New York City’s most dangerous neighborhood is also its most ignored. Buried deep in Brooklyn between the border of Queens and Jamaica Bay, East New York hugs some of the city’s last official territory, the final frontier of Brooklyn, insulated by a long commute to Manhattan and an even longer reputation for being a crime-ridden wasteland.
While crime has dropped significantly across the city, it is still high in East New York. East New York consistently outranks every other New York neighborhood in violent crimes. In 2014, the New York Police Department reported 3,751 major felony offenses in East New York, including 920 assaults, 817 robberies, 70 rapes and 21 murders.
Still, more than 180,000 people live in East New York. They go to work, throw the football around, buy groceries. Sitting on the porches of East New York’s small and stubby row homes, they absorb the neighborhood’s natural ambience: a few seconds of suburban-like silence constantly broken by sudden sirens.
And the sirens wail with no reprieve. Flashing lights cast colored shadows in alternating tones of deep blues and bright reds, there for a second and then gone. Cop cruisers speed through the streets. Paired-up officers stroll by on foot patrols. The police are always in the neighborhood, but never quite of it.
Hardened candle wax stains the sidewalk surrounding makeshift memorials for recent murder victims. Murals hang on exterior walls like apparitions. RIP Big Baby, We’ll Always Love You. Gone But Never Forgotten, Lil’ Charlie. In Memory Of Lolli. The police see these memorials as computations, data: red blobs or blue dots, plotted on a map meant to help predict potential crime hot spots.
East New York is covered by these dots. Underneath each, there is a story.
At a town-hall style meeting to talk about policing within their community, East New Yorkers shared stories of mistreatment and illustrated the disconnect between the 75th Precinct and the neighborhoods it serves. Along with monthly community board meetings and precinct council meetings, East New Yorkers often have opportunities to air their concerns-- yet very little has changed.
Michael Mazzariello spoke at the meeting. He remembers police officer Michael Dowd and a gang of rogue cops corrupting the 75th Precinct, shaking down drug dealers for protection payments and selling cocaine as murder rates ran wild in the 1980s and 1990s. “Thousands of our kids died,” Mazzariello said. “How could we forgive the cops?”
A few weeks after the meeting, Dominique Turner's 24-year old son was shot and killed in the street, one of nine reported murders before May in East New York this year. East New York is on pace to double 2014’s murder count. "That was my baby boy," Turner said. "Now all I have is memories."
Shootings are frequent in East New York. In 2009, four women were shot in a single 24-hour span. Two lived and two died. One of the survivors was 11-year old Samantha Edgars, who was struck by a stray bullet. It nearly killed her. "Sometimes it still hurts," Edgars said. "It changed me."
Young black men face constant harassment from the police while walking down the streets of East New York. One man said he was recently walking with his girlfriend when a police officer approached him and demanded to know where he was hiding marijuana.
“He smacked me so hard my ear ring fell out,” said the young man, who requested anonymity out of fear of facing retribution from the police. “My girlfriend dumped me after that, said she couldn’t be with someone who just let something like that happen. But what was I supposed to do? I couldn’t do anything. [The police] treat us like we’re just n*ggers.”
Sometimes, a confrontation with police can turn deadly in East New York. Alice Bynoe-Browne lives in the same house where police shot and killed her son, Duane, in 2012. She’s leaving soon. “I can’t stay here,” she said. “Too many memories.”
According to court records, police responded to a call about a possible robbery at Bynoe-Browne’s address. Duane was upstairs with his girlfriend when intruders entered the home and tied up his brother in the basement. Duane heard the intruders, grabbed a gun and went downstairs. The robbers fled and Duane chased them outside. The police had just arrived.
Duane was holding the gun. The police mistook him for a robber and shot him. Bleeding to death, Duane hobbled inside and screamed for his girlfriend to call the police, not knowing they had just shot him.
“He had just taken the NYPD entrance exam,” Bynoe-Browne said later. “He wanted to be a lawyer, and he thought it would help him if he had a job as a cop first. But he never made it. I think about him always. I miss him.”
Bynoe-Browne, thin and frail, sat in her dark and cluttered living room. She said she was recently diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She may die before she gets an apology from the police for killing her son. Bynoe-Browne’s eyes welled a bit and she looked toward the front window. It was a Sunday evening in early May, and outside the sun was softened to an early-dusk orange and somewhere in East New York sirens wailed.
At midnight, the Delgado family was already in bed and asleep when unexpected intruders broke down the door to invade their Bronx apartment.
One son, then 14, was woken up by a flashlight and ordered to crawl to the door or else he was told he would be shot. The rest of the family was dragged to the hallway in handcuffs. Hours later, they returned to find their apartment left in shambles.
These intruders were not robbers. They were police who, on a no-knock search warrant, got the wrong apartment in a drug raid the night of May 23, 1994.
A confidential informant told the police that he bought drugs from “Green Eyes,” a drug dealer who lived in Apt. 5E at 1065 Manor Avenue in Soundview, Bronx selling five-dollar vials of crack cocaine between midnight and 8 a.m.
The tip, however, lead them to an innocent family.
“When they came to our apartment, they found a woman and six kids,” said Lou Delgado, now 34.
The Delgados are not alone. In 2013, there were 823 allegations of improper premise entry due to abuse of authority by police officers in New York City according to the Civilian Complaint Review Board. These cases include botched police raids like the one at 1065 Manor Avenue that are based on faulty tips from confidential informants, resulting in ordinary civilians like the Delgados being wrongly targeted.
William Bayer, a retired Deputy Inspector for the New York City Police Department, said that he believed the officers who raided the Delgado’s home failed to make the proper surveillance beforehand to verify the tip from the confidential informant. “It was really sloppy police work,” he said. “They hit the wrong apartment.”
