The New York Police Department decided to do a little citizen outreach on Tuesday April 22 by encouraging Twitter users to tweet pictures of themselves with officers using the hashtag #myNYPD. The results were not exactly what the NYPD was going for. Promptly, users started tweeting images depicting officers manhandling civilians. Many of the acts shown verged on brutality. Regardless, the response to this hashtag highlights the gulf between how the NYPD sees itself and how New Yorkers see it.
Police aim to “serve and protect,” but at a time when police forces nationwide are swelling and becoming increasingly militarized, it appears that they are in constant conflict with civilians. The NYPD in particular has swelled to a strength of 34,500 uniformed officers – roughly the same size as the FBI.
At the same time the NYPD grew to the size of an army – to borrow the phrasing of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg – allegations of police misconduct have held steady.
Individual instances of police brutality are so common that it would be impossible to list them all. There are some highly publicized cases, however, that offer valuable insight as to why there was such a negative reaction to the #myNYPD campaign.
In 2012, former NYPD officer Richard Haste fatally shot 18-year-old Ramarely Graham after entering Graham’s grandmother’s apartment in the Bronx without a warrant. Police had falsely suspected the teenager of carrying a firearm.
That same year, four officers were captured on video brutally beating 19-year-old Jateik Reed as the Bronx teen was being arrested for alleged drug possession. Though the officers claimed Reed was resisting arrest, there was no sufficient evidence to substantiate their claims and all charges against the teenager were dropped.
The NYPD’s transgressions extend far beyond individual offenses as well. Recently, the department’s “stop-and-frisk” program has been a flashpoint of controversy to the point that Mayor Bill de Blasio campaigned on a platform of ending the practice altogether. Under Bloomberg, hundreds of thousands of civilians were stopped on the street each year and searched for weapons, drugs or any other contraband.
Also under Bloomberg, the NYPD conducted a covert surveillance operation on Muslims living within 100 miles of New York City. The program – which started in 2002 and was uncovered 10 years later – targeted mosques, restaurants, business and individuals, many of which were in Connecticut, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The program failed to yield a single lead.
The NYPD’s poor standing amongst New Yorkers is the product of its history of reckless hostility toward them. It’s going to take more than a hashtag to improve its image.