BY BEN VERDE
Cops cuffed a mother and pinned her to the ground of a Brooklyn subway station on May 13 for improperly wearing a mask, in an incident caught on video that furthered criticism of the city’s handling of social distancing enforcement.
Video from the scene shows a group of six police officers arguing with the woman as she climbs the stairs to the mezzanine of the Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center station with her child while wearing a face mask pulled around her neck.
When one of the officers touches her on the shoulder, the woman — who police identified as 22-year-old Kaleemah Rozier — yells at them “”Don’t touch me!” and begins to swing her arms about.
The cops then surround her and force her to the ground, while another cop leads her toddler away.
“Yo, yo, this is unnecessary!” an onlooker can be heard shouting.
Mom placed in handcuffs after altercation with #NYPD & #MTA over not fully wearing her mask in #Brooklyn #NYCSubway station. Police say woman wouldn’t listen, but wasn’t arrested and charged, rather taken out of station. Courtesy: Anthony Davis on FB pic.twitter.com/nohs9NpuGj
— Dean Meminger (@DeanMeminger) May 13, 2020
Police claim Rozier escalated the conflict after being asked to properly wear her face mask.
“Officers approached the woman and politely informed her that she cannot enter the Transit system without properly wearing a face mask,” said police spokesperson Sgt. Mary Frances O’Donnell. “She responded to the officers with vulgar language and repeatedly refused requests to properly wear her face covering over her nose and mouth.”
The officer arrested Rozier and charged her with resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, and harassment.
“This individual was only arrested after her behavior toward officers warranted police action,” said O’Donnell.
The incident sparked further criticism of the city’s decision to have NYPD officers enforce social distancing rules, which has disproportionately affected communities of color.
Rather than treating COVID-19-related offenses as criminal behavior, the city should have public health professionals leading the charge, according to a rep with the nonprofit Legal Aid Society.
“The evidence continues to mount that Mayor Bill de Blasio and Commissioner Dermot Shea made a terrible judgment call by asking police officers to aggressively enforce social distancing rules — exposing people of color, who are already bearing the brunt of this terrible pandemic, to further harm from aggressive police enforcement actions,” said the society’s attorney-in-charge of the Special Litigation Unit, Corey Stoughton. “We need a different approach that removes policing like this from the equation.”
The Police Benevolent Association, a union that represents most members of the NYPD, echoed similar sentiments — arguing that the condemnation of racial biases in social distancing enforcement were a predictable result of “vague” directions from “cowards who run this city.”
“This situation is untenable. The NYPD needs to get cops out of the social distancing enforcement business altogether. The cowards who run this city have given us nothing but vague guidelines and mixed messages, leaving the cops on the street corners to fend for ourselves,” said PBA president Pat Lynch in a statement. “Now that the inevitable backlash has arrived, they are once again throwing us under the bus.”
NYPD commissioner Dermot Shea pushed back on the idea that enforcement has been dolled out in an unequal manner.
“I think we can all agree what we’ve seen on some of those videos is incredibly disheartening, it’s not what we want to see, and it’s quite frankly disturbing,” said Shea at a May 13 press conference. “We also have to recognize that police officers are human. They are you and they make mistakes, they’re not infallible. So, that’s the backdrop. But I will push back strongly on any notion that this is business as usual for the NYPD or that this is ‘racist police.’ I think this could not be anything further from the truth.”
Rather, according to Shea, the higher number of ethnic minorities receiving police summonses for COVID-19 offenses stem from more deeply-rooted trends in society.
“We have issued a small number of summonses, even fewer arrests tied to COVID. Are they mostly to minority members of this city? Yes,” he said. “[But] disparities exist in every facet of life, not just in New York City but in this country and it’s rooted in much deeper issues than the New York City Police Department. So, I would urge caution to everyone now before a press conference is held on a ten second video of a street brawl in the middle of the day in Brooklyn in broad daylight.”
Mayor de Blasio, who has previously defended the department’s handling of coronavirus-related enforcement, condemned the officers involved in Rozier’s arrest in a Twitter post.
“Face coverings are important to protect everybody — they’re not optional,” Hizzoner said. “But no one wants to see an interaction turn into this. We’ve made progress with de-escalation. This isn’t it.”
This story first appeared on brooklynpaper.com.