Kai Wright: This is The United States of Anxiety - a show about the unfinished business of our history and its grip on our future.
Mayor Bill de Blasio: No place in America has protected protests more than New York City. We will continue to do so, whatever someone's views, but it has to be nonviolent.
Dan Haggerty: Now instead of dispersing the crowd, like they usually do, police tracked them there.
Protestor: We were told that if we walked on the sidewalks, we would be able to go home. We walked on the sidewalk, what did they do? They lined up and they're locking everybody up. For what? For what?
Commissioner Dermot Shea: Point is anyone that is on the street during this curfew could probably already be arrested for five different offences.
Letitia James: Commissioner Shea said that the NYPD "had a plan which was executed nearly flawlessly".
Craig Futterman: You don't run on fellow police officers or else.
Bill Maher: “If You See Something, Say Something” has to apply to police too.
Kai: Welcome to the show. I'm Kai Wright. Last week, we started talking about the New York City Mayoral race. This is a huge, huge election given all the very serious stuff we're facing as a city. Voting starts in the Democratic primary on June 12 and while anything is possible in politics, the winner of that primary is very likely to be the next Mayor of the nation's largest city.
That election is top of mind for our team, and we've decided to focus particularly on policing. NYPD is the largest, most expensive police force in the country by far. Michael Bloomberg once joked that he had his own army and that it was the seventh largest army in the world, so there you have it. Depending on how you count the money, the city spends anywhere between $6 billion and $10 billion a year on NYPD- that's B, billion with a B. In the wake of George Floyd's murder, a lot more people are asking how this massive, expensive army is managed; and in particular, whether it even can be held accountable for what it does in our names.
Tonight, we're going to start with one dramatic example of how NYPD has responded to that call for accountability. George Floyd was murdered just about exactly a year ago today. People filled the streets in outrage all over the world, including here in New York City, where the murder was also a painful reminder of the many, many incidents of police brutality in our city.
Jami Floyd, who is the editor of WNYC's Race and Justice Unit, has been reporting on what happened during one of those demonstrations, which took place in the South Bronx and the Mott Haven neighborhood. Jami has been interviewing people who were there that night to reconstruct what happened from their vantage point. Take a listen.
Paint a picture for us. Remind us what the protests last summer looked like in New York City.
Jami Floyd: Well, we'd all been bottled up. There was a lot of tension around the economic and health disparities around COVID, and into that came the murder of George Floyd and immediately, people took to the streets.
Protestor 2: Black Lives Matter.
Protestors: Black Lives Matter.
Jami: There were thousands of people marching throughout our city.
Protestors: We are the people.
Jami: The Brooklyn Bridge completely taken over by protestors, and the protests were relatively peaceful. Still, the police response to these protests was very harsh.
Protester: Stop! Stop! Stop!
Jami: Protestors were punched, they were shoved.
Reporter 2: A video has also surfaced showing two NYPD vehicles pushing into a crowd of demonstrators.
Jami: A Black State Assemblywoman and a Black State Senator were among those who suffered what they called assault at the hands of police officers.
Assemblywoman Diana Richardson: I'm Assemblywoman Diana Richardson. I'm an elected official, and they just pepper-sprayed me for no reason.
Kai: Honestly, just watching it night after night seeing that kind of response from the cops was horrifying.
Jami: It was not our city in its best moment.
Mayor Bill de Blasio: We will take steps immediately-
Jami: Eventually, the Mayor placed a curfew on the city, 8:00 PM.
Mayor Bill de Blasio: -to stop any disorder.
Jami: The irony was, Kai, that from the protesters' perspective, exercising their right to assemble and to be heard, was that they were only met with the very repressive tactics about which they were protesting and arguably, the most egregious incident happened in the Bronx.
[crowd noise, applause and shouting over bullhorns]
Kai: You have been interviewing several people from that night. Set the scene there.
Jami: On June 4th at around 6:30 early evening, a few hundred protesters, this is a relatively small protest as the last summer's protests go, they started to assemble in the neighborhood of Mott Haven. That's a small residential part of the South Bronx; the Blackest, brownest borough in the city, and it has traditionally been overpoliced.
Laurie Kim Alexander: There is a long history of intimidation, harassment, brutality, so it is a contentious relationship, to put it lightly.
