Police Brutality: Are police officers shielded from justice?

By Kristen Linsalata

On September 27, protestors rallied for the firing of New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton at an anti-police brutality rally in Sunset Park, Brooklyn –the same neighborhood where a New York Police Department (NYPD) officer allegedly slammed Sandra Amezquita, a 5 month pregnant woman, to the ground for reportedly intervening with the arrest of her 17-year-old son on September 20. According to her lawyer Sanford Rubenstein, Amezquita suffered severe vaginal bleeding and bruising, and the long-term effects on her unborn child are still undetermined.

Similarly, there was a rally in support of the NYPD on the same day in Staten Island to counter against those that seem to have “lost their appreciation and respect for law enforcement officials who put their hearts and lives on the line everyday,” according to Carl Campanile’s New York Post article, “Rally on Staten Island to support police on Sept. 27” on September 11. Jack Furnari, Staten Island civic leader, stated that the rally represented “pro-police rather than anti-anything.” The pro-NYPD patrons that gathered at the rally claim that there is another side to the allegations of police brutality and that the citizens of New York have lost their respect for those that risk their lives protecting and serving the public. “[Police officers] have to protect themselves, too,” said Christina Kotarski, a junior English Education major said. “[A suspect] can pull something out of his pocket and then you’re dead because you are doing your job.

I think that they are protecting themselves. Hundreds of thousands of people get arrested on a daily basis, and how many stories do you hear of people getting attacked? A few out of the hundreds and thousands getting arrested everyday? I think that [police brutality in the media] is dramatized a bit.”

However, those that attended the anti-police brutality rally don’t believe that they’ve lost their appreciation, but claim that they are in fear for their lives. In fact, the citizens of Sunset Park are more outraged than ever considering that than less than a month earlier; a bystander video was released of Jonathan Daza, a food vendor, being thrown to the ground by NYPD officer during the Sunset Park street festival. During the video, as Daza is lying on the ground, an officer approaches and kicks him in the back, reportedly unprovoked. The officer responsible for excessive force has been suspended from duty, according to a CBS New York news article, “NYPD Officer Suspended After Video Shows Him Kicking Man in Brooklyn” on September 17.

Amezquita and Daza’s are just two of the most recent incidents that have been brought to light regarding police brutality in NewYork, and across the United States. Amezquita and Daza, bruised but recovering can live to tell the tale. However, others have met their demise during an encounter with the police department. An example of this would be the recent incident of Eric Garner. On July 17, another bystander video was released of Garner being restrained in an illegal chokehold when NYPD officers were attempting to arrest him for selling loose cigarettes on a Staten Island sidewalk. In the video, Garner repeatedly yells out, “I can’t breathe,” before collapsing to the ground. The city medical examiner ruled the death of 43-year-old Garner to be homicide caused by the compression of the neck and chest, along with Garner’s positioning of the ground, according to a NBC New York article, “Medical Examiner Rules Eric Garner’s Death a Homicide, Says He Was Killed By Chokehold” on August 21.

Ultimately, it is a sobering realization that a 43-year-old man’s life was brought to an abrupt end because he was illegally selling cigarettes –an offense that usually carries penalties with monetary fines. However, perhaps, the most tragic aspect of this case is that six children will have to grow up without their father. With these various cases spotlighting alleged police brutality in New York, how can we, as citizens, protect ourselves from the people that are supposed be protecting us?

After considering Garner’s case, it feels as if we have regressed to a time that many of us weren’t even alive to see. On March 2, 1991, Rodney King was involved in a high-speed chase with the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). After King was apprehended, LAPD officers told him that they were going to kill him, spewed racial slurs, savagely beat him near death, and left him on the concrete with a fractured skull and critical damage to internal organs, according to a Los Angeles Times article, “The Rodney King Affair” published on March 24, 1991. The bystander video taken of King’s beating led to riots in Los Angeles that brought police brutality to light. “History will record that it was Rodney King’s beating and his actions that made America deal with the excessive misconduct of law enforcement,” said Reverend Al Sharpton in 2012.

Yet, 23 years after millions witnessed King being savagely on television screens across the world, it appears that we are regressing Why are people dying at the hands of people that are meant to protect and serve their communities, not break them apart?

“I was always taught that you can trust the police,” said Kate Gambino, a junior Broadcasting major. “When you are in trouble, the first thing that you do is dial 911. But after learning about the recent cases, it makes you think if they could do the same thing to you or someone that you love. It definitely makes me more wary of what the police are capable of.” On October 2, after coming under fire for the death of Garner, NYPD’s police commissioner Bill Bratton vowed to remove NYPD officers who, “abuse their authority and tarnish his vision for a more tolerant force,” according to a CBS New York article, “Police Commissioner Bill Bratton Vows Crackdown on Wayward cops.” At an executive workshop intended to set priorities for NYPD commanders and supervisors, Bratton stated, “[Some police officers] don’t understand that when they take that oath of office and put that shield on, that they commit to constitutional policing, respectful policing, compassionate policing,” according to the article.

As a result, in an effort to protect both citizens and officers alike and promote greater accountability, the NYPD will begin equipping a small number of its officers with wearable video cameras, according to a New York Times article, “New York Police Officers to Start Using Body Cameras in a Pilot Program” written by J. David Goodman on September 4. The cameras will attach to the uniform that the officers wear on patrol and can offer visual evidence during all the encounters that the police have with the public. With the cameras, every encounter will be documented and subject to be used as evidence in the court of law. Ultimately, perhaps, it will restore some of the faith that many patrons have lost in their respective police departments.

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