Anthony Delgado, 30, said that their mother, a single parent, taught him and his siblings to avoid criminal behavior in their Soundview neighborhood. Gunshots, he said, reverberated in the streets when they were young.
“She did it with six with us,” Enrique Delgado, 34, said, “she’s a strong woman.”
After the raid, their mother, Sandra Delgado, 54, stopped taking her children to school. While battling depression, she attempted to commit suicide twice.
Lou Delgado said he suffers from insomnia, as do the rest of the family. A knock, akin to the sound of the hydraulic press that broke down their apartment door, startles Candida Delgado, now 33.
1995, Sandra Delgado filed a lawsuit seeking compensatory and punitive damages from the city and the 23 police officers involved in the raid. The officers at the time were a part of the now-defunct New York City Housing Authority Police Department’s Bronx Narcotics Enforcement Unit under Police Service Area 7, a jurisdiction that includes Soundview. The NYCHA police department merged with the NYPD in 1995.
The case dragged on for twenty years after multiple officers filed motions to get off the case, resulting in numerous delays. In 2008, the death of the eldest son, Juan Delgado, resulted in another suspension.
The case, now against three officers, the city, the NYPD, and the NYCHA police department, finally came to trial in Aug. 2014.
Four months later, Justice Faviola Soto of the Bronx County Supreme Court dismissed the trial, stating that the search warrant was valid against the opinion of the First Appellate Court.
“Everyone should feel secure in their home,” said Mitchel Ashley, the attorney for the family throughout the past twenty years. “It’s a tenet of our system.”
The family filed a notice of appeal in January 2015.
“If we give up, they win,” said Enrique Delgado. “We didn’t do anything wrong.”
The 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York radically changed the public opinion on security issues. People felt unsafe and were being told that they need to give up civil liberties for security.” Terrorist attacks are extremely rare events, but they do have a massive impact on public opinion and thus can easily be instrumentalized for political purposes: they provide the reason for the expansion of power.
We need a powerful state to protect us. In the name of security and terrorism prevention, mass surveillance has become legitimate. In order to eliminate threats and prevent crime the control is exercised over increasingly large parts of what was once considered private.
We are living in dangerous times. That is what we believe.
Every individual has to find a balance between privacy and its need for perceived security. This is not an easy task, considering that we think of security as being something which emanates from the state and guards us from external threats. As citizens of democratic countries we have an obligation to guard the guardians.
Most Americans believe it is acceptable to monitor others, except for U.S. citizens, but a large portion of the population is unaware of who is being spied on. We are disempowered by a system of information collection that has developed a life of its own.
How effectively the security forces stationed in and around soft targets can prevent an attack is doubtful.
Armed security forces patrol public squares and subway stations, they watch bridges and guard entrances of large buildings. The Stock Exchange, Times Square, Brooklyn Bridge, Grand Central, the Empire State Building or the new World Trade Center are only a small selection of potential places that could be chosen as primary targets for terrorist attacks. Stations are protected by state police, MTA officers, the NYPD and military forces. However, other subway stations next to Grand Central, are not protected at all and thus very vulnerable to attacks.
There are several thousand security cameras around the city, but it is difficult to fully analyze the flood of data they generate. Police officers and military stand in the open. Heavily armed they self-consciously pervade these places with a sense of protection. The signal they want to send is clear: Don’t worry, you are safe! But when a bomb reaches the destination the mistake has been made much earlier.
The most effective preventive measures against home-grown terrorist attacks could come from the cooperation between the state security forces and communities. Individuals know what is going on in their neighborhood, they are much more aware of potential threats than the police. The communities have an incentive to promote their own safety. However, if the ties between police and people are weak because communities are targeted  or there is a lack of interaction because of xenophobic or political reasons, there is no flow of information between police and community. Surveillance operations deepen this trench.
Transparency is the foundation for trust between the people and the police as a coercive institution. What we are deprived of in the current situation is our ability to make decisions on the balance between individual privacy and our need for feeling safe.
 Shane 2009, September 11 Terrorist Attacks Against the United States and the Law Enforcement Response.
Haberfeld et al. 2009, Terrorism within Comparative International Context - The Counter-Terrorism Response and Preparedness.
http://www.droemer-knaur.de/buch/252574/der-terrorist-als-gesetzgeber: Heribert Prantl, Professor of Law at Bielefeld University, Germany
http://www.pewinternet.org/files/2015/03/PI_AmericansPrivacyStrategies_0316151.pdf: according to a study of the PEW Research Center 46% of Americans “describe themselves as not very concerned or not at all concerned about the Surveillance.“
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/11/opinion/a-real-debate-on-surveillance.html: „Domestic intelligence-gathering had grown beyond their [the government’s] control, and, even now, few seem disturbed to learn that every detail about the public's calling and texting habits now reside in a N.S.A. database."
Charles Lieberman, Researcher on Homeland Security and Community Policing at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
http://www.mediaeater.com/cameras/: according to the New York Civil Liberties Union and their NYC Camera Surveillance Project by the every city district has now hundreds of outdoor cameras. The casual mapping of very visible cameras implies that the numbers could be lot higher.
Haberfeld et al 2009: „It can be safely assumed that the western governments’ ability to collect intelligence had long exceeded their capacity to analyze it.”
Haberfeld et al 2009: „Community policing may be the greatest asset to decreasing the threat posed by the phenomenon of terrorism in the new millennium.”
Haberfeld et al. 2009: “By increasing the cooperation and communication between the community and the police, the ability of individuals planning a terrorist attack to maintain the covert nature required for success can be signiﬁcantly impacted.”