Jami: One of the people I spoke with, Kai, is a woman named Laurie Kim Alexander.
Laurie: I am a resident of the North Bronx. I was trying to decide all day if I was going to go to the rally. I personally hadn't been able to go to a lot of the protests that have been going on all summer because I had to protect myself and my family. It's the middle of a pandemic. This one was near, recognizing too that there was a curfew, my friends and I wanted to make sure that we got out before the curfew dropped. That was the plan; be heard, get home safely.
[crowd noise and clanging bells]
Jami: She turned out to protest for peace and reconciliation, but every single person we have talked to says that the very first thing they noticed when they got there was the extraordinarily heavy police presence.
Laurie: We saw police there. We'd see them on top of the buildings. They were just watching at first but the minute we turned one corner, and I was towards the front because I was asked to help carry one of the banners. All of a sudden these cops in body armor bicycles shoot down the street.
Protestor 3: Look at them. Look at them.
Laurie: -from either side, block off the intersection.
Protestor 3: We were coming down the hill, we were chanting, and these robobike people came all around, swarmed, then they came- [voice fades]
Laurie: We looked to the back from where we came from and there was more cops up there. They're just coming, more and more of them.
Protestor 4: At least 100 officers out here, most of them in riot gear.
Jami: There are police on all sides, and she realizes that she and the other protesters have been trapped.
Police: Back up!
Jami: Our reporting supports that she was trapped. They were trapped. These protesters were trapped by the police.
Protestor 5: [yells] We live here. Where do you want us to go?
Kai: To sort of put them in a kettle, to use the word there.
Jami: That's right. Kettling is this highly controversial tactic in which police, strategically and with premeditation, confine a large group of protestors in a small area.
Protestor 3: By 7:45, before the curfew, we were already trapped in.
Laurie: They started playing really loud, saying that please disperse-
Protester: Let us go!
Public Address System: Beginning at 8:00 PM, a citywide curfew will be in effect.
Laurie: -and there was no way to do that, and so people started chanting, "Let us go. Let us go," and they just stood there.
Protestors: Let us go. Let us go.
Laurie: Right as 8:00 hit, when that curfew hit, [chanting stops] that's when they started to push in on us with the riot gear-
Laurie: -and it's pandemonium.
Protestor 6: [screams] They're going to kill people.
Laurie: I saw people being beaten with a baton.
Protestor 4: There's a cop on top of a car with his baton out.
Laurie: I watched this cop take his shield and bash a girl's face in.
Protestor 3: I got stray pepper-sprayed. My daughter got pepper-sprayed.
Laurie: There was blood everywhere, and they're using those shields to push people in. Pushing, pushing.
Laurie: There were people fainting,
Protester: Tear gas! Tear gas!
Laurie: and they start to break into the crowd, picking off one by one.
Protestor 4: Lots of people being arrested right now.
Laurie: At this point, I'm saying to myself, "I got to find a way out of here," and so I go to these cops in the white shirts.
Jami: Now, Kai, the white shirts are the top brass of the NYPD, the people who give the orders.
Kai: These are the highest ranking officers in the police department.
Jami: That's right, and the top white shirt of all was there, Terence Monahan.
Reporter 1: The Chief of Department, Terence Monahan.
Reporter 2: Terence Monahan.
Jami: One of the things that he is well-known for is crowd control. That's his area of expertise. He became one of the main architects of police response during the protests last summer.
Laurie: The ones in the white shirts, they are the most aggressive. These are white men, as well, and they don't have any masks on. So even if folks want to try and dispute their intentions, if you don't have a mask on in a pandemic, [scoffs] while you're told masks save lives, what is the intention then? The intention is not to keep that community safe.
I go to the front and I said to the man, "Listen, you got let me out. I'm in pain." "Well, you should have thought of that before." This is a large man. Grabs me by my shirt, grabs me, and pulls my arm behind my back so hard to the point where I felt like it would break. It's a level of helplessness that I don't know if I've ever experienced, and I've been in some situations. All I could think is this man wants to kill me, and so he twists it and slams me into the asphalt.
I'll tell you now that he slammed me so hard, the asphalt was imprinted on my shoulder. That's how hard that man slammed me into the ground and pushed me into it. Another one, as they're holding me down, comes and zip-ties my hand - with it twisted - behind my back really tight, and walks me to sit me down with the rest of the people who are now being arrested. I feel like he intentionally sat me down next to a pool of blood.
