(re: “Video shows cop punching suspect,” “To protect, and to serve,” Oct. 12)
“You saw police work in action.”
One would be forgiven for appreciating the irony in this candid truism by 50th Precinct officer Terence O’Toole, for police work and police brutality seem to go hand-in-hand in the United States.
On Oct. 6, Alfred Burns, 16, was pinned down and punched in the head 13 times by an officer after allegedly trying to steal a bicycle at Broadway and West 225th Street in Marble Hill. A viral video circulating around the internet, showing the assault on the teen by a burly officer after he allegedly knocked the officer’s partner down, has received widespread media attention.
The 50th Precinct is justifying this disproportionate use of force by claiming that Burns had his hands around the neck of the second officer. Although we do not know what happened before the video begins, Burns’ left hand was near the officer’s neck for a couple seconds in the video’s first moments before he used it to shield his head from the barrage of punches from the first officer.
Alarmingly, Officer O’Toole attempted to deflect attention from the conduct of his officers by invoking Burns’ criminal record. However, as rightfully noted by The Riverdale Press, “Any justification the officer had to punch the teen in the head repeatedly (should) focus on the exact situation we watched unfold in the video, not his criminal record.”
This reality, in addition to Officer O’Toole’s remark that “the next cop that (Burns) encounters may have to shoot him because he is going to fail to comply …” has profoundly disturbing implications.
As any eighth-grade history student would tell you, law enforcement may not arrogate to itself the role of judge, jury and executioner. What kind of example does Officer O’Toole, as the commanding officer of the 50th Precinct, set for his subordinates when he makes such remarks publicly?
As for the altercation in question, though one cannot know how one would react in a given situation, as noted by the terrified screams of passers-by who yelled at the officer to cease, one would think that a police officer of all people would have the training and experience to understand what constitutes reasonable use of force.
Whether or not the officer’s use of force was justified is being investigated by the New York Police Department’s internal affairs. As residents of the Northwest Bronx, we are deeply disturbed by this incident and Officer O’Toole’s unprofessional and dangerous remarks. Between the aforementioned and the statement by Officer O’Toole that a man who attempted to stop the punching and a woman who screamed during the incident are being sought and are subject to arrest, we are alarmed and concerned that a culture of unaccountability and intimidation is present in the 50th Precinct.
Regardless of the outcome of the investigation, Officer O’Toole and the officer who delivered the punches should be asked to turn in their badges. If the NYPD is serious about changing its approach to policing, then it must recognize that this incident compromises the trust and goodwill of the communities it serves.
We will not stand by when police brutality occurs in our neighborhoods. We will not stand by when a police officer assaults a minor, risking brain injury and death. We will not stand by when a commanding officer of the 50th Precinct makes statements that can be interpreted as an incitement to his own officers to shoot a boy he dismisses as a “scourge on the Bronx.”
And we will not stand by when that commanding officer publicly threatens to arrest local people who reacted in natural horror to what was occurring before their eyes.
We demand an end to violent, racist policing in our communities. There must be no police state in the 50th Precinct, or anywhere across this nation.
The author writes on behalf of members of North Bronx Racial Justice, which includes Jennifer Scarlott, James G. White, Anne Price, Robert Schwab, Mary Hemings, Suzanne Corber and Lucy Mercado. He also writes on behalf of Hermon Darden of St. Stephen’s United Methodist Church, Doug Cunningham of New Day Church, Dr. Ellen Isaacs from Montefiore Medical Center, and Jone Johnson Lewis of the Riverdale-Yonkers Society for Ethical Culture.