NYPD officer gives his take on ‘excessive police force’ YouTube videos

Thoughts from the other side of the 'cuffs.

 

Ikenna Anyoku

IRL

Published Sep 4, 2014   Updated May 30, 2021, 3:54 pm CDT

I’ve never had a problem with the police. Not really, at least.

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Not when I got stopped for doing 44 in a 35. Not when I was detained for an hour and a half before receiving a $100 ticket for hopping a subway turnstile. I just told myself it was my fault. It didn’t matter that it was 3 am and freezing outside, or that I had purchased an unlimited metrocard I just couldn’t locate in that moment, was afraid of missing the train and being stranded in a bad neighborhood, and was willing to pay the fare once I found my card 10 seconds later. It didn’t matter that I explained all of this to the police officer. I shouldn’t have skipped the turnstile. 

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I knew that.

So what that the officer failed to identify himself and then approached me in a hostile almost belligerent way? I was breaking the law and he was only doing his job.

Right?

Truthfully, the handful of negative experiences I’ve had with the police are a misrepresentation of the dozens of times law enforcement have gone above and beyond when coming to my aid—be it when I was lost, my car broke down, or that time my grandfather had a stroke when I was young and a police officer was the first one on the scene and stayed with me until my mother got there.

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There are good cops.In fact, most cops are good cops. I truly believe that.

I know that.

The problem is there’s a segment of the population whose interactions with the police make it impossible for them to see it that way. And based on the experiences they have, it’s hard to say that they’re wrong.

In light of the recent events in Ferguson, Mo., excessive use of force and brutality by police in the United States has once again become a hot-button issue. But it seems, even without Michael Brown’s tragic shooting death, there are countless instances of police going beyond the scope of reasonable force, even resorting to deadly force, unnecessarily: Eric Garner, Danroy Henry, Ezell Ford, Sean Bell, John Crawford, to name the few that drew the media’s eye in recent years.

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It’s no small secret that you don’t have to be breaking the law to be stopped and harassed, but still, this is often how many (wrongfully) justify tragedies like the Michael brown shooting: “He was a thug anyway.” “He had just robbed a grocery store.” “He was no innocent.” “Once a criminal always a criminal.” “If you’re not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about.”

What a suspect may or may not have done in the past, prior to a police stop, shouldn’t color how that particular encounter goes. But with videos of police activity currently being all the rage on social media, I wondered just how many of these really depict police impropriety or even brutality?

I reached out to an off-duty New York Police Department officer and got him to watch a bunch of those videos making the rounds to his take on police use of force, and how officers in the line of duty view a situation. We’ve agreed to keep the officer’s name a secret, as our conversation did not go through the “proper” NYPD media channels, and we don’t want this good cop to lose his job.

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In this video, a Seattle police officer attempts to arrest two women and punches one of them in the face.

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Officer: The woman in pink in the video is acting weird, and she gets in his way while he is trying to effect an arrest. So now she’s obstructing government administration. She pushes a cop, the cop uses force against her—rightfully so—strikes her, and as he’s trying to get the other woman in cuffs, she’s fighting and actively resisting him. The struggles going on for too long, so I’d have no problem with the cop even using more force against her. It seems like he’s being too nice.

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Here a man is awoken by NYPD officers after falling asleep on the subway. When he isn’t able to produce identification, they decide to arrest him and a scuffle ensues. Soon a third-party observer joins the fray and helps the officers handcuff the man.

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You can get a ticket for falling asleep on the train—which is stupid because I fall asleep on the train, so, whatever. I wouldn’t stop someone for falling asleep—but the cops stopped him for falling asleep on the train, they have every right to do so, and the dude gets combative. He’s argumentative. He doesn’t want to comply with the cops, so now he’s escalating this from something that was really nothing, to the point where they need back up to place him under arrest. 

Daily Dot: What about the random bystander that jumped in?

I… have no problem with that, I mean… I don’t know. Clearly those two cops were outmatched by this one guy. If I ever find myself in a situation where I feel outmatched by a person and someone lends a hand… I wouldn’t tell them no.

