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June 26, 2008

Hip hop activists arrested in NYC for questioning NYPD tactics

Another under-reported incident involving alleged NYPD retaliation against non-violent concerned citizens, from Vivir Latino:

Last Thursday, independent, radical, revolutionary, activist Hip Hoppers Rodstarz and G1, two brothers known musically and in the movement as Rebel Diaz [along with MC/vocalist La Tere], were walking in the Bronx, NYC when they witnessed an all too common occurrence. Police officers from the 41st Precinct were in the middle of a sting against street vendors, aggressively confiscating the fruit and vegetables of a street vendor. What happened next was a mix of the sadly uncommon and the everyday threat that is faced in many of our communities. Rodstarz and G1 didn’t walk by quickly or quietly, watching their extended community being attacked. They approached the officers to ask why the vendor was being treated in that manner and asked for their badge numbers. The police, who aren’t exactly keen on the idea of being monitored by the very same community they allegedly serve, turned their aggressions on the duo. After beating them and arresting them in front of over a dozen witnesses, they were taken to the 41st Precinct.

Within hours, over 75 friends, community members and activists gathered outside the precinct (1035 Longwood Avenue at Southern Blvd.) to sing, chant, drum and march for over 4 hours, demanding that all charges be dropped and that Rodstarz and G1 be immediately released.

The following morning more than 25 people gathered at the Bronx County Criminal Court for their arraignment. The men are charged with two misdemeanors: obstruction of justice and resisting arrest, and are scheduled for court on September 3rd, 2008.

Check out video of the arrests and the subsequent protests.

[HT: Jack.]

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If the brutality and ethnic animosity the police have for that community is so predictable, it should not be hard to set up a counter-sting. Post one of those harassed street vendors in view of several hidden cameras and let things just unfold. In that way, we have a YouTube 15 minutes of infamy for that backward contingent who mar the reputation of an overworked and often decent police force. In that way we have more than the say-so of some cops vs the say-so of some activists. In that way, the cops will learn that the community and indeed the world is watching them and may temper the tactics that fit better with a Gitmo mentality than with the melting pot the city wants to advertise itself to be.

oops, they got the video. Shoulda read below the fold before comments! But the precipitating incident is not in the footage...that is where the harassment would be showing like a shot from Abu Ghraib.

If the brutality and ethnic animosity the police have for that community is so predictable, it should not be hard to set up a counter-sting. Post one of those harassed street vendors in view of several hidden cameras and let things just unfold. In that way, we have a YouTube 15 minutes of infamy for that backward contingent who mar the reputation of an overworked and often decent police force. In that way we have more than the say-so of some cops vs the say-so of some activists. In that way, the cops will learn that the community and indeed the world is watching them and may temper the tactics that fit better with a Gitmo mentality than with the melting pot the city wants to advertise itself to be.


"Fort Apache"

The 45th precinct in the Bronx is the infamous precinct depicted in the 1981 movie, "Fort Apache" starring Paul Newman. The name was given by the NYC police who worked there. Looking back in time, I've come to understand the name as a symptom of racism particularly against Hispanics.

From the available reporting and video it is impossible for me to get an idea of what really happened. Hopefully, the truth will out.

I have several childhood friends, black and white, who became NYC police officers. One delivered a fatal shot to a bad guy very early in his career. Another was shot in the arm while chasing a bad guy across a roof top. He sustained career ending nerve damage in his arm.

Talking to them about police work was always an education. Here's something I learned from them. If a police officer is engaged with a person (interrogating, confiscating goods, issuing a citation, etc.) and another person intrudes - however politely and without malice - the office may give a lawful order to the intruding citizen to step back, back up 20 feet, or even retreat across the street until the officer has finished with his work, or until the officer summons the person back. This is a lawful order and the officers may react subsequent to a citizen who is not obeying a lawful order.

I don't know what happened in this incident. However, I thought at the time I got a legal education from my police friends that this lawful police procedure is almost totally unknown to our citizens. Picture this: An earnest, sincere citizen approaches the police who are closing and dispersing street vendors. The citizen asks, respectfully, as to why the police are hassling people who contribute to and are part of the community. The police officer who is going about his assigned duties asks the citizen to "Step back, sir."

The citizen protests why he should step back, that he is not doing anything wrong, and that he is simply asking a question.

Again, "Step back, sir."

Then we hear, "I want to know what your badge number is."

"You are under arrest. Turn around put your hands behind your back."

The episode ends with a score of Police 1, Citizen 0.

I always thought that educating people on how to interact with police could go a long way to minimize insults to a community, arrests for misdemeanor obstruction of justice and resisting arrest, and misunderstandings in general. Now picture a public service broadcast on radio or TV educating people about the rights and the obligations of both police and citizens on the street.

Thankfully, the average NYC police officer today is a far cry from the corrupt, brutal and racist police when I was growing up in NYC. My local precinct was the 41st.

Educate the public on how to interact with police.

I agree, we need more education on how to interact with the police. There's a lot of urban legend out there surrounding what police can and can't do. Maybe the makers of the excellent Flex Your Rights video series would consider expanding their offerings to include advice on monitoring the police safely and legally.