Haberfeld et al. 2009: “Local law enforcement agencies tend to stay away and avoid intense interactions with minority groups for reasons that are partially political, operational, and xenophobic.
Crenshaw 2005: „Violations of human rights [like for example the right to privacy] in the pursuit of counter-terrorism will be counterproductive.”
African-American boys and young men in New York City can’t walk down the street or behave like their white peers because of the dangers they may face from law enforcement. Many of them have internalized certain behaviors in order to avoid being thrust in dangerous situations involving police. All too often, even when they have done nothing wrong, police officers target them because of the way they look or because they are out at night with a large group of friends.
Indeed, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union, from 2002 to 2011, black and Latino residents of New York made up close to 90 percent of people stopped, and in about 88 percent of stops – more than 3.8 million – the people detained had committed no crime.
In turn, many parents of Black and Latino boys and men have sat them down and given them “the talk,” which is a list of things they can and cannot do in the event they are stopped by police.
Kathryn Murrow, whose 8-year-old son Christopher is a third-grader at KIPP Infinity Elementary School, a charter school in Harlem, is one such parent. She has been teaching Christopher since he was 6 years old about appropriate conduct in public.
“I don’t want to wait until he’s 12 years old," she said. "So I told him, I said, if a cop stops you and asks one of your friends and he’s looking at one of your friends, don’t you respond. You guys stay in control. Just listen.”
She added: “Just stand there and where your hands and everything can be seen. No sudden movements. I think it's unfortunate today that this is what we have to teach our black and brown babies.”
Bronx resident Kojo Sargent, a 37-year-old music producer, was given a similar talk by his parents.
“It wasn’t until I was getting ready to learn how to drive where we actually had the conversation of how to handle an encounter with law enforcement,” Sargent said. “When you encounter law enforcement, always articulate whatever you’re saying and cooperate with them. Let them know what you’re doing. Keep your hands where they can see them.
“If you’re driving, it’s always 10-and-two [as on a clock face] on the steering wheel. And then when they ask for your license, you’re like, OK, well, my wallet’s in my back, right pocket, can I reach for that? And they’ll say yes or no. And then, the reasons for keeping your hands on 10-and-two is that if they were to shoot you, then your hands would have rigor mortis so then at that point, they would be able to prove that you weren’t making any aggressive moves toward them.”
This project began when I saw a neon pink thong with the NYPD logo for sale in a Brooklyn uniform store. I thought, why would anyone want this? And who, if anyone, approved this for sale? Does this pink thong in any way enhance the NYPD’s social profile? I began looking around souvenir shops all over the city for NYPD merchandise. And I was surprised how much there was! A lot of it is benign, like t-shirts and hats, but there are also shot glasses and card decks with the official seal of the police department. Who buys it all? And where does the money go?
In July of 2001, The New York City Police Foundation was granted the right to license official NYPD merchandise to manufacturers who wish to produce branded products for commercial sale. Two months later, after 9/11, sales skyrocketed.
The NYPD name and logo has become an internationally recognized, commercial brand. In July of 2001, The New York City Police Foundation.
In 2006, then-Mayor Bloomberg founded New York & Company, the city’s own marketing firm, and gave them responsibility for all city-related brands, including NYPD, FDNY, NYC Taxi and NYC Parks.
New York & Co. would not disclose merchandise sales figures, but a report from 2010 shows total revenue for all brands was $24 million. According to New York & Co., more than half of the revenue comes from the NYPD brand, and sales have increased every year since the New York & Co took over in 2006.
The New York City Police Foundation remains the main beneficiary of the program. It receives 70% of annual NYPD royalties. Their annual financial statement shows the foundation received $453,167 in licensing revenue in 2013. The New York Police Foundation runs various support programs for NYPD officers and their families. The remaining 30% covers the cost of operating the licensing program and managing the trademarks.
The merchandise is for sale online and in the many souvenir stores around New York City, and the people love it. Sales peaked right after 9/11, but they have steadily increased every year since 2006. The second peak was in 2011, on the tenth anniversary of 9/11.
The most popular product is the navy blue t-shirt with the NYPD logo on the front. But there are hundreds of other products available too, like jewelry, toys, mugs, socks and ornaments, even shot glasses. Proposals for new products are reviewed once a year. All products have to be approved both by NYC & Co and the NYPD.
The people who buy NYPD products are mostly tourists, law enforcement officers from around the world and their families. There are also collectors who buy anything with the NYPD logo on it. Many of them are former NYPD officers or law enforcement officers from other states or countries. Brand expert and consumer psychologist Tom Meyvis at NYU Stern says the tourists’ fascination with the NYPD comes from films and television shows, which have made the NYPD the most recognized law enforcement department in the world.
It went down to 11 degrees the night of December 20, 1988. Garry Germain, then 34, was a newly hired security guard at Columbia University. He’d started working six weeks prior. After finishing dinner, he returned to occupy his stationed post by the Graduate School of Journalism. Germain chose to stand inside the doors of the lobby that night, to escape the cold and keep a watchful eye on the plaza and the entrance of a grocery store that then existed on campus. The store had been held-up by a gunman on two prior occasions. Germain was last seen at 10 p.m. near the marble floor inscription of newspaper magnate. Joseph Pulitzer, dedicating the school “in memory of his daughter Lucille.” By 10:20 p.m. Germain was dead.
In the subsequent weeks after the incident, detectives found no real evidence. There was no weapon recovered, no suspect detained, and only one conceivable witness. “It was what we call in the force: a clean hit,” said Denis O’Sullivan, an investigator who worked the case.