Reporter 4: There's just a line of protesters with their hands tied behind their back with zip ties.
Reporter 5: Was- was there any provocation?
Protestor 3: There was no provocation.
[protesters shouting for attention]
Laurie: As the people are streaming in, they're beaten, they're bloody, some don't have shoes, I watched a young person streaming blood down their face. All of us saying, "They need a medic. They need a medic." They'd arrested the medics. It felt like a warzone. In that moment, you don't know where they're taking you. You don't know if they're taking you off to beat you more, and you're sitting there waiting for it, the pain of that.
I was held for- I don't even know how long, six hours? It felt like an eternity of having my hands zip-tied behind my back with my arm twisted. Zip ties are painful. In the paddy wagon, a young person across from me, they had his hands zip-tied so tight, he's rocking. I said, "Breathe with me." [exhales] "Focus on me." He said, "It hurts so much." I said, "Breath with me." Stifling hot in there. We could barely breathe anyway.
I tried to get him to focus on me and honestly, in that moment, helped myself to stay calm. I still hadn't seen his hands. I said, "Let me see." When he turned around, his hand looked like Mickey Mouse hands. You know, Mickey Mouse gloves? Big and purple. That's how tight they were, and he'd been like that for hours.
We were taken to Queens, and you know what we got in the end? A ticket. So you mean to tell me that all of that was for a curfew violation?
Kai: How many people were arrested like that, that night?
Jami: The police arrested about 260 people at Mott Haven, but the significant thing to note here, Kai, is the number protesting wasn't much more than that. They damn near arrested everybody who showed up to demonstrate in Mott Haven that night. The other protests, some of which had several thousand protesters, well, the police didn't arrest anywhere near this number of protesters. This was, disproportionately, the harshest response by police.
Laurie: I believe this was calculated and on purpose. A planned attack to send a message to the Bronx and to Black and brown people across the boroughs that you speak up, we are going to beat you down. The NYPD is notorious for this.
Kai: What then happens with all of this? What is the legal response to this?
Jami: There are a lot of legal implications here. Human Rights Watch came in, and they said clearly and explicitly that the NYPD had violated the human rights of these protesters.
Attorney General Letitia James: This unfettered conduct has gone on for too long.
Jami: Then Tish James - Letitia James, the Attorney General - comes in and she does an independent investigation.
Attorney General Letitia James: We outlined years of the NYPD's illegal and harmful conduct against New Yorkers.
Jami: Now, she is suing the NYPD and Mayor Bill de Blasio, and she specifically named the then Chief of Department Terence Monahan, who she says "actively encouraged and participated in this unlawful behavior".
Attorney General Letitia James: City leadership even went as far as to commend the NYPD's use of kettling.
Jami: She wants to make kettling a prohibited policy, much as chokehold is prohibited.
Attorney General Letitia James: This lawsuit seeks broad injunctive relief, including systemic reforms to the NYPD, and a monitor to oversee the NYPD's compliance with the law and policing practices in future protests.
Jami: She wants actual change action to come out of this.
Attorney General Letitia James: Ensuring that individuals, no matter how powerful they may think, that no one is above the law.
Kai: That was the fallout from NYPD's response to this one protest in the South Bronx, which has come to represent the department's overall aggressive response to calls for police accountability. A special thanks to WNYC and Gothamist reporters, Gwynne Hogan and Jake Offenhartz, who covered much of the uprising for us last year, and gathered many of the recordings from the streets you just heard.
Up next, Jami talks with an active-duty NYPD officer who also wants to see enormous change to how NYPD functions. I'm Kai Wright. This is The United States of Anxiety. Stay with us.
Kai: Welcome back. This is The United States of Anxiety. I'm Kai Wright. We're talking about the New York Police Department this week and its treatment of people protesting the murder of George Floyd right about this time last year. We're going to be taking your calls a little later in the show. I want to hear your thoughts and your questions, too, about the Mayor's race and police reform.
First, I want to introduce you to somebody inside the department. Pedro Serrano is an active-duty, 17-year veteran of the force who spent much of his career policing the Bronx, specifically the 4-0, or the 40th Precinct in Mott Haven. That's right where that protest that you just heard about took place.
