Above photo: Rick Davis for SplashNews.com
New York City – Black and Hispanic people appear to be feeling the brunt of the NYPD’s force when it comes to the enforcement of social distancing measures in New York City.
Data released by the police show that out of 374 social distancing-related summonses that have been issued since restrictions came into effect six weeks ago, some 81 percent, or 304 of them, were issued to Hispanic or African-American people.
Such statistics marry with figures released by police in Brooklyn, which noted that that 35 of 40 people arrested in that borough between March 17 and May 4 for social distancing violations were black.
A total of 193 summonses issued were to black residents and 111 were to Hispanic people, according to the NYPD. All told, 81% of people issued summonses were black or Latino.
Such social distancing enforcement disparity is also reflected in the figures in the borough of Queens.
Out of 20 arrests, two were Asian, two were white and the other 16 were black or Hispanic, or around 80 percent.
Citywide, there were 120 social distancing-related arrests. The numbers mirror those found in summonses with black people representing 68 percent of people arrested and 24 percent were Hispanic. Just 7 percent of those arrested were white.
‘That’s abysmal,’ Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said during a news conference Friday. ‘This is not the federal government. This is not Donald Trump.’
Videos have gone viral showing NYPD officers arresting black men for violating social distancing guidelines. Of the 40 arrests made in Brooklyn since mid-March for the violation, 35 of those have been black residents
The videos stand in sharp contrast to photos and video tweeted by the NYPD showing friendly officers handing out face masks
Williams says that New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo have been pushing for enforcement instead of education, leading to heavy-handedness and a ‘business as usual’ attitude within the NYPD which has long been accused of marginalizing communities of color.
‘We were told we were getting a mayor who was going to change this,’ Williams said. ‘That’s what makes some of this so difficult to swallow.’
The mayor claims that police have actually shown restraint during the lockdown period.
‘We do not accept disparity, period,’ de Blasio said during a coronavirus briefing. ‘On the arrests and summonses, the thing to focus on first, is the sheer fact that we’re looking at numbers across a city of 8.6 million people and across a time span I believe is six weeks, the numbers of arrests and summonses are extraordinarily low.
‘So, I don’t, for a moment, misunderstand folks who raise alarms and concerns, or project forward concerns,’ said de Blasio. ‘But I say, “Hey, start with these sheer facts, that we’re talking about very few people have been arrested and very few people have been summonsed.”
People can be seen relaxing near the Hudson River without masks as officers stand in the background.
Many have pointed to photos captured in Brookyln’s Domino Park taken last weekend, that showed predominantly white crowds packed on the lawn
‘And there’s been a huge amount of restraint by the NYPD. That’s just factually obvious from the numbers, and we intend to keep it that way only using summons and arrest when needed.
‘We’re dealing with something absolutely unprecedented, and there’s no way in hell we are going to be able to keep people safe if we don’t use the strongest, best public safety organization in this country.’
Police Commissioner Dermot Shea also stressed that arrests are down 50 percent across the city and believes overall social distancing enforcement has gone smoothly.
‘We have been doing it with an extremely light touch,’ he said.
‘We have been interacting with millions of people and given out only a handful of violations, summonses and arrests, and that’s the way it should be,’ Shea said. ‘I don’t want the NYPD to be the morality police.’
The viral videos of black people and other people of color getting violently arrested across the city stand in sharp contrast to photos and video tweeted by the NYPD showing friendly officers handing out face masks and gently reminding people to stay 6 feet apart.
One of the new videos shows an officer knocking a 32-year-old man to the ground with his arm Monday night in Brooklyn after police say he took a ‘fighting stance’ as officers wrestled his stepbrother against a squad car. Police say the men were part of a group that failed to disperse when told to comply with social distancing rules.
Another video, recorded Saturday, showed an officer throwing Adegoke Atunbi, 20, to the ground.
He was arrested at Brooklyn’s Brower Park moments after shouting insults as officers hauled his friend away in handcuffs. Police said both men were gang members with a history of arrests.
‘I thought police were meant to de-escalate a situation, not escalate it,’ said Atunbi, who was cited for disorderly conduct. ‘It’s a scary thing to be put on the ground.
‘You have six-seven people on top of you. You have no way to defend yourself, thinking you might die. It does something to your mind.’
A police officer distributes face masks in Domino Park in Brooklyn
Some officers in the videos weren’t wearing protective masks.
Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez’s office called the incidents in the videos ‘disturbing’ and said his office is reviewing them to determine if disciplinary recommendations or criminal charges for the officers are warranted.
Police watchdogs say the conduct shown in the videos suggests officers are using social distancing during the pandemic as a pretext to harass people of color along the lines of stop and frisk, a practice curtailed in recent years in which officers stop people on the streets and search them for weapons.
Many have pointed to photos captured in Brookyln’s Domino Park taken over the weekend, which showed predominantly white crowds packed on the lawn. Many of the people there were not wearing masks. Others have pointed to similar images captured in the East Village.
