More than a year and a half ago, the New York City Police Department announced that it would stop making low level cannabis arrests, and instead issue civil court summonses to public pot smokers. This week, in yet another example of unwarranted police violence, the NYPD proved that it has not ceased its racially-biased persecution of cannabis consumers.
According to a report from Buzzfeed News, a new video documents violent police misconduct in the Canarsie neighborhood of Brooklyn. In the clip, which now has more than 13 million views on Twitter alone, a number of police officers violently attack a young man who had just finished smoking a joint in a park. Subsequently, 20-year-old Fitzroy Gayle can be seen pinned against a closed storefront by a plainclothes officer. While the officer refuses to announce himself as a police officer, make eye contact with Gayle, or look at him at all, Gayle pleads to be let go and repeatedly asks what he is being held for, to no avail. Then, in what seems like a blink of an eye, a swarm of seven additional cops arrive on the scene, immediately tackling and striking Gayle, with one officer clearly stomping on Gayle’s ankle unprovoked.
I’m walking home from work and this undercover cop was holding this man. The guy asked for the cop to identify himself, he ignore that. He asked what crime he commit, he ignore that too. I pulled out my phone. You can hear the guy screaming “I never thought it would happen to me” pic.twitter.com/YW2dI3g8fk— Velvet (@TheVelvetRope__) March 5, 2020
"It's not like I was fighting with the officers. I was just trying to find out why [they were arresting me]," Gayle told Buzzfeed. "I was panicking a little because I had never been in this type of situation before.”
If you let the police tell it, the plainclothes officer was in the area after responding to reports of fired gunshots when he saw two men smoking marijuana in a park. When he approached them, the two men got up to leave. But instead of using his words or doing any actual investigating, the officer conflated the weed smoke with the gunshots, and immediately pursued Gayle. When Gayle stopped to respond to the officer, all hell broke loose.
"I came out of the park, I calmly walked across the street," Gayle said in response to NYPD claims that he had run out of the park. "[The officer] was jogging towards me while I was walking and I'm not stupid enough to run from the cops because it gives them a green light to shoot at me."
But while Gayle has had to restructure how he walks or runs based on the threat of police violence, the NYPD has apparently not done the necessary work to stop harassing and assaulting young black cannabis users.
Even though he did not have a single bud of weed on his person after the arrest, Gayle is still facing criminal charges of cannabis possession, resisting arrest, and obstructing government administration. On the flip side, all of the officers involved in his assault are still walking the street with their badges intact, despite an announcement of an “internal review” of the incident.
Adding salt to his wounds, NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea spoke up to defend his officers and place blame on Gayle, despite clear video evidence that it was the police who refused to talk and initiated force.
"I would [have] liked to see approach, discussion, and no running, no physical resistance at all, no arrest needed. Problem is, you can't go back in time and this is what we have now," the Commissioner said. "This speaks to the heart of what I've been talking about for a lot — many weeks, probably months now, in terms of juveniles."
For Gayle, the idea that he would purposely initiate an attack by eight cops over a joint was almost as insulting as the violence itself.
"I never did anything stupid, I already know how everything works. I'm not going to go get myself in trouble," Gayle told Buzzfeed. "It's crazy, like, I wasn't really surprised. I just thought it wasn't going to happen to me."
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