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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.

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While details of the tragedy are still unfolding, it appears that [Graham] had a small amount of marijuana on him, so walked home to get away from the cops because he didn’t want to be arrested. The cops followed him, broke into his home and killed him in his bathroom while he was trying to flush a small amount of marijuana down the toilet. The police officer who shot Graham said he believed the young man had a gun. He did not – no weapons were found.

The bottom line is that an 18-year-old is dead because of the insane marijuana arrest crusade by the NYPD...

Ramarley Graham’s “god sister,” Makeba Johnson, said she knew “Marley” her whole life. Johnson told me she wants people to know that, despite reports that make Graham out to be little more than a criminal, “Marley is not what they say. Marley is not a person that robs people or a drug dealer. Marley is a person that, at times, he probably smoked marijuana, which a lot of kids do -- I don’t say that it’s right, but a lot of kids do. He didn’t deserve to die.”

Police Harassment

The boys from Jateik Reed’s block say they are stopped from three to four times a week, though it could be as often as every day. They complain that police are rough and smart with them, but as teenagers, what seems to bother them most about the frisks is how intrusive they feel. 

“They go in my pants. You’re not supposed to go in my pants,” said Jashawn Reed.

Garnell agreed. “It’s annoying because it doesn’t matter what kind of cop it is, female or male, they’re gonna frisk you. if you say something to the female about it, the female says something to you like ‘What? I can do what I want.' And they still frisk you. You can’t say sexual harassment, nothing,” he said, “And they go hard, grabbing stuff they’re not supposed to.”

“The way they search these kids -- oh my God, it’s like they found a weapon on them. To me, it’s like sexual harassment,” said Julissa Lawrence, a neighbor and close friend of the Reeds who is sick of seeing her teenage son and his friends constantly stopped by police.

Stop-and-frisks are a mechanism by which the NYPD can more easily snatch people up on drugs charges. While they are only supposed to be conducted when there is reasonable suspicion a person is carrying a gun, less than 2 percent of total stops result in the discovery of any weapon or contraband. The practice is widely abused, with police regularly neglecting to fill out the required paperwork. Since 2002, stop-and-frisks have increased by 600 percent.

What’s worse, the numbers on race make Jateik Reed look like just another statistic: In 2011, 85 percent of the NYPD’s stops were blacks or Latinos. Stop-and-frisks that involve force are much more likely to involve black or Latino people.

While marijuana arrests are the most common charge for arrests in New York City, all misdemeanor arrests are spiraling out of control. In 2010, the NYPD reported 391,892 misdemeanor charges. On Jateik Reed’s block, teenagers say they have been arrested for petty crimes so many times they have lost track.

“They’re always misjudging something, and picking people up for stuff they didn’t do. They’ll lie to you, too,” Jashawn claimed.

“Trespassing and disorderly conduct are the two mains,” Jashawn Reed said, “and jaywalking.” Jashawn claims that in October he was arrested three or four times in the span of three weeks. “I have to go court for them, pay little fines. You always gotta go to court at the end of the day, but sometimes they let you out of the precinct." Most of the time, however, “They send you through central booking, everything. It could be as long as three days.”

“Since I was like 15, they’ve been harassing me,” he said.

For Garnell, the cops started with him when he first grew facial hair. “I guess that means I’m a bad guy,” he said.

Every kid on the block could tell you stories about police snatching them up on some charge, but trespassing is what they reference most often, perhaps because the circumstances seem so ridiculous.

Jashawn said he and a friend once walked from one building to another across the street, where they stood for inside for “10 seconds,” and “as soon as we came out of the building, the police cars stopped right in front of us.” Jashawn said an officer told him they got a call about two people wearing red and blue jackets.

“How’d they get a call if we just got to the building?” Jashawn wonders.

But police didn’t take them for trespassing. “They said they were going to take us for jaywalking, and then when they finally let us out, they gave us a ticket for disorderly conduct,” he said.

Garnell, too, was arrested for trespassing, while on his way out of a friend’s building. He spent three days in jail before the judge dismissed the case.

“These kids are not out there antagonizing people, robbing people, selling drugs. They go to school and hang out together because they grew up together and there’s nowhere to go. There’s no recreational centers because they shut everything down. So what else can they do?” said Julissa Lawrence.

In an article called “ House Arrest, Redefined,” the Village Voice explained how one man’s arrest for trespassing in his own home is part of a pattern: