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FEBRUARY 22, 2012 8:08AM

Are NYC cops too aggressive? Duh?

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I’m completely not anti-cop, I’m not. I have a little anti-authority built in, but I’m not anti-cop. I respect the position cops are in, anywhere, and in NYC, especially. This is a huge city, teeming with chaos, and on any given day, depending where you are, you can feel the edge between the order that people maintain and the complete pandemonium that’s ready to break through. All it takes is one wrong move, or one right move, depending. 

A couple of years ago a guy stabbed a man to death on the steps of the main post office for bumping in to him. I live a block and a half from there. Right before winter break last year the whole uptown A line was shut down from 59th to 168th. Some guy was groping girls on the subway platform and was shot by an off-duty cop. I was coming home from work and my ride was messed up from it all. I got home late. My 10-year-old son was upset—I couldn’t call him from underground. 

When we came back from winter break we were in a cab and as we crossed 5th Avenue on 34th Street cop cars were convening on the corner, racing up with lights and sirens, cops jumping out of their cars and running. A man was tearing down 5th Avenue carrying something, and we saw the cops tackle him to the ground before the taxi drove on. And these are just ordinary days in NYC, never mind when there are terrorist threats, protests, parades, crowds gathering for any reason. 

Cops are living on that edge all the time, and they are putting their lives at risk, we all know that. And when I’m talking about aggression I’m not even talking about the obvious cases, like the recent killing of a young, unarmed black man in front of his family when he ran because he was scared and was carrying a little pot. Or the even more obvious cases of excessive use of force and brutality that get all over the news. I’m talking about little, everyday encounters where cops have the chance to show restraint and goodwill, or to make a show of coercion and authority. 

Last fall I was walking home with my son on 9th Avenue in the late afternoon of a beautiful day. We were approaching the corner of 30th when I heard a cop say something through his car’s megaphone—that’s what drew my attention. I looked and there was a guy on his bike in the bike lane and the cop car was right behind him. So I put together the cop said something like “move that bike out of the bike lane.”

I just watched with curiosity since the man didn’t move but stood stock-still. He was standing astride his bike, looking straight ahead. Then the lights on the cop car went on. The car was right up behind the guy’s bike. The guy on the bike still didn’t move. He stared straight ahead. Then the cop actually nudged the guy’s bike with his car. 

The guy looked back at his tire—the position of his bike had shifted and he righted it—and then continued to stare straight ahead. Moments later the traffic light changed and he started to ride across the street. The cop put the siren on and swung around wide to block him, then leaped out of his car and started yelling at the guy to get his bike back up on the sidewalk. He was in a rage and though he didn’t touch the guy he shoved the bike at one point. Suddenly another cop car careens up with lights and siren on and that guy jumps out of his car. The first cop’s bitching at this guy and the other cop chimes in, talking about issuing him a summons. The second cop’s in a long-sleeved white shirt so I take him to be a superior officer.

I couldn’t imagine what on earth the guy on the bike did and he’s standing there trying to explain to them why he didn’t move—that he didn’t want to ride his bike out into traffic. As soon as the light had changed I walked over and got right up in the scene.

"How are you going to push the guy's bike with your car?" I said to the first cop. By the way, his face was red with fury and the veins on his neck were standing out a quarter-inch. He said something inconsequential to me, such as, it wasn’t my business, and I turn to the white-sleeved cop and say,"How are you going to let your guy bump the guy's bike with his car?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," he said. He was in a rage and yelling at the guy, too.

"I saw him do it," I said. They both just yelled more at the biker. 

The biker was contained but upset. He was telling them that hadn’t wanted to move his bike out into traffic, the light was red and he had been waiting for it to change. The cops were so angry that he hadn’t immediately responded to their orders. I offered to give the guy my phone number and he took it, and then got the phone number of another guy who had been standing there. I couldn’t believe there was this big yelling scene over this. The original cop was writing the guy a ticket.

“You’re just pissed,” I said to the white-sleeved guy. “You’re just too into your authority.” And he asked me if that was my son who was standing next to me, and whether I thought this was a good thing to expose him to. I said I thought it was a really important thing to expose him to. 

I was being cheeky and provocative on purpose, I knew it. And I was adding to the level of everything. I left the scene and as my son and I were about to enter the little courtyard of our apartment down the block I turned and saw the white-sleeved cop in his car in the street out front. He leaned out his window and said that if it were my family that needed help and some guy was keeping the cops from being able to do their job I would feel differently.

“But nothing was happening,” I said. He was blocking traffic by now.

“Have a nice day,” he said, and drove off. 

I think he stopped because he felt guilty about the whole thing. And I felt a little guilty, too. I was purposely provoking, but I do think the cops acted excessively. And I thought about it from the point of view of being a high-school teacher in the Bronx. You have a whole class full of students and there’s whole school full of people. There’s bad behavior ranging from kids not shutting up when you’re trying to teach, to fights. You have to restrain yourself. You can’t even say the wrong thing. Every day. And you get worn down and furious. But one wrong word or move could get you fired in a minute, or worse—a lawsuit could get brought down on your school, or on you. 

