NYPD Arrested 40 People On Social Distancing Violations, Some Violently. 35 Were Black

Written by Ann Brown
The NYPD recently arrested 40 people in Brooklyn on social distancing violations. Some of the arrests were violent. Of those arrested, 35 were Black. In this April 29, 2020 image made from video provided by Adegoke Atunbi, New York City police officers wrestle a man to the ground while making an arrest in the Brooklyn borough of New York. The video is among those posted on social media recently that show the NYPD using physical force while out enforcing the city’s 6-foot-of-distance social distance rule. Despite mounting pressure from watchdogs to stop using police to enforce social distancing, Mayor Bill de Blasio stood by the practice on May 7, saying: “We’re not going to sideline the NYPD.” (Adegoke Atunbi via AP)

Police in New York City decided to enforce social distancing rules and arrested 40 people in Brooklyn recently. Thirty-five of them were Black, according to data released by the Brooklyn district attorney’s office.

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio is backing the NYPD’s actions, saying they enforced the rules “properly.” Others, however, are making a comparison to the controversial NYPD stop-and-frisk practice in which Black people and people of color were mainly targeted.

Some of those recently arrested were attending a nighttime cookout in East New York, Brooklyn. During the arrests, police punched one man in the face, according to the New York Times. 

In the same predominantly Black neighborhood, there was another dispute reported between officers and residents over the guidelines. A man was knocked unconscious. Days later, three men were arrested while participating in a massive vigil for a local hip-hop artist who was said to have died of the coronavirus.

In one video, an officer was shown pulling a stun gun on a Black man and violently taking him to the ground, AP reported.

Police Commissioner Dermot Shea told reporters the incidents will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis and that “a punch should not be assumed to be excessive force.” Officers are trained to punch someone when warranted as part of an escalating progression of force, he said.

“Tensions are increasingly flaring in Black and Hispanic neighborhoods over officers’ enforcement of social-distancing rules, leading some prominent elected officials to charge that the New York Police Department is engaging in a racist double standard as it struggles to shift to a public health role in the coronavirus crisis,” The New York Times reported.

Several arrests of Black and Hispanic New Yorkers were filmed and posted online. The arrests occurred on the same balmy days that other photographs circulated on social media showing police officers passing out masks to mostly white people mulling around at parks in Lower Manhattan, Williamsburg, and Long Island City. There was even a video showing crowds of mainly white sunbathers, many without masks, sitting close together at a park on a Manhattan pier, uninterrupted by the police.

“More than a third of the arrests were made in the predominantly Black neighborhood of Brownsville,” the Times reported. “No arrests were made in the more white Brooklyn neighborhood of Park Slope.”

Some Black elected officials have complained that recent encounters suggested some police officers are using social distancing as a pretext to stop and arrest people in poorer neighborhoods.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a Brooklyn Democrat whose 8th District is predominantly African American, said these latest incidents remind him of the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practices, deemed racists by community activists. 

“We can’t unleash a new era of overly aggressive policing of communities of color in the name of social distancing,” Jeffries said.

The NYPD’s main union, the Police Benevolent Association of New York City (NYC PBA), said it doesn’t think the NYPD should be policing social distancing under the city’s current guidelines, Time reported.

“The cowards who run this city have given us nothing but vague guidelines and mixed messages, leaving the cops on the street corners to fend for ourselves,” NYC PBA President Patrick J. Lynch said in a statement.

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Beside several Black communities being targeted, some of the enforcement has focused on the city’s Hasidic enclaves, where officers have broken up weddings and funerals,the Times reported. Officers issued 12 tickets at a recent funeral attended by 2,500 people. It is unclear if anyone who attended or organized the events has been arrested, or was punched.

Still, arrests have mainly been Black people citywide. Between March 16 and May 5, police officers arrested at least 120 people and issued nearly 500 summonses for social-distancing violations in all of the NYC boroughs, according to data provided by the NYPD.

Black people make up 68 percent of those arrested for violating social-distancing rules, Hispanic people make up 24 percent, and 7 percent of those arrested were white, according to WCBS, which confirmed the data.