Serrano is part of a group called The NYPD 12, which is 12 officers who sued the department for what they say were quotas imposed on them by their commanding officers. Meaning, they'd show up for work and be told to meet specific arrest numbers or to issue specific numbers of citations for minor infractions like obstructing pedestrian traffic. The NYPD denies this charge.
WNYC's Race and Justice Editor, Jami Floyd, spoke with Serrano about the protest in Mott Haven. Again, what you're about to hear here is a conversation with an active-duty officer. Serrano was just about to start his shift when he and Jami spoke.
Jami: Tell us a little bit about yourself before you were a police officer. Where did you grow up? Tell us a little bit about your childhood.
Pedro Serrano: I grew up in Little Italy in the Bronx, where it was divided mostly Black, Hispanic, and Italian. At that time, there was a big racial problem. They did not like Hispanics and brown and Black people to be walking through their neighborhoods. I would get chased and attacked while growing up, so I got introduced to racism pretty early on in my life.
Jami: This is the '80s?
Pedro: Yes, '80s to '90s. You wouldn't want to be my color walking through that neighborhood or even trying to even go to the park. That was just the way I grew up.
Jami: My question for you, as someone who grew up in the Bronx and polices the Bronx, there's been assessment across the board that the protests in Mott Haven received the most harsh response of all the protests. Why do you think that is?
Serrano: I am not shocked that the police department went over the top with the violence because this is a culture that has been abusing Black and brown people forever. That's how the police department has been well-known. They get their numbers on Black and brown people. They beat up Black and brown people. They choke. They do so many things to Black and brown people because they don't think they're human.
Do I believe that the way they were treated was harsh? Yes, but it's exactly what I thought they would do. All civilians have a right to protest peacefully. If you don't like the way your government or your police department or anyone is acting, you have the right to protest and you should. What I saw is that the pedestrians were basically trapped until after 8:00 PM, and then they were arrested. They were kettled.
Jami: There's a lot of talk now about this tactic of kettling. Do you have an opinion about it?
Serrano: If they're violently protesting, it's an effective way to make an arrest and keep them contained, but when you have peaceful protesting, that was very unfair. I didn't see anything right about it.
Jami: You are a police officer in the Bronx. Why weren't you there?
Serrano: Usually, any person that's like me that might witness wrongdoing, they will not send to any kind of protests because they don't want you to be a witness to whatever was happening, so they put you somewhere else.
Jami: You're saying that there's a concerted effort to keep certain officers away from protests so they don't observe what goes on?
Serrano: That is correct.
Jami: Why did you decide to become a police officer in the first place?
Serrano: Several reasons. Number one, growing up in this environment, I wanted a career. I used to work in the meat market and I just wanted to do something more. I wanted to represent Hispanics in the police department and to make sure that they got a fair treatment. I was taking the test. I had to lose some weight to get in. I went to the police academy, and I believe they did a lot of good teaching there. They taught me a lot of good things. It's a lot of rules.
Unfortunately, when you get out, it's nothing like what they teach you. The first thing they tell you when you go to the precinct is all that stuff that you learned, forget about it. As of right now, you're in this police department, you do as you're told regardless. I learned real quick that that patrol guide meant nothing in that precinct. As you're in the street, you start noticing that there's so many violations to the patrol guide that you're just in awe.
I remember, I'm standing on 149th Street & 3rd Avenue on a foot post, and a friend of mine during a break called me and said, "You wouldn't believe what I'm doing. I'm jumping out of a van, grabbing people, going through their pockets, and then jumping back into the van and just resuming patrol." I asked all the questions of who, the what, where, why. It didn't make any sense to me. It didn't make sense to him either.
I kept getting reports from a bunch of different people that I knew the same situation was happening. People jumping out of cars and vans, stopping and frisking and going through their pockets and when they didn't find anything, just leave.
Jami: What about the law? Stop and frisk. Obviously, police officers can't stop, question and frisk people, or when they have reasonable suspicions, but you can't just stop and frisk people. Do y'all even think about that?