It’s not the same but there’s a parallel. The guy on the bike called me later and was so grateful I had spoken up. He had a court date and I wrote up a little account of the situation. I just heard from him again and he had pleaded not guilty and goes before a judge tomorrow. He asked me to sign my narrative as a declaration and I will. I’ll meet him later today and hand it to him. 

For me the jury’s still out on whether cops in this city are too aggressive in general or not. But as I mentioned to the guy on the bike, I tend to stop and watch interactions between the cops and people on the street when I see them, and make it very obvious that I’m doing so. I know I have to stay in line as a teacher and I’ve got a whole classroom full of kids making sure I don’t say or do the wrong thing. Cops are on display in the same way in the city. And I don’t think it hurts at all that they be reminded of that.

  

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Good story...you related it nicely.

The cops were doing what cops occasionally do....over-reacting and using their considerable authority too aggressively.

You were, in a sense, doing the right thing by offering what you saw...but you probably did the wrong thing by doing it the way you did. The cop who stopped may very well have been offering some small measure of apology...or at least, of acknowledging that he had been out of line.

I think at that moment, you could have handled things better. I think if at that moment you had approached and offered you hand...and acknowledged that cops often are of help, but that you saw a situation where a guy was being unreasonably harassed, it probably would have been a better thing for you; for the white-shirt cop; for the patrol car cop (who was very, very out of line); and for the relationship of citizen to law enforcement officials.

Just my opinion.

I'm in the City a lot...and most of the cops are very courteous and helpful when I ask for help or directions. I know lots of cops.

I also know that there are plenty who do get riled...and with the authority they have, it can be very intimidating.
I can't imagine this happening any place but Manhattan. Namely a guy on a bicycle standing up to two cops and nothing happening but yelling and a ticket.
All American cops are aggressive. It is the training and the trend toward toward militarization. this is in sharp contrast to other developed countries.Until the brutality against black people came to be understood by a few whites who experienced the same, this discussion would never have taken place. If they come for me in the morning they'll be coming for you that night.
There's a real problem in the NYPD. It's precisely because we respect their work and appreciate its importance that we want them and expect them to do what's right, to respond to situations appropriately. There's absolutely no need for the militarization of the police.
My own experience with cops - thankfully little - is that they generally do act with restraint. They are just human, though, and do all of the stupid things that the people who aren't in uniform do. The difference is they have been granted a privelege as well as a responsibility by society; the privelege that comes with authority. So, they are held to a higher standard in exercising that authority. It's sort of akin to the higher level that pastors are held to who hear the most intimate secrets of people's lives.
Police protect each other and that was what the guy in the white shirt may have been doing, trying to defuse a volatile situation and protect both the uniform cop and the guy on the bike. Who knows what the conversation was like later between the two.
I do know that authority goes to the heads of everyone. I've seen cops who were regular guys in civies morph into a pushy arrogant person in uniform. And I've known doctors who started having affairs because everyone treated them like a little god except their wife who rode their ass for being late, not taking out the trash, and all the things that go on in a marriage of equals.
I hope the bike guy gets off. Why did the cop want him out of the bike lane? That was the only part of your story that wasn't clear. Maybe no one knows. R
@ sat - I misread your comment, "this is in sharp contrast to other developed countries." leaving out the word "other". It may have been a freudian slip since I wonder how developed the U.S. is. If you are a member of any minority you are more open to unmitigated aggression. Society's expectations are what keep the police under control and if they see you as part of an unempowered group you are at their mercy.
I like your first clear sentences.
Not every cop is a goon brute.
I appreciate the entire piece.

I have outlaws in N.Y.C..
One relative gets frisked.
If he has weed cops rob it.
`
I was in East St. Louis in the early 90's.
Kim Doan (I often mention her ref: banks.
Lawyer stole her laundromat in Waynesboro, PA.
I assume FBI Sonny and Eric Holder are investigating.
John Ashcroft and his 'gang' covered up the thievery.
`
I went to St. Louis to bring her husband and children here.
No sponsorship money followed Asian/American Kim Doan.

When I was in a terrible gun/drug running neighborhood this:
`
I was pushed-up against a brick wall. They wondered who's he?
me
`
I was frisked:
Cops got a roll . . .
'Life Saver' mints.

