NYPD 'Roughly' Arrests Distinguished Journalist For Writing In Chalk On Old Storefront
Noted writer and journalist Jill Nelson said four NYPD officers roughed her up for writing “Trump=Plague” in pink chalk.
May 11, 2020 at 6:45 pm
A 67-year-old Black woman is demanding an apology from the New York Police Department after four officers grabbed, handcuffed and arrested her because she wrote in pink chalk on a storefront that had been boarded up.
Jill Nelson has spent decades a journalist, writer and professor. Throughout her long career, she has published a number of books and has spent time writing for The New York Times, Essence, The Nation, the Chicago Tribune, the Village Voice, USA Today and USA Weekend as well as The Washington Post Magazine.
Her autobiographical book, Volunteer Slavery: My Authentic Negro Experience, was about her experiences working as a Black woman for the Washington Post and won her the American Book Award. While at the Washington Post, she won the Journalist Of The Year award and has since published works of fiction as well.
She grew up on the west side of Manhattan and now lives on Riverside Drive. In an interview with The West Side Rag, she said that on April 16 she was walking by an old store on Broadway and 162nd Street and wrote “Trump=Plague” in pink chalk on a wall.
“Before I could step back and see my handiwork, two police SUVs roared up on either side of me and blocked me in. Four officers jumped out: ‘What are you doing? Why are you doing that? Do you own this building? Do you have a weapon?’" she said in a phone interview with the local news outlet.
“They roughly cuffed me, took my purse and shoved me into the back of an SUV. I was taken to the 33rd Precinct and put in a cell at about 1 p.m. I was never read my rights. They took mug shots, they fingerprinted me, I was searched by a female officer and they itemized my belongings,” she added.
She went on to explain how it was ridiculous that police were wasting their time arresting her because she wrote on the previously shut down storefront.
Her treatment by police enraged her further, considering how minor the offense was. She was given a misdemeanor graffiti charge, yet they held her in jail for five hours after manhandling her.
The officers holding her wouldn't even let her make a phone call until nearly two hours had passed, and they said they had to hold her because she didn't have her picture ID on her.
Officers eventually allowed her to call her husband Flores Forbes, an associate vice president at Columbia University, but cut the call off when she began to explain the situation to him. The officers said they would send a squad car to get her ID from Forbes but never did. Forbes eventually guessed that she would be at the 33rd Precinct and went there himself.
The NYPD officers then began to threaten her with movement to the Manhattan Detention Complex, known by many as "The Tombs" because of its long legacy of mistreatment and abuse of prisoners.
“They began saying that they were going to take me downtown, take me to the Tombs. It was almost gleeful, I felt. This is going to be your punishment for being an uppity human being. An uppity female. And the guy is like 'yeah, you probably won’t get out of there until tomorrow morning.' I’ve known people who went to the Tombs, and they disappear for days,” Nelson told the Rag.
Eventually, Forbes made it to the precinct with her ID, and Nelson was released at around 7 p.m., but as she was walking out, one of the officers allegedly told her, "you better show up, because if you don’t we’re going to come to your house and arrest you.”
She was told that her court appearance date is August 14.
When contacted by the Rag, the NYPD initially said Nelson's file was sealed, but in a subsequent call, they claimed they couldn't find any record of the arrest or charge.
“I thought, are you kidding me? You’re arresting me for writing graffiti in chalk? Are you serious? Now I have a desk appearance ticket for August 14. It’s unbelievable. Something so petty! It’s just so stupid and so enraging and a total waste of resources,” Nelson said.
Nelson spoke eloquently in an interview with Democracy Now about how her arrest is part of a larger pattern of NYPD conduct that is increasingly rankling New Yorkers.
Last week, there was widespread outrage across the city after The New York Times reported on the unequal nature of how the NYPD was enforcing social distancing rules. Photos online showed officers gleefully handing out masks to large groups of white people in parks while violently beating, attacking and arresting Black people for simply being outside without masks.
The Times story highlighted that 35 of the 40 Brooklyn residents who were arrested for social distancing violations between March 17 and May 4 were Black, and only one was white.
Then, video emerged of police brutally punching Donni Wright in a clip that went viral.
It then came out that the city had paid more than $200,000 to settle seven lawsuits against Francisco Garcia, the officer seen in the video.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio enraged Black city residents further with a series of tone-deaf tweets that tried to justify the violent arrests and racial disparities by claiming they were all in an effort to protect people from COVID-19.
But Nelson said her arrest and others like it were examples of how dangerously unfair the NYPD's treatment of Black people continues to be.
“It’s all part of a continuum, I feel. With those guys who got beat up, at least they’re alive. But the level of disrespect, of harassment, of abuse, it builds. My experience was one level, and theirs was another, but it’s part of the same piece of cloth. There’s moments in life where you realize, this is how most people are treated most of the time. It really was an experience of feeling like, this is how they treat everyday people. Who don’t have backup. Who don’t have husbands,” Nelson said.
Nelson spoke further about the situation to Hyperallergic in a phone interview, saying the arrest was ludicrous and the fact that they thought she had weapons on her was ridiculous.
“Are you kidding? No, my weapons are words,” she said she told the officers who arrested her.
“It was an awful, abusive, and petty experience. I frankly feel, as an African American woman and a person of color, that it’s open season on us in every way. From the disproportionate number of people who are dying of COVID-19, people with the worst health care, people who are doing the most vulnerable jobs, to young people beaten down for allegedly not social distancing,” she added.