Serrano: Well, that was the conflict. You see it, you have these conflicts in you saying, "Wait a minute, that's not right. It's wrong. It's against the law, it's against the patrol guide. If it was my kid, I wouldn't like it done to them." Growing up in the South Bronx, I could understand how people did not like police officers because I, myself, as a young kid was thrown up against the wall, and I didn't do anything. I wasn't a drug dealer, I didn't carry guns, but I was so often thrown up against the wall violently, frisked, touched in certain areas that was inappropriate.
When I went to the South Bronx and the Mott Haven community, I saw the exact same thing. I worked alongside white officers, brown officers, even some Black officers that would sit there and look at the community and call them animals, call them savages. It's, "Look at all these Black people in the corner. Look at all these Hispanic people. Why don't they get a job?" They never talk about the individual. Then never say that this one is a drug dealer, this one is a bad person. They just talk about the group and they make a general assumption.
Again, as a Black and brown person, I would tell them, "How about if you do a little police work and find out which is the drug dealer, which is the person who is trying to hurt somebody, instead of just saying they're all bad people. Why don't you approach them nicely? If you don't like them, there are too many of them in a corner, they're blocking pedestrian traffic, well, why don't you just go up to them and say, 'Hey, could you please move? You're violating the law.' If they don't, then you could take police action." But too many times, they just roll up on a crowd and just the summons and arrest people.
That's done for various reasons. Number one, there's a bunch of racists out there that take action. Number two is all police officers have a quota. They need to make a certain amount of summonses, and if you ask someone to leave and they leave, you no longer have summons. The procedure was adopted real quick. Grab the first person that's there, write as many as we can. Unfortunately, sometimes that turns into a scuffle; and some racist officers, they basically start the fight and then arrest you.
That's how it is being a police officer in the Bronx. You see it, you know it's wrong, but there's a culture - a very powerful culture. A culture that's run mainly by Italian and Irish people. That culture is what governs the police department. They have rules. If you see something wrong, you do not snitch. If you do, there will be repercussions. If they're trained for years to go out there and take out your frustration on the Mott Haven people, it's not going to change.
The Bronx is always treated differently. The police officers have always been known as more aggressive, and there's a whole slew of summonses that do not happen in Manhattan South that happen in the Bronx and Brooklyn. Manhattan South, it's the golden child. You don't do anything there. You don't even report crime. That's the tourist area. You just don't touch it.
There's people who can ride their bicycles on the sidewalk. That's not a problem. In the Bronx, you get summons and arrested. It's just the way it is. South Bronx communities are treated a lot more different than the white people in Manhattan.
Jami: You're saying that my son - light-skinned Black kid - he could ride his bike in Manhattan on the sidewalk - Manhattan South - and he wouldn't be stopped, but the same kid riding his bike in the South Bronx is going to be cited?
Serrano: Yes, that's correct. I have done details in Manhattan where whole families, just a bunch of people on the sidewalk going back and forth on the bicycle, and there's police there, nothing gets done. They don't even get looked at. South Bronx, I've seen Black and brown teenagers riding their bike and they get tackled. It's treated different. It's almost like its own police department.
Jami: Why did you choose to speak out as you have, take the chances you've taken? Why that path?
Serrano: Well, your conscious just gets to the point where you can't take it anymore. The police department force you to do certain things you don't want to do, even certain acts that were illegal, and only the officers would be punished and they were the ones who have been forced to act this way. I'm a police officer who's Black and brown, and I can see the injustices that was happening to other Black and brown people, and I didn't really like it.
They pushed me so much that - and me and others - there was a huge amount of people meeting in the 4-0 to express what was going on; the quota, all these arrests that were not legal. There was even white officers that were willing to talk with us, but when it came time to do something about it, unfortunately, a lot of people said they didn't want to get fired.
Jami: What have been the repercussions, the retaliation? What's happened to you?
Serrano: There's just so many ways that they could retaliate against you, and a lot of them apply to me.
Jami: Are you pulling out your list?
Serrano: Oh, I always take notes of my entire life in the police department. In the 4-0 precinct, what they did to me was for an entire year, they put me in a foot post in the most dangerous part of the Bronx where there was major shootings. They put me by myself. They gave me a square footage to stand on, told me not to move, regardless of the weather conditions, and there would be supervisors constantly driving around to make sure I didn't move. It was still very dangerous, and I was hyper-aware of how vulnerable I was.
