March 14, 2013.
Different dates, different years but all have one common denominator – NYPD officers disregarding the constitutional rights of citizens to observe and report their activities.
Last night, as I exited the Bronx Documentary Center with several other volunteers and closed the center, officers from the 40th precinct jumped out of their car and pointed to me, and a patron who was with us, to come to them. Sergeant Delgado was accusing me of having an open container of alcohol but what I had in my hand was a broken beer bottle wrapped and sealed in a plastic bag and in a plastic cup to capture the spilling alcohol. The sergeant refused to acknowledge the evidence in question and was hell bent on issuing summonses.
The other accused gentleman verbally acknowledged his fear and nervousness at Sargeant Delgado’s aggressive, disrespectful attitude so I began to record the incident (watch the video here on YouTube) which is well within our constitutional rights. After perhaps 10 or 15 seconds of recording, Sargeant Delgado told me to put the camera down. I refused to do so and verbally invoking my right to record the incident which only angered him and he called to the two officers under him and slammed me against the Bronx Documentary Center, rattling the windows, and proceeded to handcuff me.
After about 5 minutes, I was hauled down to the 40th precinct on Alexander Avenue and 138th Street and processed to be put in the cell with other gentlemen who had, according to them, been similarly harassed or stop and frisked – including a volunteer fireman.
Before I was put into the cell, I was taken into the bathroom by the arresting officer (Sargeant Delgado did not want to do the dirty work and ordered the officer to fill out the paperwork) and told to remove my coat for a search. The officer was visibly upset that he was even doing this and I took the opportunity to speak candidly with me and he closed the door so we wouldn’t be overheard.
He said, “OK, I’m supposed to search you for anything illegal but I know you’re okay.” and with that he didn’t. All he did was remove my shoelaces and as he was doing so I asked him if he was a rookie because Delgado was making him do the dirty work. He smirked and said, “No, I’ve been in the force for several years but I’m new to the 4-0. Came over from Brooklyn.”
He then told me he was going to cuff me again to take me to the holding cell. Before exiting the bathroom he stopped and told me that he was going to get me out of here as soon as possible.
I only spent perhaps 10, maybe 15 minutes in there with 5 other gentlemen. One by one they asked me what happened, and I told them. They began to tell similar stories of just minding their business and then being stopped and frisked. 3 of them had pocketknives and one admitted to having a big knife stating that he had to defend himself somehow if he were ever mugged or attacked.
What troubled me was that most had been sitting there since between 3PM and 5PM and it was already midnight. One gentleman was upset because he was missing work and was convinced that he would be fired now.
After I was released from the cell, my friends were all waiting for me. They had called two other friends who live by the precinct, one a member of Community Board 1 and the other a Reverend (who immediately wrote about the incident on his blog) who was a member of the 40th Precinct Council – all who came to help expedite my release.
As the arresting officer gave me my summonses, one for open container and the other for attempting to create a dangerous situation (apparently informed citizens are dangerous) he then pulled me away from the desk to a corner and told me not to worry that if worse comes to worse and he’s called in that he will say that I wasn’t guilty.
It takes a lot to go against your superior and your fraternity. The other gentleman who was in our group only received a summons for an open container and wasn’t cuffed or dragged to the precinct. He was white. I, on the other hand, a Latino male who was videotaping the incident, was cuffed and dragged to the precinct for refusing to give up my right to record. The called it an attempt to create a dangerous situation. It should be noted that Delgado is also Latino and the two other officers are white. As with any corrupt or dysfunctional organization, it all trickles from the top. The arresting officer didn’t have to say or do that and he very well knew that I am a blogger and activist and my friends were all journalists.
I know not all are bad or high on power. There are good men and women of the law out there. I’ve met them and I knew I was standing with one at that moment.