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New York City Civil Rights Law Blog

Vendor kicked by NYPD officer wants police to 'treat us better'

On Sunday the 14th, a local business improvement district held a street fair on the Sunset Park strip in Brooklyn. The fair had a permit to close Fifth Avenue, the neighborhood’s main drag, until 6 p.m. When things were still hopping at closing time, the police agreed to keep the street closed until 7. When the extra hour was up and officers started opening up the avenue, though, what Commissioner Bratton described later as “an altercation” took place between some officers and street vendors.

Several people were subdued using varying levels of force. An NYPD officer suffered an ankle injury and five people were hauled in. One or more were accused of assault; others were charged with resisting arrest or obstruction of government administration, although it’s anyone’s guess exactly what prompted those broadly-applied charges.

One vendor arrested that evening, Jonathan D., probably couldn’t explain why he was charged. Certainly the 22-year-old fruit vendor couldn’t tell you why he was beaten to the ground and kicked in the back.

Racially biased policing affects Hispanics, other minorities, too

We’ve been having important discussions about how shockingly common it has become to see African-American men die at the hands of police in circumstances that seem dubious at best. As we memorialize those whose tragic deaths are freshest in our minds, however, it’s crucial to remember that racially-biased outcomes in policing don’t affect only African-Americans -- and we shouldn’t overlook incidents that don’t result in death.

The Atlantic magazine recently profiled a 23-year-old Bronx man who claims he was stopped and frisked by the NYPD -- and then beaten by six officers -- merely because he was Hispanic.

Mayor de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bratton favor a style of policing called “broken windows,” or focusing a large portion of police attention on quality-of-life offenses. Its implementation has already brought sharp criticism.

A recent New York Daily News analysis shows that African-Americans and Hispanics receive a shockingly disproportionate number of summonses for “broken windows” offenses -- a spread of between 20 and 32 percent, compared to their share of the population. The numbers were even more lopsided in primarily-white neighborhoods.

In response to this data, Commissioner Bratton merely said it was “an irrefutable fact."

City to pay $33,000 to men arrested for Jolly Ranchers possession

Considering how harshly drug offenders are punished, it's crucial for law enforcement to be accurately and fully trained on how to recognize controlled substances. Drug arrests have extremely serious consequences, so we need drug investigations to be based on science, rather than, say, what an officer may have seen on TV. 

Unfortunately for three men visiting Coney Island last year, NYPD detectives seemed to be relying more on fantasy science from the TV show “Breaking Bad” than on any actual training. After two of the men exited a candy store, they were arrested for possessing Jolly Ranchers candies. The third man had been caring for his 3-year-old daughter nearby. When he tried to protest these unlawful arrests, he was allegedly punched in the face by an unidentified officer, hauled into the 60th Precinct with the other innocent men, and was charged with obstructing government administration.

To justify their initial stop and frisk of the candy-loving men, two uniformed NYPD officers claimed that an undercover cop had seen the pair selling drugs. When they handcuffed and searched the two young men, however, the only items they found that could conceivably be suspicious were Jolly Ranchers -- two red and four blue.

What would it really take to bring down 'The Man'?

As the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, die down, Americans of good will are left with some crucial choices to make. We’ve been given a clear view of the racial injustice that researchers and civil rights activists have long documented. Everyone wants our justice system to stand by its name. We all want to see safer, more broadly prosperous communities with evenhanded, rational policing. What would it take to get there?

Reporters from NPR encountered protesters in Ferguson from across the nation. People had come not only to protest Michael Brown’s death, but also to seek remembrance of other African-Americans, Latinos and people of color who lost their lives in encounters with law enforcement that didn’t seem to justify their deaths. NPR put together a memorable list of recent victims; we’ve added a few more from our files:

  • Amadou Diallo
  • Sean Bell
  • Ramarley Graham
  • Oscar Grant
  • Jordan Davis
  • Jonathan Ferrell
  • John Crawford
  • Jason Echevarria
  • Timothy Stansbury
  • Richard Nordstrom
  • Jerome Murdough
  • Mohamed Bah
  • Ronald Singleton
  • Eric Garner

Civil remedies exist to hold police accountable for misconduct

Readers of this civil rights blog or our criminal defense blog may still have doubts whether a strong defense can be raised to victims of false arrest or police brutality or misconduct. The answer is a resounding yes. 

For example, an attorney that focuses on both areas can prepare both a strong criminal defense to any charges, while concurrently preparing a strategy for bringing a civil action against the officers who acted wrongly. Our firm has had several recent successes in that regard, often resulting in significant financial settlements.

Array of racial, constitutional issues underscored by Ferguson

The sad truth is, it’s a rare day indeed when a New York City civil rights blogger needs to look beyond a single newspaper to find plenty of topics to discuss. On this blog, we cover police brutality allegations against the NYPD virtually exclusively, and credible allegations against the NYPD are in the newspapers every single day.