Assuming that the death penalty actually operates as a disincentive above and beyond life in prison, there's some reason to save it for murder. That gives rapists a disincentive to kill victims/witnesses who could testify against them.

Now, it's not clear to me that criminals are usually this rational, or that the death penalty is even clearly worse than life in prison to them. (And anyway, the death penalty is such a mess in our country that I'd rather see a moratorium.)

Too often police are aggressive and into power plays for no other reason than they can. I am 61 yr old white guy, middle class and get the power trip all the time even for routine traffic stops. In my case I assume there is some sort of class resentment going on, but regardless the police need to exert power over all those around them all the time.

Asking a question is not a reason to arrest someone and if this is police procedure it needs to be changed.

Arrested for obstruction and resisting? In other words, arrested for annoying the police and for not wanting to be arrested. Shouldn't the police be arresting people for, you know, actual crimes against the public?

Talking to them about police work was always an education. Here's something I learned from them. If a police officer is engaged with a person (interrogating, confiscating goods, issuing a citation, etc.) and another person intrudes - however politely and without malice - the office may give a lawful order to the intruding citizen to step back, back up 20 feet, or even retreat across the street until the officer has finished with his work, or until the officer summons the person back. This is a lawful order and the officers may react subsequent to a citizen who is not obeying a lawful order.

Norman, do you know the source of this legal opinion? I can easily believe that police are taught that this is the case, but I'm less certain that it actually is the case. What laws establish the police officer's authority in such a case?


parse,

My source was my police officer friends who were explaining police procedure to me. As to applicable law or police training manuals I am not in a position to research those materials. Perhaps another reader has access to documentation or cites that are applicable.

SanderO and Windypundit:

Your posts make my point. To the unaware public it appears that the police are arresting an innocent person for asking a question. In fact, the police are arresting the citizen for disobeying a lawful order. When the person arrested begins to protest the police charge them, as per police procedure with both obstruction and resisting.

I don't know, yet, what the facts are in this case. Regardless, educating the public on how to interact with the police could be beneficial for everyone.


The law of arrest:

I did some Googling and came up with two informative URLs. They are:

http://www.answerbag.com/q_view/630513 and

http://law.jrank.org/pages/1451/Justification-Law-Enforcement-Arrest-attendant-uses-force.html

The statutes and case law center on the Fourth Amendment.

Also, I found the following which looks like a NY penal code citation: Failure to obey a lawful order (240.20 (6)). Do we have any lawyers or law researchers among the readers of this blog?

...educating the public on how to interact with the police could be beneficial for everyone.

I don't disagree, but educating and forcing the police to behave more politely with the public wouldn't be a bad thing either. In particular, it should never be a crime to watch, listen, or videotape police performing their public duties.


Windypundit,

>>> it should never be a crime to watch, listen, or videotape police performing their public duties. <<<

ABSOLUTELY!!! I am with you on that. Police should be trained to exercise their duties as if every public moment is being recorded by the people they serve.


Windypundit,

>>> it should never be a crime to watch, listen, or videotape police performing their public duties. <<<

ABSOLUTELY!!! I am with you on that. Police should be trained to exercise their duties as if every public moment is being recorded by the people they serve.

Here's a link to an appeals case decision where some of the issues involved in a policeman's order of a civilian to move away while the policeman is engaged in an arrest or other "law enforcement activity."

You can cut and paste t he link or just click on my signature to read the decision.

http://www.ca9.uscourts.gov/coa/newopinions.nsf/685769E6B6CF31AD88256E5A00707C2E/$file/0010283.pdf?openelement

As a prosecutor, I deal with officers everyday. The law of resisting/obstructing an officer in my state holds that:

"A person who knowingly resists or obstructs the performance of one known to be a peace officer..."
720 ILCS 5/31-1

It is a fine line, and at times I think that officers should use more discretion when deciding whether to charge this offense. But, when an officer is engaged in his/her official duties and they give a lawful order to a party attempting to question or intervene, that party is required to obey that lawful order. An explanation can be given once the arrests are complete. Intevening into a live arrest is a clear case of obstructing an officer. Does that mean the person needs a beat down? Absolutely not!

However, I highly doubt these guys were calm and collected and acting rationally. Had they been, they would have waited to question the officers once the incident was over. Passions seem to have run high in this case, so my guess is all parties over-reacted. But the ultimate duty lies with the citizen to obey a lawful order, even if they disagree.


"Fort Apache" correction.

I indicated, above, that the 45th precinct was "Fort Apache" and my neighborhood precinct was the 41st. It's actually the other way around. I think it's early Alzheimer.

parse and B-Money: Well done on the reference and explanation. I learned a lot in this discussion.

police badge numbers should be a part of their uniform -- like baseball players, front and back. then you wouldn't have to ask a cop for his badge number. and just having the information displayed in that way could reign in some of the more outrageous abuses.

Re .."police badge numbers should be a part of their uniform -- like baseball players, front and back.."-

AMEN to that! ^..^

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