Historically, the relationship between police officers and the black community has never been ideal. There are numerous examples of incidents where excessive force was used in confrontations with African-Americans — Rodney King, Amadou Diallo and Sean Bell, just to name a few.
“Things have gotten worse since 9/11, with stop and frisk and racial and religious profiling. Black folks have gotten caught up in that,” said George White, associate professor of history at York College, who also has a law degree.
The animosity and distrust that has grown over the last several decades is perhaps why the two groups often see the stopping, arresting or apprehension of alleged wrongdoers in completely different ways. An example of this occurred two weeks ago in Jamaica.
Kevin Brown, 27, of 108th Avenue was arrested on the morning of Sept. 21 at his home, but the details of what happened depends on who you ask.
Brown’s wife, Kenya, said she and her husband were getting their three young daughters ready for day care when she heard someone pounding on the back door. “They said, ‘This is the police, open the f-ing door,’” Brown recalled. But she said it was stuck, so she told them to go around to the front of the house.
Brown said they repeatedly asked her, “Where is he?” and she told them she had seen her husband’s cousin, whom she knows only by the nickname “Docki” run through the front yard.
She surmised that he must have done something wrong since he takes medication for a psychological problem and has taken the couple’s SUV before, something Brown said she told the officers.
She claims the police dragged her husband out of the house while he was still holding the hand of their 3-year-old daughter, beat him and sprayed him with mace, never telling him why he was being arrested.
“I told him that his cousin was driving the vehicle. You need to look for him,” Brown recalled.
White said that it is easy for African-Americans to believe they are being targeted as a result of their race, since there are so many examples of law enforcement “committing acts that defy explanation.”
A police source told a very different version of how Brown’s arrest occurred.
Two officers charged with looking for criminals seeking to burglarize homes, spotted Brown driving a black SUV without any license plates, which is illegal. They decided to follow him and observed him breaking several traffic laws including not stopping at a stop sign, making illegal turns and failing to signal.
The officers signaled for him to pull over, but he didn’t stop. He pulled into the driveway of his home and hopped out of the vehicle without putting it in park and one of the officers was almost struck by the moving car, the source said.
The officers immediately recognized him as the person they had followed because of his striking blonde hair. He ran into the house through the back door and slammed the door on the foot of the officer chasing him, but Brown was still able to get it locked.
That’s when the cops started pounding on the door and Kenya Brown told them to go around to the front. When they finally nabbed Kevin Brown, he resisted arrest and the officers were forced to pepper spray him. As is standard procedure, EMS was called and Brown was taken to Queens Hospital Center to have his eyes flushed.
Brown, whom the source said has a extensive criminal history including involvement in gangs is being charged with: reckless endangerment, obstructing governmental administration, meaning getting between an officer and his job, unauthorized use of a vehicle because the SUV he was driving did not belong to him, fleeing an officer in a motor vehicle, resisting arrest and giving the cops a fake name.
The police source said that Kenya Brown was also uncooperative — something she denies — not willing to talk to them or tell them where her husband was. The source added that neither she nor her husband mentioned anything about a cousin.
White noted that being stopped by the police “is a fact of life for many of us,” who live in the black community. He said he has been pulled over in every major city he’s lived in including Los Angeles, Dallas and Philadelphia. He said besides being innocent of any crime, he attributes his not being arrested to a combination of calm, luck and not challenging the officer.
Although he believes it is “unfortunate and unfair, that blacks have to act differently than whites during their interaction with officers, it’s just the way things are right now and they don’t look like they are about to change anytime soon. “It’s a burden I resent greatly,” he said.
City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) also said he had been pulled over by police as a youth even though he had not committed a crime and was not arrested.
“It’s just a reality, but it’s definitely unfair,” Comrie said. “You just have to act in a non-threatening way in order to prevent unhealthy things from happening.”
The lawmaker noted that after the Bell shooting, a special committee of city, state and federal officials was formed to devise a strategy on how police-community relations could improve. The report was given to the mayor, police commissioner and other elected officials, but none of the suggestions were followed, Comrie said.
The suggestions included: ensuring that there are more beat officers within the community affairs unit; more interaction between police officers and children; and creating different layers of familiarity between beat cops and various civic organizations.
“Police-community relations are OK, but with so many people out of work, people express their frustration in any way possible,” said Comrie, who represents the area where the arrest occurred. “I don’t believe the police are doing as much as they could to reach out to the community.”