Is it against the law to not carry I.D.?

No, that’s not a law, but the cop stopped him for sleeping on the train. That’s the offense. Once they realize he has no I.D., now they can place him under arrest until they can identify him. Any summons is in lieu of an arrest. So whatever violation he was being stopped for, that’s what he’s technically under arrest for.

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• • •

In this clip, Oscar Grant, while face down and in the process of being handcuffed by police was shot in the back and killed by Officer Johanes Mehserle of San Francisco’s BART Police. Mehserle claimed he meant to tase Grant when he accidentally shot him. The film Fruitvale Station was a cinematic depiction of the events surrounding this video.

I don’t think the officer intended to shoot the guy in the back with his firearm. It seems like he may have made a mistake. But nonetheless, it’s a mistake that there’s consequences for and he has to face. From what he claimed after, it sounds like he was scared and at that point, just operating on muscle memory and afterwards was like, “Oh no, what have I done?” but you’ve got to be more responsible than that. You have to know what’s in your hand.

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In this video from 2008, an NYPD officer is seen brutally beating a man with a baton. The officers alleged that the man, Michael Cephus of Brooklyn, was drinking and had swung at them with an umbrella and refused to be handcuffed, hitting them with his fists. Cephus claimed to the New Yor Post, “I was with some friends at a cookout. I stepped out of the park to get some ice. The officers told me I couldn’t return because they said I had alcohol. I told them it was only ice. They thought I was drunk and they just came at me. They started swinging and hitting me with the batons.” 

It looks like the guy wasn’t complying with officers to roll over and put his hands behind his back, but you can’t just keep hitting a guy and expect him to just roll over and put his hands behind his back, you know. He’s rolling around in agony and in pain, maybe he’s not understanding your commands or he’s just… he’s in pain, so he’s not going to listen at first. At some point, someone has to go hands on with the guy and roll him over and attempt to actually cuff him. If no one’s trying to handcuff him, then you can’t actually say that he’s resisting arrest.

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A man is tasered and beaten by police for approximately three minutes before they handcuff and arrest him.

Same as the above. You can’t just stand around and beat someone and then claim they’re resisting arrest.

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A Florida man is charged with assault on a police officer after he arrives at the scene of his autistic son’s traffic stop and then refuses to leave.

He’s interfering with a traffic stop which is a problem, because now the officer, while conducting a traffic stop of a certain individual, has to worry about a guy behind him. 

Does it matter that the guy’s son is autistic and he clearly felt it serious enough to need to relay that information to the officers and stay at the scene?

No, because his son was given a driver’s license, so he’s competent enough to operate a motor vehicle on his own and he should be able to comply with all the traffic regulations and so on. If he gets pulled over and given a ticket, that’s part of the privilege of getting a driver’s license. But once the father comes and makes his case that his son’s autistic, that’s fine, but now he’s interfering with the officer’s traffic stop. He has to keep the car moving and get off the roadway, and when he doesn’t want to comply he ends up getting tased.

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The Eric Garner case is one of the most notorious examples of police brutality in recent time. After being stopped for selling untaxed cigarettes in Staten Island, the asthmatic Garner was taken down from behind by an officer using a chokehold maneuver that is banned by the NYPD, causing him to have trouble breathing. Officers and EMTs on the scene failed to provide him with emergency aid and he later died.

The cops approached him for selling of illegal cigarettes. It’s not a major crime, but apparently it was an issue in that region, so it was being addressed. It may be a trivial crime, but it’s still a crime, so the officers had a basis to stop him and [had] a basis to place him under arrest. Garner wasn’t complying with officers, and he was resisting arrest when they tried to cuff him. And it turned into a physical battle between him and the cops. Now… I don’t know, I’ve heard some people say it’s a chokehold, some people say it’s not, that it’s that MMA thing…

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A rear naked choke. Which is a chokehold…

No, they say that’s technically not a chokehold.

It is. It cuts blood to your brain, but depending how it’s applied, especially the way that guy used it with his forearm at Garner’s neck, it makes it difficult to breathe.

