Oriel Ceballos, a local artist who frequently displays his work in Washington Square Park, was violently arrested last week by law enforcement. A video taken by a bystander in the park shows multiple officers tackling Ceballos to the ground and pepper-spraying him. Considering that Ceballos was arrested because he put his art on the ground rather than on a table, the reaction from law enforcement was exaggerated and unnecessary. This abuse of power is one instance in a long history of police brutality. New York City law enforcement must be held accountable by the public, and it is time that victims get the justice they deserve.
In the past, there have been multiple instances when NYC law enforcement has used unnecessary force. The most notable is the murder of Eric Garner, who was choked to death by a police officer during an arrest. Despite public outrage and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, the officer who was responsible was not indicted for the murder. Parks Enforcement Patrol has the same authority as the NYPD in making arrests and using physical and deadly force. Because of this, park enforcement should not be seen as a lesser force than the police. An example of their abuse involved Melissa Alvear, who was arrested after a defense of her parent’s illegal vendor cart turned into a physical confrontation. No officer faced any repercussions in this case either. In both examples, police and park enforcement got away with their abuse of power without suffering proper consequences. Ceballos’ arrest could have easily been worse. Park enforcement and police pinned him down to the ground while he struggled to breathe, while the officers refused to state why they were arresting him. The situation is similar to Garner’s, whose last words were “I can’t breathe.”
All of the mentioned victims are people of color. A 2015 analysis by the Guardian found that unarmed racial minorities in the U.S. are disproportionately killed by police compared to white people. Any regulation against police violence must take into account this inequality. These inherent racist biases in police departments must be recognized and purged. Additionally, the corrupt investigation process for biased policing must be fixed. A report from the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Investigation discovered that in five years, not one of 2,495 complaints of biased policing was substantiated. The NYPD needs policies that reflect a fairer criminal justice system and treat minorities as equals.
Accountability measures must be set up so these gross misuses of power can be checked. An important step towards this reform is increasing transparency in the NYPD. Currently, the state’s Civil Rights Law 50-A allows police departments to conceal personnel records from the public. A panel of experts, which consisted of two former U.S. attorneys and a former federal judge, recently argued that this law should be amended to help increase public trust and allow the public to hold officers responsible for their crimes. The panel also recommended that there be penalties for misconduct and aggressive investigations into accusations of lying. These policies must be implemented immediately in the NYPD to combat corruption and wrongdoing. Furthermore, Assembly Bill 1061A, which would establish a special office for investigating and prosecuting alleged murders by police, must be passed and put in place. This bill, which is currently in committee, would lead to a fairer process for both victims and the police and would remedy previous failings to bring serious consequences to those responsible.
The brutality towards Ceballos in Washington Square Park exemplifies NYC law enforcement’s use of unnecessary force and its history of rampant misconduct, specifically towards people of color. Police officers and park enforcement need accountability; increasing transparency and special prosecutorial measures are integral to achieving this goal.
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