They knew this. They did this on purpose. It's called the punishment post. If you're a whistleblower, if you speak up against the department, they will take vacation days, they'll take your shield away, take your guns away, ostracize you; anything they want, they could use against you - and they will - until they destroy you.
Through my experience through the years, I realized that what's wrong with this police department, it's a culture. I believe that most of the problems comes from the top. From the commanding officer, straight down. His will is what goes out there and gets produced. Whatever he wants or she is what the police officers must do. The chiefs, the super chiefs, they control everything. Maybe, what, five years ago, it was mostly white. Just recently, they've been letting Black and brown in.
I always say, start at the top, make sure that they change, and they never do. They're not accountable for their actions.
Jami: Thank you so much.
Serrano: Well, thank you for having me and listening.
Kai: Coming up, Jami Floyd will join me as we take your calls. There is a Mayor's race happening. NYPD, believe it or not, works for the Mayor who works for all of us. What do you want the next Mayor to do to address the problems we've reported here? 646-435-7280. That's 646-435-7280, and we'll take your calls after a break. Stay with us.
Kai: Hey, a quick program note. We have made several episodes about police reform because we feel pretty strongly that you just got to keep this issue on the front burner. A few polls and surveys have already pointed out how dramatically support for the Black Lives Matter movement has dropped since the initial surge of protests after George Floyd's murder. White people, overall, actually report far less support for the simple idea of Black Lives Matter than they did before the murder.
Anyway, we're staying on it, and we've gathered some of our favorite episodes in a collection on our website. If you want to go through them or share them with somebody, you can go to wnyc.org/anxiety, find the Collections tab. You'll see it there just across the homepage. You'll see one collection called Cop Watch. I hope you'll check it out. Thanks for listening and for caring about this issue in general.
Welcome back. This is The United States of Anxiety. I'm Kai Wright. We're talking tonight about NYPD's response to last summer's protests, demanding more accountability from NYPD. In particular, the events of June 4th of last year in the South Bronx when, according to several independent investigations, including one by the State Attorney General, NYPD violated the human rights of protestors and engaged in several unlawful practices. The State AG is now suing the department.
For the rest of the hour, let's talk about what can be done about all of this, including what you want from the next Mayor. We've got a Mayor's race underway, and there are very different ideas about how to respond to the calls for reform. Some want a civilian commissioner, some want to redirect funding away from NYPD to other services, some want to strengthen NYPD. What do you want? 646-435-7280. That's 646-435-7280.
I am joined by WNYC's Race and Justice Editor, Jami Floyd, who we've been hearing from all hour. Jami, as calls come in, let me follow up on a few things that came up in your wonderful reporting here on what went down in Mott Haven last summer. In the conversations we just heard between you and Pedro Serrano, the active-duty police officer, he says that the problems we see in police culture start at the top.
The Attorney General's lawsuit names the Mayor, she names the police commissioner, she names then NYPD Chief of Department, Terence Monahan. Have any of these people been held accountable in any way for what happened during that protest in Mott Haven last summer?
Jami: Right. Well, Kai, we had not only the Human Rights Watch report and the AG's lawsuit, there have been multiple lawsuits filed by individuals who were there that night for the injuries they say they suffered at the hands of NYPD. As for accountability, Kai, the very next day, the Mayor - here on WNYC with Brian Lehrer, and the Commissioner Shea on other outlets - doubled down on the actions police took that night, saying they'd been responding to concerns about outside agitators, weapons, violence, fears local business leaders had expressed to NYPD.
In the end, Kai, the only repercussion seemed to have fallen publicly, as far as we know and our reporting can ascertain, on the then Chief of Department, Terence Monahan, who was, as you just reported in the first two segments here, the man in charge of NYPD crowd control, who, as we've just discussed, was in Mott Haven that night. By February, he'd announced his retirement from the department after a 39-year career, most of it spent in the Bronx.
Kai: But the retirement- I mean, was this discipline, though? Because wasn't he kind of promoted in the course of that?
Jami: [chuckles] Right. Well, then what happened is that the Mayor named him Senior Advisor for Recovery Safety Planning, which is a new role that is part of the Mayor's recovery agenda in response to COVID. He is- essentially, you could think of it as a promotion. It's certainly not a disciplinary move, so is that accountability?
