At a June 11 press conference outside One Police Plaza downtown, members of the City Council, LGBT advocates, and supporters of police reform joined three gay men as they recounted allegations that NYPD officers recently assaulted and falsely arrested one of them outside the 79th precinct in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
According to 24-year-old Ben Collins, one of the three, the men, heading home at about 4 a.m. on June 2 to the Brooklyn apartment they share, were walking along Lexington Avenue near the 79th precinct at Tompkins Avenue when an officer “falsely accused” Josh Williams, 26, of publicly urinating. When the three men responded to the officer’s command that they walk over to him in the precinct parking lot, Collins said, the officer, joined by others, “thrashed” Williams and then “slammed him” against a squad car. After handcuffing him, the officers pepper-sprayed Williams, according to Collins.
Collins also said that when they asked for a name and badge number from the one officer who remained after the others had led Williams away toward the precinct, that officer called him a “faggot.”
The New York City Anti-Violence Project (AVP), which organized the press conference, posted a video that a third man, 24-year-old Antonio Maenza, made of roughly three minutes of the incident. The video begins with officers surrounding Williams, who is on the ground, securing his wrists before leading him away. Another officer is warning Collins and Maenza, “Get outta here, or you’re going to get arrested, too, fucking asshole… You wanna go with him, you stupid fuck?”
By about the 2:30 point in the video, Williams has been led away and the one officer who remains in the parking lot is engaged in a shouting match with Collins and Maenza over their demand that he identify himself. The exchange is loud and heated, with the men calling the officer a “fat fucking pig” several times. At approximately 2:49 in the tape, as the officer is walking away from Collins and Maenza, he can faintly be heard saying something, which the men allege was “Fuck you, you fucking faggot.” After multiple reviews of the tape, Gay City News cannot definitively confirm that quote, though the final two faint words could be “fucking faggot.” Immediately afterward, Collins is heard shouting back at the officer, “What did you say to me, motherfucker, you wanna call me a faggot?”
The video clip ended just seconds later, and Collins said that after that officers chased Maenza and him down and took them into custody. According to Collins, when the men asked why they were being arrested, the officers responded that “they will find something to charge us with.”
According to Cynthia H. Conti-Cook, an attorney with the Brooklyn law firm of Stoll, Glickman & Bellina who represents the men, Williams was charged with public urination and resisting arrest. Collins and Maenza were charged with obstruction of governmental administration. Williams, she said, suffered lacerations to his wrists and spent approximately seven hours in a hospital during which time police restrained both his wrists and his ankles.
Calling on police to drop all charges against the men, Conti-Cook said, “Last weekend my clients learned what residents in the 79th precinct –– and all over New York City –– already knew. That they are just as likely to experience violence, threats, and verbal abuse from the police as anyone else on the street. That police often act as is there is no oversight or accountability because there is so seldom any oversight or accountability.”
Conti-Cook’s clients did not take any questions at the press conference, and in a very brief statement, Williams said, “We did absolutely nothing wrong.”
Shelby Chestnut, a community organizer and public advocacy staffer at AVP, noted the group, in its survey of clients last year, found that 40 percent of those who interacted with the NYPD reported police misconduct, and that the problem had worsened from the year before.
City Councilman Daniel Dromm, who is gay and represents Jackson Heights, termed the police’s action at the 79th precinct “a crime” and charged that Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly is aware that the abuse Williams, Collins, and Maenza experienced “is the reality” of the LGBT community’s relationship to the NYPD.
“Even I have been disrespected by the New York City Police Department, even after showing my credentials as a New York City Council member,” said Dromm, who explained he was at the press conference representing two of the three other lesbian and gay members of the Council –– the Lower East Side’s Rosie Mendez and Jimmy Van Bramer of Sunnyside.
John Blasco, the lead organizer at FIERCE, an advocacy group made up of LGBT youth of color, questioned a central tenet of the response to the recent wave of violence aimed at queer New Yorkers –– the assignment of additional police in neighborhoods frequented by community members.
“What makes anyone think more police would make us feel safe?,” Blasco asked. “For most of us, that creates fear.”
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, an out lesbian who prevailed on the NYPD to increase its visibility in LGBT neighborhoods, he said, has to do more to consult with community members.
Others on hand for the press conference included Brooklyn Councilman Jumaane Williams, who is spearheading the drive for a package of police reform measures, Robert Pinter, who launched the Campaign to Stop the False Arrests after he was falsely convicted of prostitution at a Manhattan video store in 2008, and representatives of Streetwise and Safe, CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities, and the Safe OUTside the System Collective of the Audre Lorde Project.
At publication time, the NYPD had not responded to several requests for comment, but NY1 News subsequently reported that Kelly had reviewed the video and the incident was under review by both Internal Affairs and the Civilian Complaint Review Board.