Whether the police officers who handcuffed and detained Brooklyn city councilman Jumaane Williams along with an aide to Public Advocate Bill de Blasio at the borough's West Indian Day parade did so out of a misunderstanding, for the mens' protection, or out of sheer racism, will be determined in an internal investigation. But what is certain at this point is that the incident will do little to cool tensions between New York residents, especially those of color, and the New York Police Department, over the department's proclivity to stop and frisk people on the street for no apparent reason.
Williams, along with De Blasio aide Kirsten John Foy, spent about 30 minutes in police custody after they were thrown to the ground and handcuffed for trying to walk through an area near the Brooklyn Museum that had been closed off. The men had tried to show police their identification as they made their way from the parade route to a reception at the museum on Monday, but a phalanx of officers blocked their path, and when they confronted the officers, they were thrown to the ground and handcuffed, reported NBC New York. The New York Times quoted police spokesman Paul J. Browne, who said a crowd formed around the officers and somebody punched a police captain in the head, which led to the physical confrontation. This video of Foy's arrest has been making the rounds on sites like Capital New York:
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been quiet on the incident so far, but Brooklyn Assembleyman Hakeem Jeffries said shortly afterward that police were "unjustified" in their actions, and "called on Mayor Bloomberg and Kelly to apologize 'and make sure all responsible officers are strongly disciplined,' " the New York Daily News reported. "Two public servants got arrested while trying to show their IDs," De Blasio told NBC New York. “Some police clearly overreacted and that’s not acceptable." According to a tweet from The New York Times' Kate Taylor, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said the incident was "about larger issue of 'stop-and-frisk,' " referring to the police practice of stopping and searching people on the street. Taylor followed up, tweeting, "Stringer: This happens to black and Hispanic men every day."
The stop-and-frisk issue has been a divisive one in New York for some time, and Williams has long been a vocal advocate for revising police practices. Last week a federal judge rejected a move by the City of New York to throw out a lawsuit filed in January, 2008, that alleges police used racial profiling to identify targets for their stop-and-frisk policy. At a hearing on the issue last year, Williams said the department's failure to speak on the issue was disrespectful. This year, he signed onto a recent city council resolution calling for an end to the practice. The New York Times has this succinct definition of the stop-and-frisk policy:
The policy, which the department has increasingly turned to in recent years as a core part of its crime deterrent strategy, allows officers to temporarily detain anyone they believe may be engaging in criminal activity, and to conduct a search if the person is believed to be carrying a weapon.
It's been an especially tough weekend for New York, and the violence even touched the parade as a man opened fire there earlier in the day. A later shooting nearby wounded two officers. In all, 10 people died and some 50 were injured citywide over the holiday weekend, the Wall Street Journal reported. With attention focused on the police response to the violence, Williams and Foy's detention will surely color the way the city sees its police department. On his Facebook page, a Williams supporter wrote, "As your supporter, I'm hoping you can use this as a tool to fight discrimination against young Black and Latino men." Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has met with Williams and promised an investigation into the incident, according to news reports, but has not answered calls for an apology by the police department.