Police are investigating an arrest that was captured by a bystander in a pair of videos in Brooklyn, New York, on Wednesday night that showed a man apparently getting assaulted by several police officers and arrested for allegedly smoking weed in a park.
Viral video posted to Twitter shows a plainclothes police officer detaining the individual on Glenwood Avenue in Canarsie just before 8 p.m. on Wednesday. The officer repeatedly refuses to answer the man’s questions about why he is being stopped and whether he is free to leave.
Moments later, at least eight NYPD officers sprint toward the young man and tackle him to the ground, as he cries for help and urges onlookers to call his mother. One of the officers can be swinging at the man as he’s on the ground. “Help me!” the man cries. “I am not resisting!”
Prior to the cellphone’s recording, officers were patrolling the 100% Playground area of Glenwood Road and East 100th Street around 7 p.m. when they observed two men in the park smoking a lit marijuana cigarette, according to an NYPD spokeswoman.
At some point, a young woman, who says she was on her way home from work and that she noticed the “undercover cop” and one of the suspected men with his back against a metal gate. She started recording.
“What crime did I commit? Tell me! What’s the problem?” the unidentified man asked the plainclothes officer while both of his hands were in the air. “I did not commit a crime.”
The officer appears to ignore the man’s questions and radioed for backup. A gaggle of uniformed and non-uniformed police officers rushed over.
“Help me!” screamed the man as he is seen on the video getting thrown to the ground.
The first two-minute video appears to show some half dozen police officers tackle, knee, kick and stomp on the man while he’s on the ground pleading for help.
“I never been arrested a day in my life,” the apprehended man is heard saying in between cries. Meanwhile, more bystanders gathered and are heard asking for the officers to stop.
“Do you need me to call someone?” asked the woman — who identifies herself as “Velvet” — and who recorded the videos. She said she regrets not asking him for his parent’s contact information sooner, she posted later on Twitter.
“All I know is he was not dead when they took him away,” she wrote in a Twitter thread.
Detective Denise Moroney, an NYPD spokesperson, told Gothamist the individual was stopped because officers saw “two males inside the park smoking a lit marijuana cigarette and as the officers approached the individuals they fled the location.”
One individual was arrested and one was issued a summons, police said, despite the fact that NYPD officers have been directed not to arrest people for smoking weed in New York City.
Moroney declined to answer follow up questions about the incident — including what charges the individual faces, his name, age, if he is still detained, and whether the department feels the use of force was necessary — then hung up the phone when this information was requested a second time.
“It was absolutely not appropriate,” said the witness who took the video, who declined to be named because she does not feel comfortable being publicly associated with the incident. “If [he] was allegedly smoking then why didn’t the cop identify himself while he was wearing street clothes. Why did the cop not answer what crime he committed? And why did eight cops have to force him to the ground (while kneeing and stomping him)?”
Several criminal justice advocates and public defenders raised similar questions on Twitter. “There is no possible justification for this horrific use of violence,” wrote Rebecca Kavanagh, a criminal defense attorney.
Anthony Posada, supervising attorney of the Community Justice Unit at the Legal Aid Society, said the arrest is the result of New York’s failure to fully legalize marijuana. “If cops can continue to use the odor or presence of marijuana as justification for stops, this is what happens: dehumanizing, aggressive policing tactics in which peoples lives are at stake,” he told Gothamist. “This young man is going to be scarred for life.”
While marijuana arrests have decreased in recent years, NYPD officers continue to disproportionately arrest and charge people of color. In 2019, 92 percent of arrests and 90 percent of summonses for marijuana possession were issued to blacks and Latinos.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and the NYPD have long claimed that the overwhelming arrest disparities reflect the higher number of complaints lodged in minority neighborhoods. Numerous investigations have shown that justification to be untrue. Studies have also shown that white people and black people use marijuana at roughly the same rates.
Inquiries to the Mayor’s Office were not returned. A spokesperson for the NYPD said the incident is under internal review.
UPDATE: NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea addressed the arrest during a press conference on Thursday, admitting there were “disturbing points” to the video. He said the two young men, ages 18 and 20, were initially approached regarding reports of a shooting in the area. “At this point I have nothing to indicate that they were in any way tied to [that] incident,” Shea said.
I’m walking home from work and this undercover cop was holding this man. The guy asked for the cop to identify himself, he ignore that. He asked what crime he commit, he ignore that too. I pulled out my phone. You can hear the guy screaming “I never thought it would happen to me” pic.twitter.com/YW2dI3g8fk— Velvet (@TheVelvetRope__) March 5, 2020
The individual in the video was ultimately charged with marijuana possession, resisting arrest, and obstruction of governmental administration. He suffered abrasions to his knee, and one of the officers may have stood on his ankle, according to the commissioner. Shea went onto to suggest the young man should not have run from police.
“I would like to see approach, discussion, and no running,” he told reporters. “No physical resistance at all. The problem is you can’t go back in time.”
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams is calling for all the officers involved in the arrest to be placed on modified duty pending an investigation. An NYPD spokesperson didn’t respond to questions about whether they’d face discipline.
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