Police Enforcement of Social Distancing While Black Questioned

social distancing

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams stood on a Bushwick street today and warned that if the New York City Police Department continues their heavy-handed ways in subduing black youth for allegedly violating social distancing laws, the city could be in for a long hot summer.

Borough President Eric Adams
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams

“Every major disruption in this country came from police-civilian interaction. The Los Angeles riots, what happened with Eric Garner, you can go down the line,” said Adams calling on Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Dermot T. Shea to change course now because further violence would only exacerbate the fraught history black and brown communities have had with the NYPD. 

“We [due to the ongoing pandemic] are going to have the largest number of interactions between police and civilians in the history of the New York City police department, and if those encounters are not thought out, if they’re not created correctly, it’s going to turn into a terrible situation,” he added.

Adams, a retired NYPD captain, gave his warning following a string of social media posts depicting cops giving beatdowns on black youths for violating social distancing and not wearing facemask ordinances during the COVID pandemic, which has also outraged a number of Black elected officials.

Further exacerbating their anger was the juxtaposition of other social media posts showing cops politely offering masks to hundreds of white sun-worshippers totally flouting the six-foot social distancing and wearing face masks ordinances, and police making zero arrests in a number of Hassidic Jewish funerals in which the mourners openly flouted emergency pandemic ordinances. 

Council Member Farah Louis
Council Member Farah Louis
Assemblyman Walter Mosley

“While white New Yorkers [who] gathered en masse this weekend in Hudson River Park could be issued a summons or even a mask, a black bystander near a deli was assaulted,” said City Councilmember Farah N. Louis (D-Flatbush, East Flatbush, Midwood, Marine Park, Flatlands, Kensington) “It is unacceptable for NYPD officers to enforce the rules, however, they deem fit, in different zip codes. All New Yorkers deserve courtesy, respect, professionalism when interacting with officers sworn to protect and serve.”  

Assemblyman Walter T. Mosley (D-Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Prospect Heights and parts of Bedford Stuyvesant and Crown Heights) said he is concerned that too much law enforcement is being utilized as first responders in dealing with social distancing and facemask violations while at the same time putting too much pressure on people across the board to follow the rules of the new normal.

“As we deal with COVID-19, we still have to deal with bigotry, hatred as it relates to black and brown communities, and it’s perpetrated by law enforcement,” said Mosley.

Mosley said that entrenched community organizations, like Gangsta’s Making Astronomical Community Changes (GMACC) or Save Our Streets (S.O.S.), already have the experience of dealing with these communities and their methods should be employed more to help law enforcement approach the situation differently. 

A police car parked outside a home in East Flatbush, Brooklyn. Photo by Ariama Long.

Among the videos most rankling the electeds and others throughout the city was that of  Officer Francisco Garcia pointing a taser, slapping, punching, dragging and kneeling on, and then arrested 33-year-old Donni Wright  on the corner of 9th Street and Avenue D in Manhattan on Saturday, May 2. 

It quite clearly echoes the long-standing history of excessive force that disenfranchised communities have loudly protested against for years.

At de Blasio’s daily coronavirus debriefing this morning, he and Shea briefly addressed the issue of police brutality and questionable tactics when it comes to enforcing the coronavirus mandates.

“The common denominator here is starting with the lack of compliance and I think echoing some of what the mayor said, respect here is a two-way street,” said Commissioner Shea when asked about the videos, “We understand that everyone is stressed out under these trying times in two months but we need people to work together more than ever. When officers approach a crowd for whatever reason work with the officers. We commit to working with the community but one thing we can not have is, we can not have individuals having physical contact with our officers.”

He continued on to say that the lack of compliance wasn’t shocking, especially given that some people had been repeatedly arrested for other offenses. One individual, in particular, had been arrested for burglary.

But Adams said in Bushwick that the city should not be looking at the offense of an officer and talk about the history of the person that he violated his rights.

“The more egregious history is someone with a short period of time having so many CCRB’s [Civilian Complaint Review Board] and was sued so many times. That is the problem we need to correct,” said Adams, referring to Garcia, who is now suspended and has had several lawsuits over the past six years of duty.

Adams’ remarks in Bushwick came as part of an event in front of the Ujima Community Working Together community center, 1139 Bushwick Avenue, which also included passing out food and personal protective equipment (PPE) to local residents.

Among those present was Community Affairs Officer Oscar Lopez of the 83rd precinct, which covers the neighborhood and he said his department strives to meet people where they are and hasn’t encountered the same tension, however, each neighborhood is different.  

“We’re like the first line of responders to go out into the community and advise people about social distancing,” said Lopez.

Local longtime Bushwick community activist Anita Haines said the point is not to sensationalize differences between how police met out law enforcement differently, but to nip these differences in the bud before they get further out of hand.

“Our community has come too far. We have built a relationship with the NYPD and the young people and we don’t need it to be messed up,” said Haines.

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