This post is by Yul-san Liem (am posting Alexandre's email re witnessing police harassment and my response to it together since he said he was having trouble posting to the blog. His original email is below.)
This is my response, which I feel compelled to write, because I have been doing anti-police violence work for a little while now (really since 07), though folks I work with are far more knowledgeable ...
That said, the first thing I will post are a few websites in case folks want more info about police accountability and anti-pv work that's going on in the city these days:
http://mxgm.org/web/ (particularly see the know your rights info and the peoples self-defense campaign under Programs and Initiatives.)
http://ccrjustice.org/issues (see the Criminal Justice and Mass Incarceration section, esp the Stop and Frisk report.)
This list is by no means exhaustive, and doesn't deal with the incarceration side of the coin (with the exception of CCR). It's just what comes quickly out of by head based on who I work with.
Secondly, as those of us who live in NYC know, what Alexandre witnesses is an upsetting, but not unusual scene. Young, low-income folks of color are often targeted by the NYPD for very minor crimes (jumping turnstiles, riding bikes on the side walk, even spitting.) More and more, cops are making arrests rather than giving young folks violations (tickets.) While its is my understanding that there is no official quota system, cops are assessed for promotion based on the number of arrests they make, among other factors. As a side note, young folks get handcuffed all the time (recently a 6 year-old was cuffed in a public school for throwing a tantrum.) Additionally, partially in response of racial profiling, the recent years, the NYPD has made a concerted effort to recruit young people of color into their ranks. You'll notice very few of the higher-ups are people of color (surprise surprise.) Cops and anti-pv organizers alike often say that, first and foremost, the race of officers is blue - referring to the training and loyalty that makes cops ally with each other rather than their community members, and often cover up each other's abusive actions.
Third: Some basic things you can do if you witness an instance of police violence:
1. Stop and observe. It's legal. It may not deter an unlawful or unjust arrest, but it's possible that it will deter an escalated level of verbal, physical or sexual abuse. (Of course, it also may not, thinking about Oscar Grant, where there were tons of folks watching.)
2. If you have a camera on your phone or with you, document. Police don't like this, but it's legal. If the police tell you you're obstructing, tell them you will step back, but continue filming. Tell them you are observing your legal right to document police activity.
3. If the person being targeted appears hurt or distraught, ask them about their condition. If they feel comfortable talking to you, ask them if they want you to make a phone call for them and get the number.
4. Write down the badge/car number of the cops involved and any other iding info.
5. File a CCRB complaint (as Alexandre did.) The more info you have about the event, the more likely it is that it will stick. But it's still pretty unlikely (I think I have stats somewhere, if folks want.)
6. If you actually want to do something more organized, get involved with a local Cop Watch team. Some orgs. which do Cop Watch include the Justice Committee, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and Make the Road New York, but there are more. (You can get in touch with me for more info.)
Finally: I have lot's of resourses/analysis about the who, what, why, when and where of police violence. So if folks are interested, let me know.
Sorry about the long post.
Peoples' Justice (a city-wide coalition) recently commissioned Know Your Rights
murals in Bushwick and
On a Thursday Night... I Failed a 13 Year Old Boy
By Alexandre Carvalho
"First of all, I'd like to say to everyone that I am sorry. Sorry for me being so infuriated and to some extent radical today. Usually I have strong positions, but normally express them in a kind and calm way; always looking to ground them on good arguments and evidence. But my heart was inflamed for something that I saw at the subway, while rushing to be on time for class. Me and two other colleagues were coming back from Peter Singer's lecture about the "Moral Obligation to End Poverty". We escaped in the middle of it so to arrive precisely at the right time for our first class. We were 5 minutes late. When the train stopped at W 4th st., we stormed out of the train and saw this rather strange scene.
A thirteen year old African-American was being arrested by this rough Latino policeman' the cause we couldn't figure out why and everyone just kept starring. I looked around and some were indifferent, some were angry (don't know if towards the police officer or the kid) and many, the majority, didn't hesitate for a second and just went on minding their business. I wanted to stop and do something, but I was simply paralyzed. Not literally, because I kept going towards the exit, but in terms of will and ethical reasoning. To make matters worse, the kid looked 9 and the officer said the following words: "You think that only because you are 13, you won't be handcuffed?" and handcuffs him then in front of everybody, while the kid bursts into tears. "You should be ashamed of yourself!". And by this time, we reach the stairs and lose sight of the story.
But something was terribly wrong in all that, couldn't stop thinking about it. I wanted to go back and stand for the kid, to say to the policeman 'What did he do that is so serious that you need to harass him and humiliate him ' and worse, cause an irreversible damage on his psyche, by handcuffing him? You should be ashamed of yourself. I don't know what he did, but I certainly know that this is unnecessary. He might have failed to abide by the law, but we as a society have failed HIM too.'
And by this time, I arrived to class. But even though John's a great professor (could notice it already!), GHPM a great subject to study, and even though I read all the articles and was ready to contribute a lot, I simply couldn't stop thinking on how wrong was I in not standing out for him against the police officer.
And then I had to leave class to think this through. And so I did. The first thoughts that crossed my mind were an attempt to identify the reasons that made me such an indifferent person. Ha. I was afraid. Afraid to get into trouble with the NYPD and lose my F-1 Status, and thus my dream to acquire a MPH in NYC/NYU. Were I willing to risk my skin in order to do what is right? Apparently not. And this realization stung me. I felt terrible. So, all this education that I have, all the Foucault's, all the Pedagogy of the Oppressed, means nothing, because I can't make the connection of all that towards a clearly absurd situation. Of course the law would be on my side. But I was weak and not fast enough.
I had to redeem myself somehow. I ran back to the subway station. When I reached the platform where the incident happened, the police and the kid weren't there. They took him. The subway surveillance office, where I went to ask for help, didn't know anything about it. So I went up the stairs and started to go back to Bobst' and got completely lost in the way. Know the region well enough by now, but for 20 minutes I kept going back and fourth in the streets without knowing the right way. Maybe me losing myself completely was an expression of how I was inside. Lost. With no directions."
P.S.: I placed a complaint in 311 and they will investigate, and try to set up a personal appointment; will it work? Don't know. Have to hope for the best.