Even though the murder happened on an Ivy League campus and inside the nation’s premier journalism school no less, there was little media coverage following the event. Just a small story in the Metropolitan section of the New York Times, and the campus newspaper. It was the era before Twitter and Instagram, and journalism students didn’t jump on the story that left blood on the floor of their school.
Germain, originally from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, came to the United States in his late teens and soon after finishing high school, he enlisted in the army — but not before meeting his high school sweetheart, Marlene Jones. After a stint in the army, and several day jobs, he was finally happy with the way things were going in life. He had a beautiful wife, three gorgeous children, and a house with a backyard in Queens.
In 1988 New York City’s murder rate reached an all time high: 1,896 homicides, with 400 in Manhattan North alone. “That’s the area that covers north of 57th street up to 225th," says O’Sullivan. To give some perspective – last year the number of homicides in New York City totaled 328. O’Sullivan admits this may have caused some crime scene details to have been overlooked.
Many people would class Germain's shooting as just another killing, but the execution of the murder was too precise. Point blank, behind the left ear. The question is why would an ordinary guy be placed on a hit–was the shooting a message? The family is reluctant to talk, both sides believe the other had something to do with the murder of their beloved. Det. O’Sullivan believes that there’s someone out there, perhaps in prison, who knows what happened that fateful night.
The story reads true crime mystery; with bad blood between family, rumors of love affairs and a detective who just won't quit; posting fliers on the anniversary, with the hopes that somebody will come with information.
Max Germain, the victim's older brother, began working at Columbia University 46 years ago. Today he is still there. He says the reason he never left his job, is so that he could be as close to his brother's investigation as possible.
There are now 9,082 unsolved murders in New York City dating back to 1985. With roughly 150 – 200 being added to that figure every year. Try as they might, the police department are not solving that many each year.
When Bill de Blasio was elected mayor in 2013, it was on a ticket of reforming New York City policing. Out with the stop-and-frisk arrests, and in with a fairer approach to policing.
Supporters were disappointed however to learn that the mayor would be bringing back Bill Bratton as police commissioner, whose “broken window theory” approach to policing received strong criticism.
Developed by George Kelling and James Wilson, the broken window theory states that by focusing on low-level crimes, a lawful atmosphere is created that discourages people from committing more serious crimes. Following a pilot scheme on the subway system, mayor Rudy Giuliani was determined to employ the theory on a citywide scale, and in 1993 Bratton was made commissioner for the first time.
This focus on low-level crime is controversial even today, with some questioning its effectiveness, and the Police Reform Organizing Project (PROP) is campaigning to change the NYPD’s practices. Low-level crimes include leaving a bag on a subway seat, falling asleep on the subway, jaywalking, and even being in the park after dark.
These policies are producing a stark racial imbalance. During a June 2014 court monitoring session, PROP saw 747 misdemeanor cases. 89% of cases were people of color. And figures obtained from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services show that 86% of misdemeanor arrests in 2014 were people of color.
Bob Gangi, founder of PROP, stresses the racial imbalance is a symptom of poor policy, where minority communities are over policed and officers are required to fill a regular quota.
“Police officers didn’t take that job so they could arrest a black or Latino teenager whose walking her dog in the park after dusk,” he said.
“Most people became police officers because they wanted to do good. They wanted to help the community. They wanted to fight real crime, instead of spending so much of their time meeting a quota.”
Colleen Meenan, a lawyer with Meenan and Associates, notes the important role officers can play in making communities feel safer, and the pressures on officers to ensure locals feel secure by cracking down on antisocial behavior. “Making it just based on race is really too simple,” she said.
As for the original authors of the theory, Kelling went on to co-author “Fixing Broken Windows”, in which he called for better community engagement, citing the 1950s professionalization of the police as the point when police began responding to crimes rather than preventing them.
But the jury’s out on whether cracking down on low-level crimes is effective. It’s important to remember that Giuliani’s crime crackdown was a multi-faceted approach. Crime went down in the nineties, but was it really because litterbugs were ticketed?
The Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), whose purpose is to investigate complaints filed by civilians against police officers, has long been regarded as an impotent and convoluted judicial process.
The current chair of the CCRB, Richard Emery, was appointed in July 2014 by the mayor in an attempt to restore integrity to the board and weed out "internal political problems", with the intention of establishing itself as a credible authority in New York City's justice system.
If a civilian files a complaint alleging police misconduct - use of excessive or unnecessary force, abuse of authority, discourtesy or offensive language - their claim is investigated by the CCRB.
If there’s enough evidence to substantiate the claim, the case will go to trial at One Police Plaza in downtown Manhattan. The CCRB can make recommendations for disciplinary action against offending officers, but ultimately the police commissioner has the final say.
Emery says there was a backlog of approximately 1700-2000 cases when he first came in, which they have since significant reduced: "It was a mess", he says.
What's more, the truncation rate of cases was extremely high. Emery attributes this in part to the fact that it took over a year to investigate a single case, and says complainants often lost interest and withdrew their allegations. Investigations now take three months, says Emery.
He also acknowledges a likely "pro-police bias" in the board for any number of years, describing it as "a step-child of the NYPD". Investigations were carried out by detectives assigned by the police department. Now, Emery says they have their own investigation team and lawyers.
Emery is confident that Bratton, the current NYPD commissioner, will take the CCRB's case recommendations seriously. He admits that, in the past, the CCRB was a "toothless tiger" that failed to garner respect from the police department. As a result, "its recommendations were ignored for the most part".
Others are less convinced by the CCRB’s ability to hold the NYPD accountable. Chris Dunn, associate legal director for the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), has long been a watchdog of the CCRB. Dunn says that disregard for the CCRB's recommendations is an ongoing problem.
