosecuted, would have amounted to little more than a ticket and a court date.  That’s not worth a man’s life.  Yet, the NYPD’s infamously brutal and callous version of community policing was once again on display that fateful afternoon.  The coroner’s office is reporting Garner’s death as a homicide.  However, if the Trayvon Martin case has taught us anything, it’s that a case doesn’t necessarily hinge on what is in a coroner’s report, but what a prosecutor can prove in court.

Check the following list of Black males shot dead while unarmed in New York City in the past 20 years. For many African Americans, it is a painful reminder of lives lost and potentials squandered because of your carelessness, callousness or both.

September 27, 1994 13-year-old Nicholas Heyward Jr. (Shot because a cop thought his toy gun was real)

March 1, 2000 23-year-old Malcolm Ferguson (Shot by an undercover cop who was later cleared of all charges. He was unarmed. The officer was cleared of all charges.)

March 16, 2000 Patrick Moses Dorismond. (Shot during a scuffle with undercover cops. He became competitive after one of them asked where he could buy some marijuana. A fight ensued and Dorismond was shot in the chest.  A friend of Dorismond’s, who was also involved in the fight, said the undercover cops never identified themselves. A grand jury refused to indict the shooter.)

May 22, 2003 Guinean immigrant 43-year-old Ousmane Zongo was shot by an undercover cop disguised as a mailman during a raid of a counterfeit CD/DVD operation.  Zongo, who police later admitted had nothing to do with that operation, was shot four times, dying in the end.  The officer lost his job, but served no jail time.

Jan 24, 2004 19-year-old Tim Stansbury was shot on a rooftop in Brooklyn by an officer who later admitted to shooting him accidently.  He was stripped of his gun and given a 30-day suspension, but received no jail time.

Nov 25, 2006 Sean Bell killed following a bachelor party at a Queens Strip club that was being investigated for alleged prostitution.  An argument broke out between Bell’s friends and one of the officers. They were followed to their vehicle by the cops, who had not identified themselves as such.  Officers fired 50 shots into Bell’s vehicle. They later said Bell struck one of them. The cops were tried, but not convicted of manslaughter.

 

The peculiar and sad part about it is you guys seem to have never had a realistic image of yourself.   Back in April, you tried, from my vantage point, the mostly poorly conceived public relations campaign in the history of Western Civilization.  It happened on April 22: The day the NYPD News Twitter account released the following tweet.

 

 

Initially, the Internet played like good little girls and boys, offering up a handful of photos that featured the citizens of New York engaged in friendly interactions with the NYPD with the hashtag #myNYPD.   But the tide quickly changed and the hashtag was usurped as people posted photos of the NYPD violently subduing individuals in their daily duties.  The Twitter posts went viral as critics of modern policing tactics utilized in New York and other cities posted unceasingly.  To be fair, these individuals could have been struggling, they could have been fighting, or they could have resisted arrest.

 

The officers in some of these photos could have been legally and morally justified in the actions captured.  It’s impossible for the viewer to know for certain what context the photos were taken. 

However, there’s one image of an African American woman, who is clearly being restrained by handcuffs, with her face frozen in pain as a ranking member of the NYPD is yanking her hair.  

If an individual is already subdued, why would an officer continue to inflict pain in this manner if not for the purpose of further humiliating the individual who is in custody?

 

 

In addition to the rehashing of the sad NYPD tradition of killing unarmed black people, we find another story just four days ago involving 48-year-old Brooklyn grandmother Denise Stewart.  She was dragged out of her shower, into a hallway topless, and made to stand after police say they heard yelling and screaming coming from the apartment.  Stewart was accused of beating her 12-year-old daughter with a belt. So now corporal punishment is worth a dozen cops pounding on an apartment door at 12 o’clock at night?  A dozen officers? They claim they received a 911 call. But no apartment number was given.  However, even if it was, why did it take an egg carton’s worth of cops to drag a naked woman in the hallway? The trauma of being naked other than a towel draped around her waist caused Ms. Stewart’s asthma to flare up.  She is seen on video collapsing and fainting.

 

One of the primary complaints of the NYPD when working in African American communities is the fact many Black people refuse to cooperate with the police force.  Some say it’s because of the rather recent “No Snitch” policy celebrated in Hip Hop culture. But that’s something of an oversimplification.  People in many Black and Brown communities, and some outside of this demographic, simply do not feel that the police respect them at all.  Some feel as if the police behave like a gang or occupying army.  With those types of negative emotions inherent in the community since slavery times, what brother or sister wishes to be seen as helpful to the occupying army that is the NYPD?  Even in those instances where witnesses step forward, the cooperation only goes so far.  There’s just no trust.

And with the New York Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association’s political clout used to constantly finger point and blame away the maleficent practices of some officers of the NYPD, this leaves observers feeling dirty for having witnessed anything. And those who may face retribution seemingly like the recent arrest of the man who videotaped Eric Garner's arrest, Ramsey Orta, on gun charges. In addition, Orta's wife, Chrissette Ortiz, who was arrested Tuesday on third degree assault charges after getting into an altercation with an unnamed woman.

Orta was charged with a crime and, from the looks of things, was caught red handed. Police say he was caught trying to shove a unloaded 22 caliber firearm into the waistband of a 17-year-old girl when he was approached by narcotics officers outside of a known drug spot.  Part of me believes this was some kind of retribution for having video taped the Eric Garner incident. But one cannot avoid the fact that he was committing a crime.  If he were truly street smart, he would have realized he was a marked man by any officer who was familiar with that community and its citizens, and would have laid low. Lack of intelligence aside, Orta's arrest has the stink of police payback all over it.

Yes, some Black and Brown people in depressed neighborhoods in New York City have ways about them that are detrimental to efficient police work. However, the brazen, disrespectful and plain violent approach that the police have traditionally had toward people of color in the Big Apple is at least in part to blame.  Is there any wonder why many are skeptical that Eric Garner’s death will ever be prosecuted? Heck, it was a major shock that the coroner even labeled it a homicide to begin with. 

Better policing begins with respecting the people that you’re supposed to be protecting.  Better communication between the two seemingly warring factions can begin with the olive branch of understanding, an olive branch that the NYPD seems unwilling to extend.  In addition, far greater attention needs to be paid to the mental and emotional well-being of officers who interact with the public.  Stressful days are par for the course at any occupation.  However, when the cops have a bad day an innocent, law-abiding citizen can potential lose a life.  How many “Whoops, our bad” is the community supposed to be willing to accept from the police? Quarterly psychological examinations should be mandatory.  Especially for undercover cops and those who serve in high crime areas.

Meanwhile, black bodies litter the street every summer from the South Bronx, to Bed-Stuy and far too many of them lay at death’s door because of the actions of the NYPD.  To hell with the policies of protectionism and nepotism when it comes to breaking the thin blue line of silence.   An entirely new way of policing by the NYPD is the only way greater cooperation can occur on both sides and, perhaps, one day mutual respect will rule the day.  Hopefully.