With tensions flaring in predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhoods over police officers forcefully enforcing social-distancing rules, some prominent elected officials are charging that the NYPD is engaging in a racist double standard when it comes to the methods it uses.
Several arrests of Black and Hispanic residents that have been shared online in the last few weeks show officers handling residents with excessive force. Police were seen punching, slamming, and spraying people of color with mace, while videos recorded of police interactions with mostly white crowds show a completely opposite interaction.
In contrast to the forceful arrests seen in predominantly Black neighborhoods, police were recorded handing out masks to crowds of mostly white people in Lower Manhattan, Williamsburg and Long Island City on the same day.
Videos showed crowds of sunbathers, many without masks, sitting close together at a park on Manhattan pier, uninterrupted by the police.
In recent weeks, thousands of officers have been dispatched to parks, streets, and subways to enforce public health orders from the mayor and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, cracking down with warnings, fines, and arrests to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
According to the social-distancing statistics released this Thursday by the Brooklyn district attorney’s office, the police arrested 40 people for social-distancing violations from March 17 through May 4.
Of those arrested, 35 people were black, four were Hispanic and one was white.
The statistics showed that more than a third of the arrests were made in the predominantly black neighborhood of Brownsville.
No arrests were made in the predominantly white Brooklyn neighborhood of Park Slope.
According to data provided by police, between March 16 and May 5 police officers made at least 120 arrests and issued almost 500 summonses for social-distancing violations citywide.
Of those arrested, Black people made up 68 percent, Hispanic people make up 24 percent, and only 7 percent of those arrested were white, according to a statement from deputy police commissioner Richard Esposito.
When New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was asked how these recent practices differ from the unconstitutional “stop and frisk” practices he denounced in the past, he said there was no comparison.
“What happened with stop and frisk was a systematic, oppressive, unconstitutional strategy that created a new problem much bigger than anything it purported to solve,” he said. “This is the farthest thing from that. This is addressing a pandemic. This is addressing the fact that lives are in danger all the time. By definition, our police department needs to be a part of that because safety is what they do.”
But some Black elected officials believe that the contrast in the practices police are using in neighborhoods of color and white neighborhoods suggest that social distancing is being used by some officers as an excuse to stop and arrest people in poorer neighborhoods.
Representative Hakeem Jeffries, a Brooklyn Democrat whose district is predominantly African-American, expressed concern in an interview about policing tactics that resembled the unfair practices of “stop and frisk.” That, combined with the illness, unemployment and hunger brought on by the pandemic for many residents, would be a “a toxic combination.”
“We can’t unleash a new era of overly aggressive policing of communities of color in the name of social distancing,” Jeffries said.