In addition to reviewing individual complaints, Dunn says the CCRB are mandated to conduct broader policy reports. This responsibility, he says, has been largely ignored; as a result the CCRB has been "a silent player in the debates here in New York City about policing".
The CCRB released "A Mutated Rule" in October 2014, an evaluation of Chokehold allegations against members of the NYPD. According to CCRB data, between 2009 and 2014, members of the public filed 1,048 complaints involving chokehold allegations.
The report was timely; conducted in the wake of the Eric Garner incident on Staten Island that summer, as his final words "I can't breathe" rang indelibly around the city during waves of protest.
"A Mutated Rule" examines the definition of the chokehold – and the shades of grey separating it from other restraining techniques. Chokeholds have been banned within the NYPD for over 20 years.
The report may indicate the CCRB is seeking to establish itself as a more active voice in our conversations about policing tactics, but Dunn remains skeptical.
Though a step in the right direction, Dunn views the report as a cursory look at the way the CCRB had handled chokehold complaints in the past, rather than a careful scrutiny of the training and culture within the NYPD contributing to the problem.
Three years ago, Angel Martinez successfully filed a complaint with the CCRB alleging a chokehold and says he saw justice, to a point. He was able to face his attackers - the two plain-clothes officers who followed him in a car before jumping on him, for having ridden his bike on the sidewalk momentarily after buying a bag of chips from a bodega.
Martinez says they shoved him against the hood on their car and then onto the ground. one officer put him in a chokehold, while the other punched in him in the stomach. He says he was lying on the cold ground, struggling to breathe, thinking, "they aren't going to get away with this".
Then they arrested him. Martinez spent the night in a cell. When he was released the following morning, he went to hospital.
His whole body hurt, he says, including his neck, but his main concern was his hand, where the handcuffs had been fastened tightly and a serious pain in his lower abdomen, which his medical records reflected.
Martinez returned to the precinct to collect his belongings, determined to report his arresting officers. The officer behind the desk was unhelpful, says Martinez, claiming it was not possible to file a complaint at your local precinct. Instead of directly offering the number for the CCRB, he wordlessly pointed at a corkboard covered in posters.
The fact Martinez didn't emphasize pain in his neck, together with the failure of his only witness to show up to trial, meant the two officers directly involved in the incident were not charged. The only officer who was charged was the one sitting at the front desk of the precinct.
It was noon on April 14, 2014 when Gama Droiville heard seven gunshots while waiting for a bus on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, New York. Droiville, 13, never got on the B41 bus, homebound to Canarsie, but instead became the victim of crossfire as seen in video footage from a security camera above a liquor store on the block.
Kareem Potomont, 21, the accused shooter is seen in a grey hoodie charging towards the bus stop with a gun, with which he aimed to shoot a gang rival, Eduardo Dolphy. Dolphy was shot in the leg while another bullet went through Droiville’s right eye, leaving him bloody and blinded as he stumbled inside Avenue Pizza II located across from the bus stop. Rufino Salazar, the manager of the pizza place, remembers Gama’s aunt shouting, “My son is going to die”.
Salazar, who has been managing the pizza place since it opened three years ago, has lived in the neighborhood for that long, if not longer and with a child of his own, he worries about the shootings; he says there have been at least ten near the pizza place since he started working there.
Gama Droiville's parents sent him to live with aunt and uncle from Haiti when he was 3 years old. He had grown up in the East Flatbush neighborhood where he was shot. Since then, he has gone through a lot of changes: several surgeries, a new prosthetic eye, a new school and a new neighborhood. As a teenager he wants nothing more than to begin to forget the shooting but as a survivor of gun violence, he wants to remind the people around him how importance it is to take guns off the streets.
Droiville was one of around a 1,000 survivors of shootings in the city last year, according to a recent article in the medical journal Pediatrics. For every youth killed by gunfire, five are injured, at great cost to public and private health care systems, not to mention the victims themselves.
In an email exchange, Droiville described the changes he has been through:
“I just wanted to take a little break. Sure I can tell you some things that changed and some things I hope would happen. Some things have changed in my life. For example, I'm now blind in my right eye and I have met some very respectful journalists. Reporters and Anchors. I've been to places I never would have thought of going to. Remember yesterday when I told you that, Kim and Channel 11 have been so helpful and they are trying to get me to meet Gabby Giffords, so we can sit and talk about gun laws because I would not want the same thing to happen to someone else's child and by chance meeting the President would also be nice. Hope to talk to you soon.
After the officer responsible for Michael Brown’s death was not indicted in Ferguson, New York’s streets flooded with protestors asking for justice. The crowds who marched the streets wanting police reform carried the Black Lives Matter hash tags and movement. The same happened the night a Staten Island jury decided not to indict the police officer in the Eric Garner killing. This was fall of 2014 and winter soon followed. It may seem that the rallies and protests abated in the cold weather, but there was still ongoing action. For some New Yorkers, organizing is a way of life and part of a long trajectory of activism on issues of racial inequality, which include incarceration and police brutality.
At Brotherhood Sister-Sol, a community organization in central Harlem, Julien Terrell and Simone Gamble work with youth on a variety of issues, including police injustice. Terrell, 33, grew up in Harlem, and has faced police aggressiveness through stop and frisk. “They may say it’s no longer a law, but police are still stopping us for searches,” Terrell said. Most of his work at the organization is around the youth liberation program. Both him and Gamble meet weekly with a group of teenagers to discuss these issues and teach tools for organizing.
In addition to the youth program, Terrell often walks the neighborhood seeking signatures for petitions surrounding policing injustice. He would have discussions about people’s rights if police stopped them as they signed the clipboard he carried. “Even though it’s a rainy Saturday, it is discussions like these that make it worth coming out and raising awareness,” Terrell said.
