Coronavirus : Black New Yorkers are violently arrested over social distancing violations and still no enforcement data released by the NYPD

A video of an NYPD officer violently arresting a Black man in the East Village went viral this weekend. The officer, who is now identified as Francisco Garcia, was adamant in making sure social distancing was respected on the Lower East Side, while in many parks around the city white New Yorkers were mingling unbothered.

Officer Garcia, twice the size of the man he was arresting, was so dedicated that he felt the need to punch, drag and sit on the neck of 33-year-old Donni Wright, who was among the three East Village residents arrested on May 2, 2020.

Many took to Twitter to voice their outcry, including NYC Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.

During a virtual press conference held on May 4, Williams called again on Mayor Bill de Blasio, two weeks after sending a letter requesting the release of data on social distancing enforcement.

“To the extent that we are going to use police enforcement—which shouldn’t be where we go—it has to be equitable,” said Williams. “You can’t have pictures of people handing masks to one community, not even questioning why folks don’t have masks on and being squished together, and in another, people getting punched to the ground. That’s just not going to work.”

“We want to see the data of who is getting summoned and who is getting arrested and I want to see that by date, so they don’t mosh everything together,” added Williams.” We want to see the NYPD not being overly used to enforce this.”

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Celine Gounder, also on the call, echoed the public advocate’s concern.

“This shares a lot in common with gun violence, I think. The cure-violence approach which is about trying to understand the players on the ground and what’s driving the violence” said Dr. Gounder. “I think it is very similar in this situation, where you know that taking people into custody and putting them in jail is actually a driver of transmission. We’ve seen places like Rikers Island really face many cases of COVID as a result of transmission internally, so that’s not the solution here.”

The very next day after the East Village violent arrest, Hawk Newsome, the chairman of the Black Lives Matter of Greater New York was also arrested by the NYPD over social distancing.

“While delivering groceries to people in need, my brother Hawk Newsome was arrested for calling out the NYPD on their racial tactics,” said Chivona Renée Newsome. “It is clear from the released footage that the police do not belong in our community. Black people should not be disrespected nor brutalized in front of their homes. We need leaders who will not back down and turn a blind eye to the racist practices of the NYPD. This incident shows over-policing and racism in social distancing.”

Surrounded by police officers, Hawk Newsome is heard in the video shouting: “This is our community. Make no mistake about it! They are not doing this in the white community. They are only doing this in our Black community because we don’t stick together.”

During his daily media briefing on COVID-19, de Blasio, who admitted seeing the East Village video, insisted that the transformation that his administration initiated in the NYPD has made these types of incidents uncommon.

“The video was very troubling,” said Mayor de Blasio. “What I saw was absolutely unacceptable, and obviously discipline was swift by the NYPD, but I want to note that, that video is more and more of a rarity,”

“Whatever data is kept on enforcement and demographics and locations in terms of neighborhood by neighborhood, we want to get out there,” added de Blasio. “But I remind you again, a lot of what happens, it doesn’t reach the level of something that would be formally tracked, like a summons.”

Police Commissioner Dermot Shea, who was present at the briefing, was preaching transparency.

“We are absolutely committed to being as transparent as possible,” said Commissioner Shea. “I would anticipate releasing quite a bit of information, detailed down to the precinct level, possibly even… different parks. We’re just working through the requests that we have received, as well as, you know, working it through legal. But for the reporters that are on the call listening, I would absolutely anticipate that information being released. Sorry it’s taken so long.”

In 2019, more than $68 million of NYC taxpayers’ money was used to settle NYPD misconduct lawsuits.