by Alex Pareene
Speaking of cops: Two illuminating stories of officer-involved citizen interactions came across my Twitter feed within a few hours of each other. They occurred at opposite ends of the country, only one ended in an arrest, and neither ended in any serious injury or death, but they both illustrate what happens when urban cops apply their usual treatment of marginalized communities to people with actual power.
The first is from DNAinfo. Last month, following a pro-Palestinian rally in Times Square, Chaumtoli Huq was waiting outside a Ruby Tuesday in Midtown Manhattan while her husband and children used the bathroom inside. Two police officers approached and asked her to clear the sidewalk. She declined. They pinned her against the wall and arrested her. She was charged with obstructing governmental administration, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. The resisting arrest charge was because she allegedly “flailed her arms and twisted her body” while the officer was attempting to handcuff her for waiting on a sidewalk for her family to come out of a restaurant. (A “resisting arrest” is frequently an indicator that a cop just really wanted to arrest someone but couldn’t come up with any actual crimes to justify it.)
She added that officers went through her purse without probable cause before taking her to the Midtown South Precinct — all while her family was still inside the restaurant. Huq’s husband and children were notified by another officer and eventually came looking for her at the precinct, according to her federal civil rights suit, which is expected to be filed Tuesday. Officers offered to deliver Huq’s purse and personal items out to her husband, but then became suspicious when she told the officer his last name was different than hers, according to the lawsuit. “In America wives take the names of their husbands,” the officer told her according to court papers.
It was 10:45 p.m., after a recent Raiders game. Veteran firefighter Keith Jones and his two sons, ages 9 and 12, were walking back to their SUV at Station 29. A fire crew responding to an emergency had forgotten to close the garage door. Jones went in to make sure everything was secure. As Jones walked out, he said a police officer, responding to a possible burglary in progress, yelled “Don’t move, put your hands up.”
“And his hand is on his gun. He was crouched, he was low, and he was basically in a shooting stance,” Jones said. Jones complied, but noticed his 9-year-old son Trevon was starting to cry. The officer saw the two kids first and had already told them to raise their hands. Jones said he told the officer that he was an Oakland firefighter, that he worked at the station and that they were his kids. He asked the officer to allow his kids to lower their hands and tell them everything is OK. Jones said the officer told them to keep their hands up and not to move. The firefighter said this lasted for a few minutes.
Jones was eventually allowed to reach into his pocket and present his firefighter ID.
Jones, you have probably guessed, is black. Huq is Muslim and South Asian, and was dressed, at the time of her arrest, in “a traditional Indian tunic and pants.”
What Jones and Huq have in common is that they have the resources and connections necessary to get people in positions of authority to care. Huq is an attorney who formerly worked with Letitia James, New York City’s public advocate. Keith Jones is a firefighter, part of a tight-knit organization, beloved by the media, with a great deal of municipal power (not unlike most police departments). Huq is filing a federal lawsuit. Jones had the Oakland fire chief complain to the police chief on his behalf, and Internal Affairs is now investigating the incident.
I have no doubt that the interactions Huq and Jones had with those police officers are repeated multiple times a day, in cities across the country. (A police trainer tells KPIX 5 that the officer was “following protocol” but should have apologized to Jones and his children, which, ha ha, sir, good one.) Most of the time, people harassed or threatened by cops for no good reason have no recourse. Falsely arresting a human rights attorney and pointing a gun at a goddamn firefighter are just about two of the dumbest mistakes a cop can make. But most of the people they’re doing that sort of thing to aren’t human rights attorneys or firefighters. That’s why it continues to be “protocol” to point a gun at a guy for leaving work with his kids.
Update and a correction: The Oakland officer didn’t have his gun drawn, as I wrote. Jones described the officer as “in the crouch position” with his hand on his gun, “ready to pull his weapon,” but the weapon wasn’t actually drawn. I apologize for the error. (Additionally, the officer did say “I’m sorry for the scare,” despite my skepticism about cops apologizing.)