Another group that was busy working during the winter months was the NYC Justice League. After the initial protests, they also staged shutdowns at the Apple Store and Macy’s. However, the bulk of their work for the past two months was putting a march together to Washington DC. They decided to carry a justice package that asked for a change in the juvenile system, end to racial police profiling and police militarization.
They met weekly to discuss these issues and prepare for the march. They had orientations on wellness and taking care of their body leading up to the 250-mile walk. They raised awareness through social media and coordinated meetings with other organizations, such as a group at Essex County College in Newark, NJ, where they had a discussion and open mic night on issues of policing.
The weekend before the march, they packed air mattresses, food and snacks and t-shirts with their slogan for the long trek. Throughout all this there were endless phone calls, emails and meetings as the group pulled in all their contacts from NY to DC. They also ran an online fundraising campaign and a networking event every Thursday night.
On the day of the march arrived, and the marchers came out to register. “By that time, I was just ready to march,” said Michelana Ferrara, an organizer with the group. As the league headed out to the Staten Island Bridge for action, they were still fielding calls and making plans. Proof that there is so much more that goes on behind the scenes when it comes to movements for police reform.
Ferrara started organizing when she was 15. “For the past 10 years maybe there hasn’t been much change, but people are waking up now, so the next 10 years will be different,” Ferrara said. Shaddai Swift, also a member of NYC Justice League, is hoping that after the march more people will join the movement. “People I know are already texting me saying I saw you on TV, so there’s already an interest beginning to form,” Swift said.
Pastor Mark Erson, a gay man and native New Yorker, has been running St. John’s Lutheran Church for almost four years. “I got here and had not really been introduced to the problems of LGBTQ homeless young adults,” said Erson, “but it was one of the first things that I got introduced to as a concern of this area and of the city as a whole,”
This led to a partnership with New Alternatives, a support group for homeless LGBTQ young people. The collaboration, Erson explains, was a blessing, “I saw there was a real answer to prayer. We had the space but we didn't have anything to build a program with, they had the program.”
New Alternatives and St. John’s have now been working together for almost three years to provide counseling, warm meals and group sessions to New York’s homeless. Their Sunday night dinner typically attracts a crowd of 50 - 70 people.
Although many support the work of the church, Erson explains that they’ve also faced opposition from local residents. “I’ve had some people tell me that the church is at fault for the problems that are out on the street, that we’re attracting these folks here and I want to say, we've only been doing this three years and these folks have been around a whole lot longer, and everyone always says, well we’re not homophobic, and it’s like, no you’re racist, if these were white kids hanging out there wouldn't be issues, but they're black kids and they’re latinos.”
Studies have found that LGBTQ young people make up around 40 percent of the homeless population. There is a fairly widely adopted statistic that estimates 1 in 10 people identifies as LGBTQ however official reports and studies from the Williams Institute at the University of California put that figure at closer to 3.8 percent of the nation.
Reasons for homelessness vary - from bad luck to abuse. However rejection from families on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is reported to be the most common reason contributing to LGBTQ homelessness. However as Erson points out, metal health is frequently a contributing factor.
Many young people find themselves in larger cities like New York where there are more resources available to them as well as a culture of acceptance and tolerance. Yet most remain homeless, and some turn to less than legal means of surviving - theft and sex-work for example. As a result, encounters with the police are common place.
“As with anything, there are some cops that are very patient, and there are others who are just looking for opportunities to harass,” said Erson.
The City’s West Village has long been an important area for the LGBTQ population - in part due to the NYPD. In June 1969 police forcefully raided the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street, a bar frequented by LGBTQ customers. The gay community responded to the raid with demonstrations and protests while the police responded with force and violence. The demonstrations have since become known as the Stonewall Riots and are considered to be one of the most important events in the fight for LGBT rights in the United States.
Christopher Street today is no less significant; the Christopher Street pier has a long standing history as a refuge for homeless young adults, and now St. John’s has become another haven.
LaSalle wears a black jacket with a patch that reads “Cop Watcher” and never leaves his Bronx residence without his video camera. With a portable police scanner in one pocket and a small notebook in another, he is set to patrol the neighborhood.
“I have to patrol everyday. I am watching the police all the time.”
Jose LaSalle, 45, an activist on police issues from the Bronx runs a watchdog group Cop-Watch Patrol Unit that documents and records police activity in the neighborhoods of New York City.
on their cellphones. Activist organizations were set up to patrol in their local neighborhoods to monitor, videotape and document police activity on the streets. Cop-watchers go out on foot or driving patrols in their communities and record interactions between the police and civilians with an aim to deter any human rights exploitation.
Cop watching has grown to be a trend as the American youth began to start recording and documenting the police
Aidge Patterson, another cop-watcher who patrols the Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn coordinates Peoples’ Justice, a police-accountability group that hopes to spread a “culture of cop watching among the youth of New York City.”
“We are like the African American militant party the Black Panthers. The only difference is that instead of guns, we shoot with our cameras,” said Patterson. “Our motto is to film the police.”
Video evidence played a significant role in shaping outrage to the death of Eric Garner, who died after a cop placed him in a chokehold in Staten Island.
Randolph Carr, a Harlem cop-watcher said, “We want to create a culture of cop-watch. Not just teams, not just volunteers- we want everyone, whoever you are, you need to watch the cops.”
During the outrage against police brutality, N.Y.P.D. officers were reminded that they legally couldn’t take action to stop someone from filming police activity in an official memo circulated in August 2014.
The memo stated that blocking or obstructing cameras, or ordering a person to stop filming, “violates the First Amendment.”
People’s Justice conducts regular workshops where they train volunteers to promote cop watching on a regular basis in their local neighborhoods.