It's worth mentioning, Kai, that the city moved into Monahan's old job, Rodney Harrison, the former Chief of Detectives, the new Chief of Department, who becomes the highest ranking African American in the NYPD.
Kai: How has the NYPD responded to the many allegations that have been made from Pedro Serrano, but also the many people you've spoken with who were arrested that night in Mott Haven? What has NYPD's response been?
Jami: Well, we certainly want to get to people's calls, but we also want to be fair to NYPD. We did pose a series of intensive questions to them based on what we heard from Pedro Serrano and the 24 people we've interviewed and beyond out of the Mott Haven experience. They've responded very specifically. Let me get to the heart of the response.
First of all, they say "kettling is a term that has never been used in the NYPD or trained to NYPD members as a tactic". I'm quoting their response. "Members of the NYPD never heard of the term until it appeared in a New York Times story weeks after the arrests". Kai, I will say that kettling is what every single person we talked with in Mott Haven spoke of, not to mention the video evidence which clearly shows that people were trapped and couldn't leave.
Whether you want to call it kettling or not, whether most NYPD officers have heard of it or not, it is what happened in Mott Haven on the street that night. Our own Jake Offenhartz, our reporter, was there, as our freelance photographer, C.S. Muncy, captured it. We can argue about the semantics, but that is their response [crosstalk]--
Kai: But it happened.
Jami: It happened, whatever you want to call it. NYPD goes on to say, "This was not a-" now, I'm quoting again from their response "-assault on the people of Mott Haven, in that the vast majority of those arrested did not live in the Bronx, but were associated with a group that in previous demonstrations has been involved in numerous incidents of property damage and violence and resisting arrest.
We're inviting NYPD to our Town Hall in The Greene Space on the one year anniversary of the event because I want to ask really [crosstalk]--
Kai: On June 4th.
Jami: -on June 4th- because really, were the vast majority of the 260 people arrested associated with an outside group of agitators? I'm not quite sure about that particular response. 260 people arrested, were they all associated with some outside group? Let's pin that down. Then finally, they go on, Kai, to say that they were - and this is the heart and nub of what they've been saying since June 5th of 2020 - that they were anticipating violence, property damage based on who they thought was organizing the protest and some vehicle stops they'd made in the area, but there really has been no evidence to support that claim from the Mayor or Commissioner Shea, or then Chief of Department Monahan.
Kai: To date. That's their response, but what about-- We met Laurie Kim Alexander, one of the Bronx residents that was arrested in that protest at the top of the show. She has this horrific experience. What do people like Laurie Kim want done?
Jami: Right. Well, Laurie Kim is part of this group calling itself the Mott Haven Collective. They're trying an innovative- what I would call an innovative approach to - and reproach [chuckles] - to the NYPD. They're not suing, at least not yet. What they did is they sent a letter. They sent it not to the NYPD but- yes, to the Mayor but more significantly, Kai, to the Comptroller Scott Stringer. Yes, he is running for Mayor but importantly now, he is the comptroller, the person who controls the purse.
What they want are reparations. Yes, to compensate protestors who were injured but more importantly, I think they would say, reparations to the community of Mott Haven. Reparations meaning investment in the neighborhood - in the targeted South Bronx neighborhood. They want the city to "take responsibility for the attack," and essentially, Kai, for years of what they say is neglect and targeting of this neighborhood that is mostly Black and brown.
Kai: Let's try to squeeze in a couple of callers. Let's go to Kayla in Brooklyn. Kayla, welcome to the show.
Kayla: Hey, there. My dad is a firefighter. I'm born and raised in Kansas City. I've lived here almost 10 years. My dad is a fire- was a fire captain in Kansas City. Kansas City, you have to live in the jurisdiction that you represent as a firefighter or a cop. Why is that a thing there and not here? I know the mentality there is you represent your communities. I think that if-- I met a firefighter in the Bronx not too long ago who lived out in Long Island, and I was like, "Why are you here?"
Kayla: Why is that the case here?
Kai: Thank you for that, Kayla.
Jami: That's great.
Kai: You want to try answer it quickly, Jami, or-- Let me get one more in and then we'll do them both together, how about that?
Kai: Murray in New Jersey. Murray, welcome to the show.
