Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Broken Windows, Broken System - Daniel Pantaleo's Arrest Record Reveals Wildly Distorted Policing Policy

Officer Daniel Pantaleo after choking (& killing) Eric Garner in Staten Island
Analysis of records of the 259 arrests made by NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo, who was caught on video applying an illegal choke hold during an arrest that led to Eric Garner's death, calls into question the very existence of the NYPD's "Broken Windows" policing policy.

Records show that a mere 24 of Pantaleo's 259 arrests were actually for serious felony crimes.

The bulk of his arrests are for very minor infractions like marijuana possession, loitering, obstructing traffic, selling loose cigarettes and of course, resisting arrest. If his record is a sample of a typical NYPD patrol officer, what does that say about Broken Windows and the thousands of people being shuttled into New York City's penal system?

The basic theory of Broken Windows follows a simple premise: by focusing police resources and manpower on lower-level offenses that directly impact quality of life, much more serious felony offenses like rape, robbery, assault and murder would in turn be reduced.

But is the enforcement itself triggering horrific felonies far beyond the petty offenses that often trigger violent confrontations between police and (mostly) minority suspects? WNYC reporter Robert Lewis explored that question in an excellent piece back in July.

The Broken Windows policy was a hallmark of the Rudy Giuliani-era when NYPD officers began to crack down hard on things like overly aggressive squeegee guys approaching idling vehicles, cleaning windshields then demanding change for the unsolicited service.

The NYPD also stopped graffiti artists from tagging trains, subway stations and walls; in conjunction with city ordinances they made it harder for kids to buy spray paint (and box cutters) from hardware stores. Fare-jumpers who hopped subway turn styles, or people drinking from open containers of alcohol in public also drastically dropped. They even started harassing food cart vendors.

The policy continued under the Bloomberg administration. 

But as the arrest statistics piled up almost exclusively for young men of color, as did the staggering number of totally innocent citizens caught up in the wide net that Broken Windows cast, the Constitutionality of "Stop and Frisk" (a core element of Broken Windows policing strategy) became a much larger legal issue. Now it's an ugly stain on the legacy of the Bloomberg administration.

In light of the national attention focused on Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson's fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown over the summer, Eric Garner's death from Daniel Pantaleo's illegal choke hold during an encounter in Staten Island (resulting from Garner's arrest for selling loose cigarettes to people on the street) became more than just business as usual for the NYPD.

The encounter was filmed by a bystander and went viral, placing the policy of Broken Windows squarely into the spotlight of global media scrutiny.

Disturbing facts about Pantaleo have emerged as witnesses from some of his 259 arrests have stepped forward with alarming details of his treatment of suspects.

Back on August 2nd the NY Daily News ran a piece on 43 year-old Tommy Rice, a welder who was stopped, strip-searched and falsely arrested (along with three other passengers in a car) in Staten Island by Pantaleo and another officer back in March of 2012.

Rice was eventually awarded $30,000 from the city after it was shown Pantaleo mocked and insulted Rice during the strip search by slapping his genitals. Where do you find that technique in the NYPD manual?

Earlier today NPR ran a feature and interview about another African-American who was falsely arrested by Pantaleo in Staten Island after the rogue cop stopped him and a friend on the street while they were taking an old boiler to a scrap yard for cash.

Pantaleo accused the man of stealing the boiler even though he explained that it had come from his girlfriend's mother's home and had been given to him. Pantaleo arrested him anyway; further clogging the New York City court system by charging the guy with obstructing traffic for pushing the boiler along the street in a shopping cart.

Obviously Garner's death was a ruled a homicide, but should we really blame Pantaleo? What about the system that put him back out on the street as a cop? Clearly the guy is no brain surgeon, but he's only enforcing the existing laws on the city's books.

What's becoming painfully clear is that Pantaleo is just one cog in a damaged machine and a symptom of a broken system.

If you want evidence of just how broken the system is, last week Sarah Ryley published the findings of some truly unsettling analysis by the NY Daily News. Look for yourself as these startling statistics showing the disproportionate rate at which Hispanics and Blacks are issued summonses for low-level offenses in New York.

Take for example the Upper West Side (North) in Manhattan, where, according to Ryley's Daily News article, blacks and Hispanics make up 34% of the population - yet they account for 84% of the summonses issued by the NYPD.

As Ryley's article states: "The analysis also found blacks and Hispanics received the vast majority of summonses for scores of common offenses, such as disorderly conduct (88%), loitering (89%), spitting (92%) and failure to have a dog license (91%) — even though the Health Department estimates that less than 17% of dogs citywide are licensed."

Those numbers are startling. If you consider the amount of revenue those summonses generate for the city, one might conclude the Broken Windows policy essentially amounts to a city tax on the behavior of black and Hispanic citizens.

Or perhaps Broken Windows policing serves the more sinister goal of offering NYPD officers the option of being able to criminalize virtually anything a person of color is doing in New York; walking an unlicensed dog, spitting on the sidewalk, having some weed in their pocket - any of which their white counterparts are also doing on any given day in Park Slope, the Village, Williamsburg or DUMBO.

I lived in New York for 15 years, I know that's true. By the way it's common knowledge that you can walk into almost any corner Bodega and by a "loosie" (a single cigarette) in case you just want a quick smoke and don't want to shell out ten bucks for a pack, strange that Pantaleo would arrest Eric Garner for doing it on the street in Staten Island.

Stranger still that Pantaleo would put him in a choke hold and end Garner's life for doing it.

But when viewed in the larger context of the numbers cited in the Daily News analysis, an officer like Daniel Pantaleo actually makes sense - a policy like Broken Windows can only function when you have officers like him to do the dirty work.

Dirty work indeed.

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