“We work in teams of two where one film crew captures the incidence up-close and the other stands back and gets a wide angle view of the incident,” explains Patterson. “Our presence makes the cops conscious and watch their behavior.”
Along with tips on cop watching, People’s Justice trains its volunteers how to react if the police obstruct filming. “You gotta remind them again and again that it is your right,” said Patterson. “This is why we encourage patrolling in groups and teams of two.”
LaSalle on the other hand, resorts to another solution to this problem.
He connects his camera to the Internet where the recorded video is taped and sent to a database online. This database is maintained and inspected by New York Civil Liberties Union by their smart phone application called- “Stop & Frisk App”.
“Basically I press the button on the side and the video begins to stream online. So if the police were to snatch it and break, it is already been saved on our database,” explained LaSalle. “They can’t do nothing to the evidence now.”
“We want to show to the whole world what these officers do in the community. We have to make sure that they are following their duty of Courtesy, Professionalism and Respect,” said LaSalle.
For Chinese Americans, the shooting death of Akai Gurley means more than one of a series of police killings against African Americans that aggravated tensions between the police and the public. The bullet came out of a Chinese police officer’s gun, took Akai Gurley’s life, and put the Chinese community, which has been known as quiet, politically inactive, absent in the “anti police brutality” conversation, in a tricky position.
The shooting occurred on November 20, 2014 when officer Peter Liang and his partner, officer Shaun Landau, was patrolling in Louis H. Pink House, a housing project in East New York.
They tried to enter a dark, unlit stairwell on the 8th floor. With a flashlight in his right hand and a loaded gun in his left hand, officer Liang leaned on the stairwell door to open it with his right shoulder, turning left to face the 7th floor landing.
In the meantime, Akai Gurley entered the stairwell from the 7th floor with his girlfriend.
Authorities claimed that neither side saw each other and no words were exchanged. Officer Liang discharged his gun as he shoved open the door. The bullet ricocheted of the wall and hit Akai Gurley in his chest. Akai Gurley didn’t realize he was shot when he heard the gunshot. He ran downstairs and collapsed on the 5th floor, a police source told New York Daily News. Prosecutors said officer Liang and officer Landau did not call for help for at least four minutes and failed to render first aid to Gurley.
Early reactions: “Race doesn’t matter”
At first, the Asian community supported indicting Peter Liang. Councilmember Margaret Chin, a Hong Kong native, called for indictment of Liang in December before the prosecutors present the evidence. On Dec. 14, 2014, 80 Asian American protestors from two activist groups-DRUM South Asian Organizing Center and Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence (CAAAV)-rallied at Rego Park, Queens, to demand that Liang be accountable for Akai Gurley’s death.
Some continued to support the indictment when came out on Feb. 11, 2014.
“For the past 36 years since our committee was founded, we’ve supported every single family that lost their family members due to police actions,” said Cathy Dang, the executive director of advocacy group CAAAV. "If someone takes away a human life, he should be accountable no matter who he is.”
Councilmember Chin responded in an NBC interview that “race doesn’t matter”, because “it could be reversed”.
Suspicions: Is Liang scapegoated?
However, an opposite voice rose in the Chinese community.
Some Chinese Americans argued that Liang was scapegoated and that the indictment was delivered as a reaction to the backlash against police and prosecutors for not charging the officers involved in the Eric Garner and Michael Brown shooting cases. They think that the six-count indictment, which charges Liang with second-degree manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, reckless endangerment, two counts of official misconduct and second-degree assault, and carries a maximum 15 year-sentence, is unfair for a rookie cop.
“As Asian Americans we’ve been marginalized in many ways,” said Phil Grimm, a community leader in Flushing, “and an Asian cop is an easy target when there is a need to indict a cop to soothe people’s anger, whether it’s fair or not.”
Although District Attorney Thompson denied that the indictment was influenced by the politics of the street, it’s hard for many Chinese Americans to see the Liang case as separate from the protest that followed the decisions not to indict in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases.The perception persists in the community, and the numbers add fuel to the fire. An investigation by the New York Daily News found that at least 179 people were killed due to NYPD actions over the last 15 years, and 86 percent of those killed were African Americans or Hispanic. The investigation also revealed that only three of the involved officers were indicted. One was convicted, and even he was not sentenced to prison. If Peter Liang is convicted, however, he would be the first officer in New York City to be convicted and given jail time for a police killing since 1999.
Liang’s supporters in the Chinese community, however, don’t seem to have much faith in the system. They believe that the political significance of this case has interfered with the legal proceeding. John Chan, the chairman of the Brooklyn Asian Communities Empowerment, a non-profit group that unites Asian Americans in Brooklyn, is concerned that Liang will face even more severe punishment than he deserves without the support of the Chinese American community.
“Unlike those abusive cops, Liang had no intent to hurt anyone,” Chan said, “He wouldn’t have shot at the wall if he meant to kill the victim. Who could imagine that a man happened to enter the stairwell right after the shot, and the bullet could be bounced back into his chest?”
Even the district attorney’s choice of words has been disputed. Swann Lee, a writer and Asian American rights activist, said she noticed that District Attorney Thompson avoided using the word—accident—when he spoke of the case in a press conference. “He never mentioned that the bullet ricocheted off the wall or that the shooting was accidental, which is a key fact that affects how people see this case,” she said. “I feel like he is trying to categorize Liang into a bully cop.”
More painful memory surfaced
Many activists could not help mentioning the death of NYPD detective Wenjian Liu, who was killed on Dec. 20, 2014 in a hate crime against the police. Sorrow for Liu’s death became sympathy for Liang.
