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Is NYPD Running Wild? Patterns of Brutality Raise Questions About Mayor's Control of Police

Behind the NYPD's beating of Jateik Reed and the killing of Ramarley Graham is a long history of police harassment.

A series of incidents last year, in some cases where police broke the law, has sullied the reputation of the NYPD. From the department’s handling of Occupy protesters and journalists, to officers’ participation in illegal gun sales and a ticket-fixing scandal, to rape charges and reports that allege the targeting of Muslims, the NYPD’s pattern of abuse, law-breaking, and poor judgment is raising questions about whether some of New York’s finest are operating as rogue units. A disturbing series of events, including beatings and the shooting death of an unarmed teenager in the Bronx, are causing some to wonder whether Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg are condoning the behavior or are unable to impose discipline on the department.

Along with the patterns of violence, new reports show that stop-and-frisk rates went through the roof in 2011, making it a  record-breaking year for the controversial practice. Stop-and-frisks may only legally be used when police have reasonable suspicion someone has a gun, but they are widely abused, and have been targeted as the source of aggressive, race-based policing and what many consider to be illegal marijuana arrests

So far, 2012 has proven no better. Already, six NYPD officers have already been stripped of their badges and placed on modified duty for their involvement in two incidents that took place early this year. On January 26, Bronx NYPD officers beat 19-year-old Jateik Reed after allegedly seeing him hold drugs. Jateik Reed was with two friends at the time of his arrest. For one of them, the beating was his introduction to police brutality.

In a previously unreported connection, a man named Will, who did not give his last name, was arrested and allegedly roughed up with Reed's family when they want to the police department to inquire about Reed on the day of his beating. 

One week later, while Jateik Reed was still locked up, cops gunned down 18-year-old Ramarley Graham, making him the third young black man killed by the NYPD in one week. Graham's grandmother and 6-year-old brother were inside the apartment where he was fatally shot. Police say they shot Graham, who was unarmed, while pursuing a small-time pot arrest. Will says he is Ramarley Graham's cousin.

Video of Reed’s arrest shows shocking brutality: Police kick, stomp, and hit Reed with night sticks as he cries for help, slamming him against a wall and beating him even after he falls to the ground outside of his home. His mother says the injuries required four stitches in his arm, and two in his head. 

I first met up with Reed’s friends and neighbors on 168th and Third Ave. Standing where Reed was beaten, witnesses explained what they saw on the 26th. But perhaps more telling than their accounts of Reed's beating are stories from their day-to-day lives. For this group of teenagers, being arrested for trespassing in their own buildings, or biting their tongues as an officer puts his or her hands down their pants during a stop-and-frisk, is nothing shocking. Reed's beating was the climactic culmination of a long history of police harassment.

Police stopped Reed after allegedly seeing him ditch marijuana and crack cocaine. Next, they allege, he punched and headbutted an officer, opening a wound that required stitches. Witnesses say they never saw police recover any kind of contraband from Reed, and no one has been able to confirm police reports that Reed headbutted a police officer.

Allegations of abusive behavior that occurred following Reed's arrest raise questions about police intimidation. In addition to the death of Ramarley Graham and arrest of the Reed family, a neighbor who witnessed the beating, Javin James, told AlterNet that police entered his home and beat him after other cops arrested Jateik Reed.

Witness Testimony

Twenty-year-old Trevor, who did not want to give his last name, is a friend and neighbor of Jateik Reed’s. He filmed the video that helped bring attention to Reed's case.

Standing in the spot where Reed was beaten, Trevor told me that he, Reed, and Will “were coming home from the store, and they just stopped us for no real reason.” Returning from the corner deli, they had walked about a half-block over to the building where Reed and Trevor live.