Murray: Thank you very much, Kai. I love the show. My question is I heard the brave testimony of officer Pedro, and I know of the brave undercover officer in Mount Vernon who's spoken out about things going on. I wonder, is there a citizens organization that these officers can be protected by, who are following up when these officers are given these bad assignments or given this reprimand, and they ask the question why, so the officers know that the people have their back?
Kai: That's a good question, Murray. [crosstalk]--
Jami: These are two excellent questions, and I can answer them quickly. The first is an excellent, perhaps, platform for someone who would run for Mayor, [chuckles] but it's not in any platform that I've seen. We have a lot [crosstalk]--
Kai: We happen to have a Mayor's race.
Jami: That's right. We have a lot of police officers and, indeed, firefighters who live outside of the city. It's something we're actually looking into for our 9/11 coverage. A lot of the exodus happened post-9/11, not just of firefighters and police officers, but a lot of people, but it's very important when you have school teachers and firefighters and police officers, civil servants, living outside of the communities they serve. Excellent point, Kayla. I think that would have to be part of a reform platform and as part of a legislation that would require one to live in the jurisdiction. The unions have tremendous power, so that's part of the issue in our city.
That second point that Ray brings up is something Pedro Serrano talked about with us, whistleblower protection. That too needs to be part of any reform package in any police jurisdiction.
Kai: Jami, we're racing through here, but we got a couple minutes left. On the protest itself, what-- In this Mayor's race, has anybody responded to what happened in Mott Haven? Is there anybody who you're looking at in that race and says, well, they looked at what happened out there and they have a meaningful response to it?
Jami: No. [chuckles] The answer is no. The person who's come the closest is Scott Stringer. He has not responded specifically to the Mott Haven Collective's demands, but he, of course, is the person to whom they specifically wrote this letter and they are [crosstalk]--
Kai: Because he's the comptroller.
Jami: He's the comptroller, and so they are negotiating with Scott Stringer. That's all happening behind the scenes. I'm not, frankly, in a position to speak to what is going on in the negotiation, but he has marched with protestors - as have many of the candidates, by the way, including Eric Adams, Maya Wiley. Most of the candidates have been out marching with protesters last summer and more recently. He has also written angry letters to Mayor de Blasio and NYPD about the nature of policing in the city and how it has to change, and some of his suggestions are concrete.
Then when you start going through the different candidates, some have very ethereal, I would say, a lack of concrete ideas about how to reform NYPD. Andy Yang [chuckles] and others like Eric Adams, have rather, I would call them, unprogressive notions about what to do with NYPD, but quite concrete- because of course, Eric Adams was a police captain. He at least is thinking very concretely, not just about what has to happen within NYPD culture, but what communities want, including Black and brown communities. There you have some concrete response, but not a progressive response that perhaps activists would want.
You have to look very carefully at the different candidates. We don't have time to go through them all, but specific to what happened in Mott Haven, unfortunately, no.
Kai: Well, we're going to have to leave this here, but we have much, much more on this. Go to gothamist.com. We're going to have a lot more reporting on this. On June 4th, Jami is hosting a special night at The Greene Space at WNYC. It's the one-year anniversary of the Mott Haven protests in the South Bronx. There's going to be members of the Mott Haven Collective we've talked about, The Bronx Defenders, and NYPD officers based in the Bronx will all be there. It's going to be an incredible gathering. It's free. Go to thegreenespace.org to learn more.
Jami, thanks for all of your work on this.
Jami: Thank you, Kai.
Kai: United States of Anxiety is a production of WNYC Studios. Hannis Brown mixed the podcast version. Kevin Bristow and Matthew Marando were at the boards for the live show. Our team also includes Carolyn Adams, Carl Boisrond, Emily Botein, Karen Frillmann, and Christopher Werth. Our theme music was written by Hannis Brown and performed by the Outer Borough Brass Band. Veralyn Williams is our executive producer, and I am Kai Wright. You can keep in touch with me on Twitter @kai_wright.
Of course, I hope you'll join us for the live version of the show next Sunday, 6:00 PM Eastern. Stream it at wnyc.org, or tell your smart speaker to play WNYC. Until then, thanks for listening and take care of yourselves.
New York Public Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline, often by contractors. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of New York Public Radio’s programming is the audio record.