The front pages of major Chinese newspapers such as the China Press, the World Journal and the Singtao Daily, were dominated in the past two months with stories urging the community to “Support Peter Liang,” a statement that later became the slogan of five press conferences and two rallies in support of the Chinese-American police officer. On April 26, thousands of Chinese Americans in New York marched across the Brooklyn Bridge to demand a fair trial for Liang.
On January 5 2015, performance artist and activist Reverend Billy Talen was arrested while “sermonizing” during a “Black Lives Matter” vigil in Grand Central Station. Talen’s arrest and trial draw attention to the controversy over the censorship of expression in politicized spaces. He performed almost the exact same act in three different spaces: a private event space, a public train station, and outside New York’s criminal court. He was arrested for the act at Grand Central station, without cause, and falsely accused in the papers of attacking police officers. Talen was charged with the usual protest charges of disorderly conduct and obstructing government administration. The judge offered him the opportunity to go free under conditional discharge, where charges would be dropped in exchange for his promise to “stay out of trouble” for at least six months, but Talen and his lawyers rejected the deal.
“The police are essentially arresting you with no charge at all. They’re sentencing you to at least a night or two in prison simply because you’re protesting. And protesting has become, for police, something that they’re opposed to culturally. That culture needs to change,” said Talen. All charges were eventually dropped at his trial in April.
Shaun Leonardo, who is both an artist and a trained martial arts fighter, responds through an art performance at the Smackmellon gallery’s exhibition - Respond - which curated artworks addressing issues of police brutality and social injustice. Leonardo engaged volunteers from the audience in an immersive and intimate series of martial arts partner moves leading to the chokehold. At his home studio, Leonardo’s drawings of the Eric Garner incident depict how information gets lost over time as the memory collapses everything to fragments, while his performance workshop aspired to take the issue beyond semantics. In a follow-up interview, he spontaneously responds to video where martial art instructors from the Gracie Jiu Jitsu school give a technical explanation as to why they believe the chokehold did not kill Eric Garner. The school also trains police officers.
Leonardo comes from a perspective of growing up in Queens as a male Latino. “In my own experience there have been more abstract moments, more subtle moments: the NYPD saying things that made me ponder if it would be said in the same fashion to a white person, or if a white person would be incriminated in the same way.” He is very well aware of the fear and incriminating psychology behind acts of police brutality; issues surrounding the incrimination and vilification of the minority male body has long been a running theme of his works.
Both Talen and Leonardo are politically motivated, with intentions to remind the public why having the discussion in person and in public is crucial in attempting to make a sincere impact. But they also juxtapose each other.
“Most of my detentions and jailings and trials, I’m treated like a heterosexual white male top dog in the ecosystem of humanity. People who are not in my privileged position would undoubtedly get treated a different way in the courts,” said Talen.
The following are head shots taken from NYPD precinct sites and twitter pages showing the commanders of New York City's 77 police precincts. Of the seventy-seven precincts, eight are headed by women, ten by African Americans (three of which are women) , at least five are Hispanic and one is Asian. The resulting picture is of a command structure dominated by white males.
The picture of the uniform patrol is quite different. A 2011 article in the Wall Street Journal says that by the end of 2010 NYPD had the most diverse force in its history: “Of the 22,199 officers on patrol, nearly 53% were black, Latino or Asian, marking the first time minorities outnumbered whites by any significant measure." The article goes on to say that when it comes to higher ranks, especially in executive positions, the officers are overwhelmingly white.
Looking at the photographs of precinct commanders, one could not always determine their race. An email to NYPD's DCPI requesting clarification, went unanswered.
Policing New York is reported and produced by students at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism under the guidance of professors Nina Berman and Jake Price.
The project grew out of a desire by students to investigate the culture and practice of the NYPD and the communities they police in the wake of the Eric Garner and Akai Gurley killings and the national movement for police accountability.
New York City is the most heavily policed city in the country with more than 34,000 uniformed officers and a civilian staff totaling 51,000. Since the mid 1990's, the department has pursued what is known as a broken windows police strategy which aggressively targets low level offensives and quality of life crimes in the theory that an atmosphere of order, lawfulness and control deters future crime.
Broken windows evolved into a vigorous stop and frisk strategy which in 2011 resulted in more than 685,000 police stops with 88% of those stopped completely innocent of all crime. Communities of color were disproportionately targeted. Amid protests, lawsuits and high profile cases of police misconduct and police shootings, Mayor Bill DeBlasio promised a change.
Instead, once elected, DeBlasio hired Police Commissioner William Bratton, one of the premier architects of broken windows. Today, the debate continues as to how to effectively police a city of 8.4 million people so that all communities feel respected, protected and served.
Over the course of ten weeks from March through May 2015, the Columbia journalists reported across all five boroughs producing visually driven stories on broken windows, the Civilian Complaint Review Board, and the street activists and artists seeking reform.
Journalists profiled families who had been harmed by police and residents who relied on police to solve heinous crimes. They attended precinct/community meetings and cop watch training sessions. One journalist profiled East New York, which remains the highest crime precinct in the city. Another looked at how the NYPD sells its image around the world.
During the course of the reporting, one student was stopped and frisked by plain clothes officers who said they looking for drugs. (None were found).
Attempts were made to profile police officers and report from their perspective but requests were declined or went unanswered.
Zineb Abdessadok, Fatima Bhojani, Michael Brown, Gino Caspari, Darwin Chan, Sahiba Chawdhary, Myra Iqbal, Hanna Klingberg, Lana Lee, Elizabeth Lucking, Tess Owen, Siyu Qian, Antoaneta Roussi, Leif Reigstad, Solange Uwimana.
Associate Professor Nina Berman email@example.com