A Police Brutality 'Vision Zero' for the Northwest Bronx
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We, the undersigned residents, organizations, and faith leaders of the North and Northwest Bronx, ask that you join us in supporting the following statement:
We are disturbed by the October 6, 2017 incident on Broadway and West 225th Street in the Marble Hill neighborhood, when a police officer punched a pinned and immobilized, 16-year-old Alfred Burns in the head 13 times. As shown in a viral video of the incident and reported on by many NYC media outlets, passersby pleaded with the police officer to cease, while another officer made repeated attempts to pull the former’s punching arm in an effort to stop him. The video shows the officer using force beyond what was reasonably necessary to disengage Burns from the police officer who was pinned underneath him, endangering the well-being and even the life of a teenager.
We are also deeply concerned about the remarks made by Deputy Inspector Terence O’Toole, Commanding Officer of the NYPD’s 50th Precinct, to a journalist following the incident. Deputy Inspector O’Toole characterized Burns as a “scourge on the Bronx” who was beyond change, which is not within the purview of law enforcement to decide. “He [Burns] is going to fight with police for the rest of his life, guaranteed. And the next cop that he encounters may have to shoot him because he is going to fail to comply. Because that is going to be his lifestyle forever.” This statement by Deputy Inspector O’Toole indicates his apparent belief that the NYPD is judge, jury, and executioner. In citing the juvenile’s rap sheet to justify his subordinate’s actions, Deputy Inspector O’Toole ignored the established rules of engagement governing the use of deadly force. Furthermore, in what has been seen as an act of intimidation, Deputy Inspector O’Toole stated that two bystanders – one who made an attempt to stop the officer and another who screamed in reaction to the situation – are subject to arrest.
We are appalled that Deputy Inspector O’Toole justified what happened by saying: “You saw police work in action.” Whether this was a Freudian slip or a deeply-held normative conviction on policing in America, this remark and the mentality underlying it are not aligned with the trajectory on which America has embarked towards a fairer, less punitive criminal justice system. As a nation, we have diminished the drug sentencing disparity from 100:1 to 18:1; as a state, we have raised the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 years of age; as a city, we have “banned the box” and ended the solitary confinement of juveniles. Other New York City minors who committed acts similar to the one Burns allegedly committed were offered appropriate treatment and support rather than 13 blows to the head.
We cannot accept Deputy Inspector O’Toole’s characterization of this incident as proper “police work.” Too often, police officers have acted with impunity and little accountability, a situation brought to light by the ubiquity of cellphone videos and social media documenting police brutality. The case of Alfred Burns was but one incident, but one incident is too many—all police brutality is unacceptable and intolerable. We call for a “Vision Zero” for the NYPD: a vision for policing where the public good is paramount, officers follow their own rulebooks, and in which the NYPD truly “protects and serves.” In accordance with this vision, we call for the following:
- Fire and prosecute the unnamed police officer who unduly harmed 16-year-old Alfred Burns.
- Fire Deputy Inspector Terence O’Toole and bar him from employment at the NYPD and any other local law enforcement agency.
- Require that the Commanding Officer replacing Deputy Inspector O’Toole uphold the standards of professionalism befitting an officer and civil servant beholden to the public good.
- Release to the public the findings of the NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau (IAB) investigation into the October 6 incident.
- Conduct an independent, impartial investigation into the October 6 incident, in addition to the IAB investigation, and release the findings to the public.
- Cease any police attempts to locate, bring into custody, harass, and/or intimidate the two aforementioned bystanders of the October 6 incident.
We acknowledge that NYC leadership – up to and including Mayor de Blasio – bears the ultimate responsibility for the events of October 6, including the unprofessional remarks made by Deputy Inspector O’Toole. Criminal justice reform is primarily under the control of local government, including New York City. Yet the reality on the ground is that momentum has stalled and accountability has not been provided in cases of police brutality. Trumpeting the abolition of “Stop-and-Frisk” has done nothing to address the implicit biases and systemic disparities that have made poor people and people of color the disproportionate victims of harmful police practices. We therefore call for immediate and sustained action by Mayor de Blasio and every elected official to ensure that the NYPD protects and serves all of New York City’s communities and is at all times accountable and transparent to all New Yorkers.
Please join the following Bronx residents who support this statement as of 11/17/17:
Rev. Dr. Hermon Darden, Pastor, St. Stephen’s UMC
Jone Johnson Lewis, Leader, Riverdale-Yonkers Society for Ethical Culture
Rev. Andrew G. Butler, Christ Church Riverdale
Rev. Doug Cunningham, New Day Church
Lisa Asedillo Pratt, Assistant Pastor, New Day Church
Dominican Sister of Blauvelt Ceil Lavan, OP
Jennifer Scarlott, N. Bronx Racial Justice & Bronx Climate Justice North
Mary Hemings, N. Bronx Racial Justice & Bronx Climate Justice North
James G. White
Jo Anne Kraus
Robert Schwab, N. Bronx Racial Justice & Bronx Climate Justice North
Ruby Lee Palma
Rabbi Pamela Wax
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