It’s not a choke. It cuts off blood to your carotid artery, it shouldn’t obstruct your airway unless there’s pressure to your throat.

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Like the officer had on Garner. Have you ever been in a rear naked choke?

Show me.

*I loosely apply a choke similar to the one from the Garner video to the officer*

I don’t know… Well at the end of the day, listen, I’m not putting my hands around anyone’s neck. Once you start going for someone’s neck, you’re putting yourself in a position to choke someone. And that cop’s going to have to deal with that and things aren’t looking good for him.

What did you think about the police and the EMT’s response once it was apparent Garner was in distress?

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It was a poor response all around, but I can’t say for sure whether or not they knew the guy was dying right in front of them, maybe not. Because it happens quite often that people try to fake an injury or some kind of illness in front of us once we place them under arrest.

But when it was clear that he needed help why was there no emergency aid given or CPR or something? What are you trained to do? Aren’t you trained to give CPR?

Yes, you get trained once a year.

At any point in that video did anyone give him CPR?

No, they didn’t but…

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It’s OK to call them dumb if that’s the case.

I’m not going to say they’re dumb. Yeah, you get trained once a year to do CPR. But if you’ve never done it… listen I have a background as an EMT, so I would be more adequate and comfortable in recognizing that someone is in some kind of severe respiratory distress or there’s something more going on than there appears to be.

What’s the point of being trained to do something if when the situation calls for it, you don’t even try or bother?

Well, clearly the cops called for an ambulance so they realized that something may be wrong. But I don’t know that they actually realized, maybe this guy needs CPR at that point. And maybe the guy did or maybe the guy didn’t need CPR, because if he still had a pulse, you’re not doing CPR. His airway was closing up on him, so he needed some kind of assistance in respiration, like a bag valve mask. But we don’t get that in NYPD. If he had a pulse, it wouldn’t be CPR he needed and NYPD has no equipment to do the other stuff. That would be up to EMS. When EMS shows up, on the other hand, that was a very poor initial patient assessment, and I don’t know what went on in the ambulance, obviously. But more should have been done in their initial assessment and when the patient was on the ground.

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• • •

On August 19, 25-year-old Kajieme Powell was shot and killed in St. Louis, Mo., just 10 days and a few miles from where Michael Brown was gunned down by police in Ferguson. The police claim that Powell brandished a knife in an “overhand grip” and in a threatening manner. It is difficult to discern in the video; however, witnesses reported hearing Powell shout “Shoot me! Shoot me, already!” as he approached police.

Cops arrived on scene and gave several commands to drop the knife. He started walking towards the cops with a knife in his hand. I don’t know what people thought would happen. Walk towards a cop with a knife in your hand and you’re going to get shot.

I think the issue people have with the video is that the cops claimed he charged them with the knife in an overhand grip and you can argue that’s not the case here. Also, they fire 12 shots at him and kept shooting even after he was on the ground.

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Well, just from training, I know a guy with a knife you—want them at least 21 feet away from you in case they decide to charge you, and that definitely wasn’t 21 feet. And if that guy charged at the cops and decides to stab at one of them, even if he got shot three or four times, there’s still a chance he could get to them and do some type of damage. So there’s a good reason they gave him several verbal commands to drop the knife, but clearly it looked like that guy was just waiting to commit suicide by cop. That’s not the cop’s fault, though. They’ve got a job to do. I don’t know how the call got dispatched to them or what they knew. Maybe it just came through as ‘man with a knife’ and nothing further. They roll up there and are like “Oh shit, here’s the guy,” and next thing you know it turns into shots fired.

Ok. Well this next video is kind of heavy. Ready?

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Kansas City, Mo., cops take time to play pickup basketball with local kids.

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Disgusting.

That they’re hooping on the clock?

No, I was talking about that cop’s jumpshot. He’s got range.

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OK, how about this?

Stop.

Photo via Pascal Subtil/Flickr (CC BY 2.0) | Remix by Jason Reed

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*First Published: Sep 4, 2014, 12:33 pm CDT