An image at Domino Park in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, this weekend shows New Yorkers sprawled out on the grass and no police in sight.
De Blasio has had to go on the defensive for the police department after an increase in the disturbing videos.
Sharing a New York Times article that featured the unsettling statistics, the mayor said: ‘Saving lives in this pandemic is job one. The NYPD uses summonses and arrests to do it. Most people practice social distancing, with only hundreds of summonses issued over 6 weeks. But the disparity in the numbers does NOT reflect our values. We HAVE TO do better and we WILL.’
However, prior to the tweet, de Blasio declared that he would not ‘sideline the NYPD.’
‘I am not making my decisions based on a very few interactions that were handled poorly or went bad,’ de Blasio said earlier on Thursday. ‘I’m making my decisions based on the millions of interactions that are going right.’
Responding to a New York Times article that revealed the number of arrests over the social distancing period, Mayor de Blasio said the force would do better
Joo-Hyun Kang, the director of Communities United for Police Reform, said it’s time for de Blasio to ‘step in and remove the NYPD immediately from all social distancing enforcement.’
‘This certainly isn’t the first time and this isn’t even the first time in this pandemic that we’ve seen evidence of discriminatory policing by the NYPD,’ added Jennvine Wong, a lawyer with the Legal Aid Society’s Cop Accountability Project.
Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said the incidents should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis and that ‘a punch should not be assumed to be excessive force.’ Officers are trained to punch someone when warranted as part of an escalating progression of force, he said.
On Tuesday, Ed Mullins, president of the Sergeant’s Benevolent Association, wrote a letter to his members predicting that the number of these encounters would skyrocket over the summer. He blasted the mayor for placing officers in an ‘untenable predicament: you have pitted the public against us while asking that we enforce your mayoral edict.’
The methods used by the NYPD to apprehend violators of social distancing have been compared to ‘stop and frisk’, when officers stop people on the street and search them for weapons.
The searches stopped in 2013 when a federal judge in Manhattan ruled they amounted to a ‘policy of indirect racial profiling’ of black and Latino people.
Of those arrested in 2013, 88 percent were found to be innocent. Fifty-six percent of those detained were black while 29 percent were Hispanic, according to the ACLU of New York website. Only 11 percent of those arrested were white.
Mayor de Blasio refuted any comparison between enforcing social distancing measures and what he described as ‘systematic, oppressive and unconstitutional’ stop and frisk policies.
In his statement on Thursday, he said: ‘What happened with stop and frisk was a systematic, oppressive, unconstitutional strategy that created a new problem much bigger than anything it purported to solve,’ he said.
On Saturday around 5pm, NYPD plainclothes officers broke up a group of people violating social distancing orders in Manhattan’s East Village. The outrage and protest of bystanders led to the arrest of 33-year-old Donni Wright.
Donni Wright, 33, was a part of that crowd and shouted ‘he didn’t even do nothing’ in shock over the cops’ earlier arrest, leading Garcia to punch him and knock him to the ground.
Garcia was seen putting his knees on Wright’s head and neck during the brutal arrest. Wright was arrested for assault on a police officer and resisting arrest but the charges have been deferred pending further investigation
The incident is being investigated by the department’s Internal Affairs Bureau and Garcia has been placed on modified duty.
Mayor de Blasio condemned the incident saying: ‘Saw the video from the Lower East Side and was really disturbed by it. The officer involved has been placed on modified duty and an investigation has begun’
Last month in Carnarsi, a black middle-class neighborhood in Brooklyn, officers issued nearly 60 summonses and arrested two people on gun charges at a birthday party in a barbershop, the newspaper reported.
But two days later, on April 20, no arrests were made at a marijuana party in Chelsea, a wealthy neighborhood in Manhattan, despite a duffel bag full of the drug being found.
Last week, officers twice interrupted crowded funerals in Brooklyn’s Hasidic Jewish community to crack down on social distancing violators. De Blasio stoked divisions further with a series of tweets singling out Jews for ignoring a ban on large gatherings.
On Saturday, officer Francisco Garcia was caught on video slapping and punching a black man, 33-year-old Donni Wright, and dragging him to a sidewalk after leveling him in a crosswalk near a Manhattan public housing complex.
Under the instructions of Mayor Bill de Blasio, NYPD officers set out on foot, bicycles and in cars to break up crowds and remind those enjoying the weather of public health restrictions requiring they keep 6 feet away from others
Garcia was stripped of his gun and badge and placed on desk duty pending an internal investigation.
On Sunday, police issued at least one social distancing summons at a small protest organized by an LGBT group outside a Manhattan hospital, pitting free speech and public health concerns. De Blasio and Shea defended the response, arguing people had no right to protest during a pandemic.
Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said stay-at-home and other orders Major de Blasio issued in response to the crisis don’t give police ‘unfettered — and unconstitutional — discretion to ban all protest activity.’
‘The right to protest is a bedrock of our nation’s principles, and it is never more important than in times of crisis,’ Lieberman said. ‘The government may not needlessly restrict protest activity that is in compliance with important public health guidelines.’