Monday, June 25, 2007

BOB HERBERT: Doubting the Police

The woman was reluctant to let her name be used. She said she had a teenage son and was afraid that he might be harassed by the police. But her desire to have the truth come out overcame her fears.

“You can use my name,” she told me, “because I did not like what the police did to those kids. My name is Greer Martin.”

Ms. Martin was standing outside her home on a quiet, tree-lined block of Putnam Avenue in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. This was the block on which, a few weeks ago, the police closed in on a large group of young men, women and children who were walking toward a subway station, on their way to a wake for a friend who had been murdered.

Thirty-two of the young people, including a 13-year-old, were arrested. Most were charged with unlawful assembly and disorderly conduct. Commissioner Ray Kelly and others in the Police Department have been spreading the word that these youngsters had been out of control, walking on top of cars and illegally blocking traffic in the street and on the sidewalk.

It does not appear that any of that was true.

The arrests occurred right outside Ms. Martin’s first-floor windows. “I was shocked beyond shock,” she said. “My windows were open, and it didn’t look like the kids had done anything wrong. The police handcuffed them and lined them up right there, at the beginning of my fence. One young lady was crying, but they didn’t resist in any way.”

She said she asked a detective why the young people were being arrested. “He told me they were trying to defuse a situation,” she said. “He said they were going to take the kids in and have a talk with them.”

A man named Conroy, who asked that his last name not be used, said he witnessed the entire incident. He lives across the street from Ms. Martin, and his 2007 Chevrolet Suburban was parked on the same side of the street that the kids were walking along when they were arrested.

He also said he was shocked by the police action. “The kids weren’t doing anything wrong,” he said.

I asked if anyone had been walking on top of cars. Conroy laughed and gestured toward his gleaming black vehicle. “Don’t you think if they had been climbing on top of cars, I would have noticed?”

He pulled out his cellphone to show me photos of some of the youngsters handcuffed and in police custody. I asked if the youngsters had blocked traffic. Conroy said, “No, not at all. There wasn’t any traffic out here until the police cars swooped in.”

I have interviewed many civilians about this case, and none have supported the police version of events. This is not a small matter. It’s a terrible thing if the police have been lying about their reasons for arresting these youngsters.

The official charges make no mention of people climbing on top of cars. It took a while for that tale to develop. The first time I heard it was in an interview I did with Capt. Scott Henderson of the 83rd Precinct a few days after the arrests. He said he had seen people walking on top of cars and that several of the youngsters had red bandanas.

The bandanas would have signaled that the youngsters were affiliated with the Bloods, the violent and notorious street gang. I asked what had happened to the bandanas. Captain Henderson said he didn’t know.

I e-mailed a list of questions to Commissioner Kelly’s office, trying to get whatever information might be available to corroborate Captain Henderson’s version of events. I asked if there were any other officers who saw anyone on top of cars. I was told that that information could not immediately be tracked down.

I asked if there were any civilian witnesses to such activity. I was referred to the office of the Brooklyn district attorney, Charles Hynes, which did not provide the identity of any witnesses.

I asked if the Police Department had the names of any youngsters who had climbed on top of a car. I was told no.

I believe that an outlandish miscarriage of justice has occurred here, that the youngsters arrested did nothing wrong and that the Police Department’s version of events is false. Commissioner Kelly could clear the matter up once and for all by mounting an honest investigation to determine what really happened.


Anonymous said...

this is another example of the Bloomberg administration, while touted as superior to Giuliani's, is really only different in the rhetoric. the racial profiling that was prolific under julie continues unabated.

Anonymous said...

what is this world coming to?
this police administration is out of hand.