Jumaane Williams and the Police
September 6th, 2011
Anger and dismay over the police handcuffing of a City Council member and a top political aide following yesterday’s West Indian Day parade in Brooklyn today morphed into a call for changes in police stop and frisk polices and other procedures that target young black and Latino men.
At a crowded press conference on the City Hall steps the council member, Jumaane Williams of East Flatbush, and the aide to Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Kristen John Foy, described their being stopped, handcuffed and briefly taken into custody as they tried to go to the Brooklyn museum yesterday afternoon.
By all accounts, the two men were attempting to enter a restricted – or frozen zone – after the parade. Both had identification and Williams was wearing a lapel pin indicating his membership on the City Council. They reached two checkpoints and the officers at them — probably senior, given that they were wearing white shirts –- allowed them to go through. But, Williams said, police stopped them at a third checkpoint, despite their credential.
“I was actually handcuffed while on then phone with the chief of police telling him what was going on,” Williams recounted.
Both were taken across the street to a synagogue where they were held for about 30 minutes until police established their identities and let them go. Neither man was charged with any wrongdoing.
Police have maintained that during the incident, someone punched a police officer, an account Williams vehemently disputed.
“I defy the NYPD to find one shred of evidence of any police officer being punched in the face,” he said, adding that report was “a bald-faced lie.”
While not criticizing overall police policies, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn echoed Williams on his conduct. “There is nothing, nothing, to indicate the Council member or Mr. Foy did anything wrong, ” she said.
Foy said he was shoved down and cuffed because “in retreat, they [police] decided I wasn’t moving fast enough, in retreat, I wasn’t complying enough.” The reports of the punch, Foy said, showed the police “making up a story to cover themselves.”
The police department has said it is investigating the incident, and, according to Williams, Mayor Michael Bloomberg apologized for it.
Putting this incident in a larger context — after the jump
During the press conference, an impressive array of city politicians, ministers and rabbis crowed at the top of the steps in an effort to stay dry. They condemned the arrests and praised Williams and Foy for their restrained reaction to what could easily be seen as police provocation. Few left any doubt that they believed Williams and Foy would not have been stopped and detained if they had been white,
“If I did not look the way I do — young, block, with locks and an earring,” Williams said, he has not doubt this would not have happened. Recently, Williams added, he was stopped by police while driving a new vehicle with temporary tags in South Brooklyn by an officer “who wanted to make sure it was my car.”
And most put it in the larger context of the stop and frisk and marijuana arrests that overwhelmingly affect black and Latino men. And, that Foy said, “terrorize our communities.”
“I commend the police commissioner [Ray Kelly] for his leadership on many issues. He has kept us safe,” Foy said, but he added, “That leadership has not trickled down to the ranks and file leadership.”
While saying Kelly had done a good job in many areas, Williams said, “He’s been horrendous when it come to stop and frisk. He’s been horrendous when it comes to these black and Latino issues.”
“Each and every day, we’re hearing more and more about the violation of civil liberties in this town,” said U.S. Rep Yvette Clarke of Brooklyn. “We are quickly moving to an apartheid situation in the City of New York.”
Many speakers at the conference called for a change in the stop and frisk policies. “The has to create change in the police procedures in the City of New York,” said City Comptroller John Liu, “including a relaxation of stop and frisk policy.”
In the first six months of this year, police conducted 362,150 stops, a 13.5 percent jump from the same period in 2010, according to statistics released last month. Ninety percent of those stopped were not charged with a crime or even issued a ticket; 84 percent were black or Latino.
Last month a federal judge refused to dismiss a lawsuit alleging that, among other things, the stop and frisk policy discriminates against blacks and Latinos.
The arrest of Williams and Foy occurred on a Labor Day weekend when some 48 people
were shot in the city. Many speakers linked the rising violence and the police stops together.
Discussing the spate of gun violence – some of it in her district, City Councilmember Letitia James said, “There is a crisis in the city of New York that needs to be addressed but not at the expense of our civil rights.”
De Blasio and others said the stopping of black and Latino men who have not committed crimes hampers efforts to end crime. “We can’t stop violence, if there is animosity between police and the community,” he said.By Gail Robinson on September 6, 2011, 1:38 pm
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