In 2019, writer Eric Umansky watched a New York City Police Department car hit a teenager before lining up a group of young Black boys against a wall, arresting them without provocation. The Civilian Complaint Review Board confirmed that the NYPD officers acted unlawfully. And yet the NYPD is still refusing to punish officers who engage in severe misconduct, a new ProPublica article reports.
The police, of course, argued that they were in the right, even if their defense was ridiculous. The boy the NYPD car hit was said to have run across the hood of the cop car. And it only got worse from there.
From the article:
The police response that night started when some teenagers told officers they had been robbed at the local park. But the officers only had what investigators later described as “varying and inconsistent descriptions” of who they were looking for.
The officers stopped a group of boys a few blocks away. There was little about them that matched the description of the assailants other than that they were Black, young and walking together. Indeed, the CCRB’s report noted, one of the officers “stated that he was not certain whether they were involved.”
Some of the boys ran, including the one who was hit by the police car. (They told investigators that they ran because they were scared.)
The boys who were arrested — a 15-year-old, a 14-year-old and the 12-year-old — said that the officers never offered any explanation for why they were stopped. They were released without charges, after being held for hours. Their parents said they weren’t given any documentation on the arrests. The mother of one of the boys worked for the NYPD as a school safety officer, but even she couldn’t get any record of what happened.
It was as if the case was being pushed into a fog.
Umansky’s reporting is impeccable, if horrifying. The CCRB began an investigation into the case, but the NYPD were slow to cooperate — by which point the officers involved had little recollection of what happened. And, even worse, when the CCRB announced the outcome of its investigation, the NYPD said it was ending the case and wouldn’t be taking any disciplinary action. Instead, it would handle the case internally.
The only punishment that was doled out went to the officer who used offensive language and told one of the teens to stop filming him. That was it. The NYPD entirely overruled the civilian agency that was designed to keep the police in check.
And, as you can imagine, this isn’t an uncommon practice. Umansky reports on several other civilian investigations brought against the NYPD that ended in similar fashion. The CCRB can only fully do its job if the NYPD participates, and the NYPD has completely avoided doing so.
Umansky’s entire article is worth reading, but it highlights one of the big questions of our modern era: Should we really expect justice to be done by organizations that avoid all external oversight? Can we rely on vague ethical standards to dictate our policing? The answer to both questions has largely been “no,” and Umansky’s reporting highlights just what an insidious problem this can be.