Another violent arrest shared online has raised more questions about how fairly and safely the NYPD is enforcing social distancing measures in the city.
Cell phone video captured part of an arrest conducted in Brooklyn last Sunday. In the video, three NYPD officers, two of whom were wearing face masks, can be seen punching a young black man in the head, then threatening to arrest his friends for not wearing masks.
Gothamist, citing the arrest report, writes that 20-year-old Stephon Scott and three others were stopped by a patrol for “failing to social distance. All were within six feet of each other.”
“Scott allegedly approached the police vehicle as the officers were running their names, then refused to be handcuffed,” Gothamist reports, citing an NYPD spokesperson.
In the video, one officer threatens Scott’s friends, all bystanders, with arrest for “not wearing a mask.” As Gothamist points out, though, none of the three arresting officers were properly wearing masks themselves. One went maskless, while the other two left their noses exposed, which undermines the efficacy of the face-covering in preventing the spread of the coronavirus.
The video was just taken just one day after another arrest video went viral, this time concerning three people in the East Village. In that instance, one NYPD officer, identified as Officer Francisco Garcia, was placed on modified duty after footage captured him violently taking down a bystander to an ongoing arrest. The bystander, 33-year-old Donni Wright, was down the block from where the arrest was happening; video shows Garcia approaching Wright with his Tazer drawn, then telling Wright to “get the fuck back.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he was “really disturbed” by the arrest in the East Village, but struck a different tone when asked about the Sunday night arrest in Brooklyn.
“I want to caution that any time an officer asks someone to observe social distancing or put on a mask, the response should be to follow the instruction of the officer,” de Blasio told reporters on Tuesday. “Respect goes both ways.”’
Scott was charged with resisting arrest, obstructing government administration, unlawful assembly, and disorderly conduct. A spokesperson for Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez told Gothamist that their office has declined to prosecute the charges.
The NYPD acknowledged the videos that cropped up over the weekend but deflected on whether race was an issue.
“The common denominator here is starting with a lack of compliance,” said NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea, according to Gothamist. “Every incident is unique and has to be examined under the lens of the circumstances of that particular incident.”
But for others viewing the videos on social media, there’s another clear common denominator: the fact that the offenders are black. The racial disparity was especially stark considering many New Yorkers took to city streets and parks last weekend. Photos taken of the city’s parks show throngs of residents—many of them white, some of not wearing face masks or coverings—reveling in the warm spring weather.
Many on social media contrasted the disturbing arrest videos of black men with images of NYPD officers handing out masks to people at city parks. In the latter pictures, each of the recipients appears to be white.
While the coronavirus has drastically changed many components of American life, the age-old issue of racial disparities in law enforcement has once again come to the fore. COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, is already disproportionately killing black Americans; the concern of being disproportionately targeted for “social distancing” offenses (particularly when members of the public are taking it upon themselves to be social distancing watchdogs) feels like adding violent insult to grievous injury.
The early data should have been alarming enough. Early in April, Jezebel mapped where New Yorkers were snitching about their neighbors’ social distancing habits and found those calls were “overwhelmingly placed in gentrifying neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Manhattan, while the police were far more likely to take action on complaints logged in the Bronx.”
The Bronx has the highest proportion of black and Latinx residents in the city, as well as the borough with the lowest median income, according to the Census.
Hawk Newsome, president of Black Lives Matter of Greater New York, told Gothamist, “The difference between enforcement of social distancing in New York’s black and white communities is night and day.”
He said he was among those who received a summons after the NYPD conducted a sweep of a city-owned housing development in the Bronx this weekend for social distancing violations.
“This crisis has only brought more threats of violence to our communities,” Newsome said.
City Councilmember Carlina Rivera, the neighborhood representative for the East Village, called for greater accountability for the NYPD after the weekends’ arrests, as well as data on social distancing arrests by race and neighborhood, which the city has thus far failed to provide.
Speaking about the East Village arrest this weekend, Carolyn Martinez-Class, of the police watchdog Communities United for Police Reform, told Time magazine: “This incident illustrates why public health professions and community partners should be responsible for social distancing education and creating norms—not police.”