Late last month, father-of-six Eric Garner was choked to death by an NYPD officer on a hot Staten Island street corner while his hands were cuffed behind his back. In the moments before his death, Garner, who was stopped by the police for selling loose, untaxed cigarettes, repeatedly said, “I can’t breathe!” but the illegal chokehold continued. The New York City Medical Examiner’s Office recently ruled his death a homicide. Though the horrifying story understandably caused a media firestorm, the physical abuse of people held in police custody is far from an isolated incident. Here are three instances of police brutality that have been reported since Garner’s July 17th murder:
1. Just days after Garner’s death, video emerged of a man being forced into a chokehold and punched in the face by NYPD officers in an East Harlem subway station. As DNA Info reported, the man, Ronald Johns, had been stopped for entering the station through an exit gate instead of paying the fare.
The effort to crack down on turnstile-jumpers is part of a broader policing strategy promoted by police commissioner Bill Bratton—and endorsed by Mayor Bill de Blasio—to go after so-called qualify of life issues as a deterrent to more serious forms of crime. Opponents argue that arresting massive numbers of individuals for minor infractions unfairly subjects poor and minority New Yorkers to harassment. The attack on Ronald Johns certainly makes the case for the second argument; a 22-year-old African American man was pepper sprayed, choked and punched repeatedly for the nonviolent “crime” of not paying a $2.50 Metrocard fare.
2. Rosan Miller, a seven-months-pregnant woman, was placed in a chokehold while being arrested for disorderly conduct at her East New York home. Officers initially came to the house because Miller was grilling on a public sidewalk in violation of local law. But the altercation quickly escalated, and ended with Miller, her husband and her brother all being led away in handcuffs—in front of her 7-year-old daughter.
The use of chokeholds by local police officers has been banned by New York City for over 20 years. Yet as these recent incidents—and the 1,000 others mentioned in complaints filed against the city since 2009 alone—reveal, the practice is still widely used. The NYPD claims it is reviewing the chokehold complaints and reviewing its use of force practices more broadly, but these sorts of toothless statements don’t inspire much confidence that the officers involved will be disciplined or that institutional change will actually be implemented.
3. As the New York Daily News reported on Monday night, two emergency medical technicians from the New York Fire Department recently had to stop four police officers who were beating a handcuffed patient. After the patient, who is emotionally disturbed, spit and cursed at an officer at the 67th street station in East Flatbush, four cops punched the man in the face repeatedly and only stopped beating him when the EMTs physically intervened. The man was shackled to a stretcher with his wrists bound at the time of the incident.
All three cases occurred in low-income neighborhoods with poor records of police-community relations. The crimes involved were minor, nonviolent offenses that usually result in a ticket, not jail time. All of the individuals were injured by cops after they had already been physically restrained and could cause no physical harm to the officers arresting them. Excessive use of force does not even begin to describe these profound abuses of power.