NEW YORK (PIX11)—After getting taken down, handcuffed and kept in police custody for no apparent reason during the West Indian Day Parade on Monday, the city councilmember and high-level city government aide it happened to are speaking out, and the police commissioner has opened an investigation.
Democratic Councilmember Jumaane Williams and Kirsten John Foy, the community affairs director for the City Public Advocate, both 35 and African-American, say that their treatment indicates that many people like them are treated the same or worse by police.
"If I did not look the way I look, a black man with dreadlocks and earrings, with another young black male... if we were elected officials of a different persuasion, we are sure things would have been handled differently," Williams said at a news conference on the steps of City Hall.
He was joined by Foy and about two dozen other officials at the city and state level, as well as Brooklyn congresswoman Yvette Clarke. The officials each spoke of shock and outrage over the two men being detained at a checkpoint inside a so-called frozen zone -- an area closed off to anyone except people specifically cleared to be there. In this case, the only people allowed in the zone were dignitaries invited to a West Indian Parade event at the Brooklyn Museum. Williams and Foy were invited.
"I am continuing to try and see police as community partners," Williams said. "It becomes increasingly difficult to do that when you have situations like this."
He said that he showed his wallet-sized, brass plated city council badge at two other police checkpoints in order to get to the place where the takedown and handcuffing took place. But at that third checkpoint, according to the two men, the cops had a racist attitude. The officer seen on the video taking Kirsten Foy down is white.
"Indeed, I've been trained on how to deal with officers when they become aggressive," Foy said at the news conference. PIX11 asked him to speak specifically about the video, which was released by the public advocate's office, for which Foy works. In the first ten seconds or so of the amateur video, it appears that Foy and the cop who ends up taking him down are in each other's faces. Foy said it's not an aggressive act on his part.
"You see me complying with their orders to move back," he told PIX11 News. "So in compliance, I was doing that. At the same time, because you can simultaneously use your legs and your mouth, I'm explaining [to the officer] who we are and why we are there."
Foy and Williams also showed photos taken right before the video of the take down started rolling. "I'm on the phone with the chief of the police," Williams told PIX11 News as he pointed to the image of him with a cellphone to his ear in an oversized photo. "'Please stop pushing me [I said to the cop]. You see him pushing me, and there's Kirsten trying to show his ID." In the photo that was expanded specifally for the news conference, Foy is seen holding up his outspread left hand to an officer.
For its part, the NYPD said in a statement that Captain Charles Girvan, the executive officer of the 68th Precinct reported being struck in the right side of the face by an unknown assailant who was not Mr. Williams or Mr. Foy in the incident.
Williams's response: "What they're saying is a baldfaced lie... If it were true, why were we (he and Foy) the only people taken into custody?"
Senior aide Kirsten Foy told reporters: "I'm not here to beat down the police I'm here to make them better. I'm not here to beat down the authorities, I'm here to make them better."
Williams says what happened in Brooklyn is a reflection of the culture of 'stop and frisk' -- an NYPD crime fighting policy he wants ended. Fellow Council Member Peter Vallone disagrees, tonight he told PIX 11 News "I don't think right now anybody should overreact to any incident and get rid of the one program that's actually keeping us safe."
A wide array of supporters, from City Council Speaker Christine Quinn to Brooklyn Jewish leaders spoke out at the City Hall news conference in agreement with and support for Williams and Foy. They called for an end to the NYPD procedure of stop and frisk, in which officers can stop a person they suspect of criminal activity without having observed the person actually commit a crime. At the very least, supporters like State Senator Eric Adams, himself a former NYPD captain, said that the NYPD needs a clear policy on how to deal with identified city officials.
"We don't have a specific outlay of how to respond when [officers] deal with an elected official. It should be built into police practices," Sen. Adams told PIX11 News. "That should be a learning experience out of this."
In a statement, NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Brown said the arrests were made before Williams and Foy's identities were established where an apparent crowd had formed near a frozen zone. Brown claimed that "in order to separate them from the crowd Council Member Williams and his associate were handcuffed and brought across the street and detained until their identities were established."
"It's very troubling," Public Advocate Bill de Blasio told the PIX 11 Morning News Tuesday, of the arrests. "Here is a law abiding guy, he actually was holding his government ID, trying to show it to police and an elected official Jumaane Williams who is a leader in the community - a real role model to young people - and they get arrested for simply trying to walk into the Brooklyn Museum where there was an event happening. There's something really wrong here."
"The bottom line here is, there was a very serious police overreaction, it was an area where a lot of community leaders were and there has to be respect for community leaders as with citizens."
"I have spoken with Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly, both of whom have assured me that an investigation is underway. Whatever action is taken against the police officers in question, it must be accompanied by real policy reform for this to mean anything," Williams said in a statement.
Meanwhile Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said Tuesday the department's internal affairs is currently investigating the incident.