Time to lose our chains


To the editor:

(re: “Video shows cop punching suspect,” Oct. 12)

Many of us have watched the video that went viral of Alfred Burns being punched in the head 13 times as he was being apprehended by New York Police Department officers for allegedly stealing a bicycle. 

During this apprehension, a person was filming the activity with a smartphone, which also recorded voices, including a person screaming.

Per the Oct. 12 story in The Riverdale Press, the 50th Precinct’s commanding officer, Deputy Inspector Terence O’Toole, was quoted as saying, “The voice that is screaming the most is his girlfriend … and she may be getting arrested as well.”

The last I checked, we in the United States of America still have First Amendment rights, which includes that “Congress shall make no law … prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech.” Whether we are communicating with words, symbols or sounds, we are still exercising our First Amendment rights.

And for those of us with empathy and compassion, we can understand how one could scream when witnessing such a traumatic incident. We also understand, when one is threatened to be arrested for voicing an opinion or expression, it is pure intimidation. It is to intimidate the individual involved, and the populace at large, from challenging authority.

In addition, per the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice, “Recording governmental officers engaged in public duties is a form of speech through which private individuals may gather and disseminate information of public concern, including the conduct of law enforcement officers.”

Thus, we have the right to film the police.

As members of the general public, our smartphones are powerful tools to keep law enforcement — especially the NYPD — accountable when interacting with individuals in our communities. This recent use of excessive force is not an isolated incident in our city, where black and brown people are harassed, attacked and murdered by NYPD with impunity. 

To thwart this behavior, I encourage people to not be intimidated, to speak out for social justice, and to film the police.

In conclusion, I quote the female activist Assata Shakur: “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

Jennifer Wilhelm

Jennifer Wilhelm