The most pressing issues here in NYC have been racial profiling -- whether that means a demonstrably racist application of Bloomberg’s “stop and frisk” policy, the same disparities in the application of de Blasio’s “broken windows” policy, or the continued secret surveillance of innocent Muslims. We also routinely see reports of false arrests, police harassment, refusal by officers to allow civilians to lawfully record their activities, the excessive use of force, and homicidal negligence at Rikers Island. We’ve seen a father of six choked to death on a public street for denying he had done anything wrong.

CCRB chair: Ray Kelly undercut sentences in past choke hold cases

Speaking at a special session Tuesday, Chairman Richard D. Emery of the Civilian Complaint Review Board expressed his dismay at how former NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly handled complaints of choke hold use. On July 17, five police officers tackled Eric Garner, a 43-year-old father of six whom they accused of selling loose cigarettes. During the altercation, an NYPD officer put Garner in a prohibited choke hold. He died on a Staten Island sidewalk.

Choke holds have been prohibited by NYPD policy since 1983. The New York City medical examiner has ruled Garner’s death a homicide, citing the cause as “compression of neck (choke hold), compression of chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police.”

Sadly, deaths caused by the NYPD’s use of excessive force aren’t uncommon, but the shocking events caught on videotape that day caught the attention of even the most hardened city dwellers. The CCRB special session, among other gatherings, was held in an attempt to confront what seems to careful observers to be flagrant and routine use of excessive force by some NYPD officers, along with other substandard policing practices.

Final roadblock to stop-and-frisk reform is overcome ... maybe

Sometimes it seems as if the fight to stop the abusive, racially-motivated “stop-and-frisk” practices by NYPD officers is a never-ending one. As you probably know, a federal judge ruled last August that stop-and-frisk -- at least as practiced under the Bloomberg Administration -- was an unconstitutional "policy of indirect racial profiling" and a violation of the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee against illegal search and seizure. That ruling, however, was put on hold pending appeal.

When Mayor Bill de Blasio took office, however, that appeal was abandoned and the judge’s ruling was used to craft a settlement between the city, civil rights groups and victims of the unlawful activity. Basically, that settlement called for three common-sense reforms to protect New Yorkers from further constitutional violations:

  • Retraining officers on what constitutes a legal basis for stopping and frisking people.
  • A pilot program in which some officers would wear body cameras in order to promote transparency.
  • An independent monitor to be appointed to scrutinize officers’ use of stop-and-frisk and to oversee the NYPD’s compliance with the settlement.

'This time there's a video,' says Sharpton at Garner's funeral

By now, most readers in New York and, indeed, people across the country are aware of the tragic death of Eric Garner, a 43-year-old father of six who lived on Staten Island. Last Thursday, Garner apparently broke up a fight. As cellphone video taken by a passerby shows, five NYPD officers then confronted Garner, accusing him of selling loose cigarettes.

Garner insisted he had sold nothing. He complained that he’d been repeatedly harassed by the NYPD over offenses he didn’t commit. He reportedly told the officers, “Every time you see me you want to mess with me. I’m tired of it. It stops today.”

He was right. When the officers attempted to cuff him he pulled away, so several officers wrestled him to the ground. Then, one cop put him in a choke hold -- a tactic that has been prohibited by NYPD policy since 1983 because it’s just too dangerous. Garner, who suffered from asthma, repeatedly complained that he couldn’t breathe, but he was ignored. He died on the sidewalk.

FBI fails to entrap student in terrorist plot, arrests him anyway

Ahmed Abassi was a good student, described by his friends as kind, considerate and generous. The native of Tunisia was working on his dissertation at Laval University in Quebec. There, he met the woman he was to marry -- both a fellow graduate student and a fellow Tunisian.

Two years ago, the pair went to Tunisia to marry, both assuming they would return to Canada and finish their studies. Abruptly and inexplicably, however, Canada revoked Abassi’s visa. Reluctantly, his wife returned without him.

Abassi was desperate to get back to his wife and studies, so it seemed lucky when “Tamer,” a man he vaguely knew, offered to help him resolve the Canadian visa issue. Since he claimed this would be easier done from the U.S., Tamer offered to help Abassi get to New York. He even offered him a job -- on paper -- and a Manhattan apartment. Abassi landed at JFK last March and, as agreed, told immigration officials he had a job at Tamer’s real estate company. He later repeated that on his green card application.

It was a setup from the very beginning. Tamer was an undercover FBI agent. From the moment he arrived, Abassi was under heavy surveillance and Tamer began pressuring him to join an alleged jihadist plan to derail a Canadian passenger train. Tamer thought Abassi was a good prospect because the young man, then 25, had some extremely negative opinions about the U.S.

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