Friday 30 September 2016

'One of the most shocking, disturbing and anger-inflaming documentaries you’ll ever see' - review of NYPD: Biggest Gang in New York?

Review: NYPD: Biggest Gang in New York? (BBC1)

Published 03/08/2016 | 08:03

According to black and Hispanic residents of New York City, the police department is like 'an occupying force'
According to black and Hispanic residents of New York City, the police department is like 'an occupying force'

NYPD: Biggest Gang in New York? is undoubtedly one of the most shocking, disturbing and anger-inflaming documentaries you’ll ever see.

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If you’re not appalled, outraged and sickened to the stomach by the raw footage that unfolds across the 45 minutes, then your name is most probably Donald Trump.

In one clip we see up to 10 police officers roughly manhandle a young black man to the ground. His crime? Flicking a cigarette butt on to the pavement, something that thousands of New Yorkers do every hour of every day. I did it myself many times on my one and only trip to the Big Apple some years ago.

In another clip, two cops walk a handcuffed black man suspected of domestic abuse to the patrol car. When it reaches the station, he’s incapable of walking and has to be carried inside by a group of policemen. Later, they carry him out again, this time on a stretcher on his way to the hospital.

A woman on the scene asked a cop what they’d done to him. She was told to mind her own business. “He hit his wife. We can do whatever the f*ck we want with him.”

In yet another video, a heavily pregnant Hispanic woman tries to reach her son, who’s just been arrested. Two cops take an arm each and slam her to the ground, belly-first. A second woman intervenes to help. A different cop grabs her and flings her across the street as if she were a rag doll, fracturing her kneecap.

BRUTALITY

All of the footage was shot by the “Cop Watchers”, men and women who, since Eric Garner died an hour after a cop put him in an illegal chokehold two years ago, have been chasing the NYPD and using camera phones to capture police brutality.

Filming the cops going about their work is not illegal. You can’t be arrested for it. But you can be arrested for other things, minor things, especially if you’re a Cop Watcher known to the NYPD.

Dennis Florez has been arrested 75 times, most recently while filming a peaceful demo.

The cops singled Dennis out of the crowd and charged him with “disorderly conduct”. Specifically, he’d jaywalked across the street when there was a red light. This particular arrest was captured by the BBC crew’s camera.

Reformed gang member-turned-Cop Watcher Ramsay Orta filmed the cops taking down Eric Garner, who was his friend. It was his shocking video that was relayed around the world by the mainstream media. Ramsay has a rap sheet as long as your arm, but he’s straight now. Doesn’t matter. Like Dennis, Ramsay was arrested for jaywalking while filming. He’s facing a potential 118 years in prison.

It’s racial profiling. It’s victimisation. It’s corruption and abuse of power on a frightening scale. It’s criminal behaviour perpetrated on the innocent-until-proven-guilty by the very people who are supposed to be upholding the law.

The NYPD is the largest police force in the United States. It has an annual budget of $5bn and 36,000 officers. “It’s like an occupying force,” said one of the Cop Watchers.

It’s hard to disagree with that statement when you see the observation towers to be found on every corner of the public housing projects, peering ominously down on the mostly black and Hispanic residents.

They look like what you’d expect to see in a Cold War-era communist state, not in the heart of a democracy. Retired sergeant Anthony Miranda (what an ironic name in the circumstances) used to be one of the 36,000. Now he’s taking a class action against the force he served for 20 years.

Miranda is black. He says that from the moment a recruit enters the NYPD academy, the “them against us” mentality is drilled into them. Arrest quotas are not supposed to exist, but Miranda says they do.

The more arrests officers make, the more money is generated for the cops, the lawyers, the city. And the easiest way to rack up arrests is by targeting blacks and Hispanics.

Despite the shocking footage, perhaps the most depressing part of the film was seeing Kim, a tireless Cop Watcher, coach her two primary school-age sons in how to behave if approached by cops (keeping your arms by our sides is paramount). She knows the day will inevitably come when it’s their turn.x

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