Friday, August 28, 2015


Two evenings ago some friends of my youngest were skateboarding from uptown to downtown in Manhattan. All minors under eighteen, one was a short female from near where we live in Jersey who I've known since she was a kid, another a boy from the Bronx I've known for several years, and the third another boy, this one also fro Jersey but Bayonne, closer to New York than us.

As they skated near Columbus Circle the girl heard a policeman tell her to get off her board, she says she said something back like "We're just skating downtown" and the cop rushed her. Not much more than five feet tall, if that, she panicked when she saw this big cop running at her so she backed off to try and get away from him. He tackled her and as he squeezed her neck and roughed her up the boy from the Bronx came up and said "Why are you doin' that, she didn't do anything" and suddenly there were three more cops throwing him against the concrete and cuffing both of them.

I know this girl very well. The biggest show of any kind of negative behavior I've ever seen from her in all the years she's been hanging around my apartment or I've taken her and my son and their friends to skateparks in New York and New Jersey (and even Pennsylvania) is moodiness. She has never displayed toward me, nor toward anyone, adult or kid, any misbehavior.

But the cops took these two kids (not noticing the third one, who grabbed the girl's backpack which held her prize possession, the camera she has been using to film her friends skateboarding in the process of making a documentary about it) to jail, confiscating their cell phones and skateboards. They took mug shots of them and finger printed them and booked them not for skateboarding in an area where I guess there are signs saying it's not allowed, but for "resisting arrest."

She told me they allowed her one call but like most of us who use smart phones she doesn't have people's numbers memorized except for my son's who she's known since they were children. So she called him, but he didn't pick up and that was the only call they would allow. They threw her in a cell and kept her there overnight with a puking heroin addict going cold turkey and other young females who had stolen loose cigarettes or make up.

Youg females still considered "children" by law, locked up for petty crimes and kept in dirty jail cells while their parents worried something worse had happened when they didn't come home. The next day they were assigned public defenders and arraigned in court. I asked her if the lawyer had tried to get the charges dismissed by pointing out they were just skateboarding on streets and sidewalks where at any moment a white hipster is also skating on his or her way somewhere in the city. She said the lawyer didn't say anything to her or the judge.

She ended up having to pay a fine she has two months to cover and let go, but they refused to return her phone or skateboard saying she had to show i.d. to get them back and since her i.d. was with the third kid who was back in New Jersey and several towns away from ours she had to leave without any way to call anyone, even to let her father know where she was. Luckily she had enough cash to catch a train back to Jersey.

Did I mention these are all kids who are sometimes called "brown" or "black"...? Not that this behavior from the police is limited to non-"white" people, I've had friends who are white adults of some prominence who have argued with cops about parking tickets and such and ended up cuffed and in a jail cell. The difference is they called someone who got them out immediately and they weren't charged with "resisting arrest" but if they were would have had it dismissed by any lawyer of any competence.

Most of us realize there's a terrible disparity between how different classes and different skin shades are treated by the authorities in our society, troubles that have always been with us but were on the mend half a century ago until Reagan and the rightwing Republicans who came after him found more and more ways to reward the rich and powerful and punish the rest of us. These kids were victims of that mentality. Make Manhattan more accommodating to the rich and powerful and keep the rest of us in line by any means necessary.


tpw said...

It's despicable & depressing. The paradox is that the cops, charged with enforcing the law, are chronic abusers and breakers of all kinds of laws. The unspoken rule is that cops don't have to obey the law; the rule should be that cops who break the law, or twist or abuse it, should be subject to even greater punishment than ordinary citizens.

Bob said...

I'm curious about the race of the cops, but white, black, or any other, these cops acted like goons for which there is little excuse.

I'm currently reading a really good book which relates to your post. If you haven't read it I highly recommend it. THE DIVIDE: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap, by Matt Taibbi.

JenW said...

The law enforcement system needs a complete overhaul-it's a failing mess like education & they go hand in hand. We need to build from the bottom up- address what families really need & then teach to the soul-compassion, love, respect and celebration of individuality: creativity, skin color, beliefs...
A handful of schools today are healthy schools, I believe, & mostly private so available only to the wealthy. I wish I could be more concise like tpw. I'll try...
Build the spirit, build a better world.