They had lint on the mints.
Cops wanted to puff pot?
I got away no`mugged.
I offered them beer cap.
Cops do have billy clubs.
I see them and yodel ay`
`
No shoot! I no got pot!
Call NYCs bah cop asap!
Civilians carry `Tasers!
`
Smoke corn-silk Tassels!
NYC editor ask to get a`
frisked `gin-and feel a`
tingling`pants sensation
`
mercy . . .
it's a long true story . . .
Behave . . .
Anything can happen . . .
Three words about police overstepping their authority: STOP AND FRISK
When people question cops in any way as to their actions they are indicating that the police can be wrong. Police not only represent the law, they have lethal means to enforce their interpretation of the law and that obviously incurs huge dangers. To question their judgment is to undermine their authority. I am not declaring that all cops are brutal nor are killers but they are enough of an unknown quality to be extremely dangerous. I am very careful around cops and rattlesnakes.
You were a witness. You were in danger. You spoke up , and I think you are great. I have had an experience that has made me distrust cops to the extreme. I wish it wasn't so but now I have a phobia of them, though I am as uncriminal as it gets. Maybe in my case it's the LAPD... All I know is that I encountered lawless monsters like Detective John Gregozek, who had no interest in protecting or serving anything but himself. If you want to see extreme corruption in practice take a look at this:http://open.salon.com/blog/fernsy/2011/12/10/when_the_1_percent_occupied_innocent_people_in_la
You're a civilian. He's a cop. No mystery here. When you challenged him, he became abusive. Consider yourself lucky. If you were a black male, you'd be subjected to arrest and incarceration for charges of obstruction of justice.
Thank you for your thoughtful post. You absolutly did the right thing. When a police officer even just nudges a peaceful person's bike with a car, it's not right, and it's important for citizens to bear witness. Who knows what would have happened if you hadn't been there. Good job, and congrats on the well deserved EP!
Great story. Just enough for the city, as Stevie Wonder once put it. What a Civics lesson for your son. I've been sending this URL around, showing a different way: http://www.thedailypage.com/isthmus/article.php?article=35904 . Come to Wisconsin! Teachers here fight battles, and win. We will have a new governor soon, and the situation for teachers will be greatly improved. The current governor, Scott Walker, just might find himself in jail.

In regard to the NYPD, I suspect the spying case will be the end of Bloomberg. Kelly too. They will likely find themselves testifying before a grand jury. The police culture in NYC is entrenched. I'm old enough to remember Serpico, and the futility of trying to reform the police department. This time around, the temptation to use the September 11, 2001 attacks to go wild apparently was too great. Maybe with a new mayor and a police chief from elsewhere things can change. Good luck.
This is a great story...you are my hero! What guts!! And, I was so afraid for you and your son!!!! Well told!
I'm a business and home owner.
I have no record other than traffic and one misdemeanor for giving a PIG the finger, an act which was ruled as free speech in a case other than mine in which the ACLU could get publicity~~the weren't interested in mine.

I go to the gym every day. There are a couple of these things who are members there. Everyone is basically friendly except for these two bullies.
Every day they have the sneers and frowns at all others who go to the gym.

One day, I was standing in my yard, watching as a couple of pigmobiles raced up to the house across the street and dragged a kid, a CHILD of maybe 12 Y/O out by the scruff.
One of these tremendously brave(snarkasm ON) pigs looked at me and asked what I was looking at.
I didn't answer and he said that, if I didn't want to be arrested for obstruction to go in my house.
I told the pig that I was on my own property and was staying right there.
We stared at each other for a few seconds and, the "hore" went back to his bullying.
Now, I live in a small city in north central Wisconsin, a city of approx 38,000.

Pigging is endemic to these lower life forms everywhere.
They are bullies and, unless they have the upper hand in some ways are cowards.

Now, I'm a white guy. I have some long time friends back in Chicago where I lived during my early years.
A couple of them live in the inner city and are Black.
A couple of them are also business owners.
They tell me stories of being arrested for Driving While Black and other tyPIGical bullying to which they are subjected.
It just goes on all over the world, no matter your race/ethnicity.

I have a couple of customers who are pigs and two with whom I golf.
Although they are pigs, they are the very rare civil human beings.
We talk about this and, when we are out of ear shot on the golf course, they will admit to the fact that the vast majority of them are nothing more than gangsters in clown suits.

So, I'm an older white guy who has this business, a house and keep my place clean and neat.
Yes, I can be told by one of these punks to "go in your house"??
WTF is that?

I'm surprised those two pigs didn't beat and taze you and your son.
And I hope the victim of their bullying has his case dismissed.

Also, since these things know where you live, I hope you'll be safe from their tyPIGical retaliation.
You're a brave woman.
You're even braver in being a teacher in that frustrating and heroic occupation.
"We stared at each other for a few seconds and, the "hore" went back to his bullying."

S/B "hero".
I have had interactions with cops who were just assholes. I have had interactions with cops who were kind to a fault. The cops have the weight on power on their side - they need to be doubly sure not to abuse it. Now that the indefinite detention bill has passed, any one of them could be responsible for any of us being locked away forever.
I'm glad you said something and were willing to stand by what you promised you would do-write a declaration of the event. Although, being a cop in this town is a hard job and sometimes people can really piss them off.

It's a fine line between enforcing the law and going overboard.