Black people have a turbulent and often volatile relationship with law enforcement. Our white counterparts often view this conflict between cops and black folk through a lens of privilege, causing them to offer suggestions nobody asked them for, including their go-to proverb: “If you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to worry about.”
Those white people should meet NYPD officer Kyle Erickson. In a video recently published by The Intercept, Erickson is caught by his own body camera appearing to plant marijuana in the car of two black people he and his partner Elmer Pastran had pulled over. Footage shows Erickson claiming he smelled weed in the car, demanding to search the car and becoming audibly frustrated after finding the car was apparently clean. And, in case all of that wasn’t dubious enough, this is the second time this has happened.
In November 2018, the New York Times published an article that included body-cam footage showing Erickson and Pastran pulling over a different car full of black people and searching the vehicle for weed.
From the Times:
On Feb. 28, two officers from Staten Island’s 120th Precinct, Kyle Erickson and Elmer Pastran, stopped a BMW sedan. The officers said the windows were excessively tinted and the car had turned without signaling. Four young black men were inside.
It appeared that at least some of the young men in the car had been smoking marijuana, which they admitted during the stop. But the young men told the officers they had just finished smoking, and insisted there wasn’t any more marijuana in the car. “I don’t appreciate being lied to,” Officer Pastran responded. “I know there is weed in the car. I smell it.”
He and his partner searched the BMW. Officer Pastran searched the back-seat area and announced he had found nothing. Officer Erickson, whose camera turned off in the middle of the search, looked in the back seat and apparently found nothing.
After several minutes, Mr. Kuyateh, the driver, shouted that Officer Erickson had put something in his car. He was arrested on the charge of obstructing the police investigation.
Officer Erickson then said he had discovered a marijuana cigarette, which he claimed had been burning on the floor behind the driver’s seat. It was in the same general area Officer Pastran had already searched, leading him to declare, “looks pretty clear.” Officer Erickson’s camera turned back on just before he made the discovery.
Yes, in the video (which can be viewed here), Lasou Kuyateh can be heard frantically and repeatedly calling Erickson out for putting something in his car, but that didn’t stop him from being arrested and spending two weeks in jail, according to the Times.
Meanwhile, in the video, Erickson can be heard frustratingly saying to his partner, “We have to find something,” he said. “You know what I mean?” Minutes later, after reactivating his body-cam—which had been turned off for reasons he later explains to a judge was due to “technical difficulty”—Erickson is heard saying, “All right, this was in the back seat on the floor. It’s a marijuana cigarette, it’s lit, just had to put it out.”
Fortunately, during a pretrial hearing, the body-cam footage was entered into evidence prompting prosecutors to drop the possession charges against Kuyateh, who was 19 at the time, and recommend that Erickson get a lawyer. Unfortunately, an internal review by the New York Police Department found that no misconduct had occurred.
The new video published by The Intercept shows the same two officers during another stop that took place just a few weeks after the first. This time, they arrested Jason Serrano, who was sitting in the passenger seat of his friend’s car. Once again, body-cam footage shows the officers claiming they smell weed, searching the car for several minutes, and initially finding nothing. Then, suddenly, they “find” exactly what they were looking for—only in this video (which can be viewed here), Erickson can be seen, clear as day, planting a small piece of marijuana in the cup holder of the car.
“There’s nothing to say, the video speaks for itself,” Serrano told The Intercept during a recent interview after he was shown the footage by attorneys with the Legal Aid Society. “I didn’t have no marijuana, I had no weed, I had no drugs, I wasn’t driving, it wasn’t my car, the taillight wasn’t broken.”
Serrano was recovering from abdominal surgery after being stabbed and can be heard expressing to the officers that he could “barely move” when they asked him to step out of the car so they could begin their search.
“They said I was resisting arrest, but I just didn’t want to hit the floor, the only thing I was thinking about was this,” Serrano said pointing to his stomach. “I still had staples in me…I couldn’t even stand up straight.”
Unfortunately, Serrano, before having any knowledge of the body-cam footage, had already taken a plea deal to avoid jail time. Even more unfortunate is the fact that the two officers in question are still on the job, free to victimize other black motorists.
So yeah, white people can stop telling black people that we have nothing to fear from cops if we are innocent; that idea is demonstrably false and is shown as such time and time again.