The New York Police Department seems to be handling social distancing violations differently, as one officer was seen seemingly handing a mask to a white park-goer while several cops were seen forcibly arresting a man of color.
Outside of a deli on the corner of Avenue D and East 9th Street in the East Village on Saturday, two plainclothes officers approached a man and woman who were speaking to each other and ordered them to separate, reports Gothamist. According to witness Daquan Owens, the two were already standing six feet apart, which is the recommended distance for face-to-face interactions.
"They were social distancing,” Owens said. “When the cops pulled up she said he’s not doing anything. They grabbed her and started tussling with her. Then the guy on the milk crate got mad and started yelling at police."
Security cameras, which caught the incident, show Ashley Serrano and Shakiem Brunson standing with some distance between them before Serrano walks over to Brunson.
In a statement, the NYPD said when the officer approached the group to order them to stand apart, "they observed a bag of alleged marijuana in plain view," according to spokesperson Sergeant Mary Frances O’Donnell.
Police said Brunson “became aggressive towards officers and resisted arrest."
Gothamist reported that Serrano attempted to stop police from arresting Brunson and was also taken into custody.
While arresting Serrano and Brunson, one of the officers, identified by The New York Times as Francisco Garcia, turns and begins walking toward a bystander, Donni Wright, and pointing a taser at him.
"Move the fuck back right now," the officer told Wright. "Don’t flex."
According to the NYPD statement, the 33-year-old "took a fighting stance against the officer."
A video taken by Owens, shows Garcia tackling Wright to the ground then repeatedly slapping him in the face and punching him. Garcia drags him to the sidewalk and proceeds to put his knee on Wright’s neck while detaining him and telling onlookers to clear the street. Uniformed officers arrived on the scene shortly after and blocked off the area.
"Donni wasn’t being aggressive, he was just talking," Owens said. "He never raised his hands or hit him. Cop just took it upon himself to start beating on him. I was standing right next to him. I could hear everything."
Wright, who works for the New York City Housing Authority, was charged with assaulting an officer, menacing, resisting arrest, obstructing governmental administration and disorderly conduct, Gothamist reported.
According to activist Shaun King, all charges against Wright were dropped.
Worked with my friend and attorney @TahanieNYC tonight and we just learned that ALL CHARGES have been dropped against Donni Wright, who was actually brutally assaulted by the NYPD yesterday.
Now, NYPD Officer Francisco Garcia needs to be held accountable.
— Shaun King (@shaunking) May 4, 2020
According to Gothamist, Brunson is facing charges of criminal possession of a weapon, unlawful possession of marijuana and resisting arrest. Serrano’s charges include criminal possession of a weapon, as well as resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.
NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said one officer has been placed on modified duty.
"It started out as a social distancing enforcement," Shea said. "It's being investigated currently by our Internal Affairs Bureau."
According to data gathered by CAPstat, the city has paid at least $182,500 to settle seven civil rights lawsuits filed against Garcia since he began working for NYPD in 2012. Allegations from those lawsuits include false arrest, abuse of process and fabrication of evidence.
“There will unquestionably be a careful look at what happened there,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio of the incident on Sunday morning.
Later that evening, he tweeted that he watched the video and was disturbed by its contents.
“The behavior I saw in that video is simply not acceptable,” de Blasio wrote.
Saw the video from the Lower East Side and was really disturbed by it. The officer involved has been placed on modified duty and an investigation has begun. The behavior I saw in that video is simply not acceptable.
— Mayor Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) May 3, 2020
The police department assigned about 1,000 officers to social distancing patrol duty over the weekend, reports the Associated Press. Shea said the NYPD issued 51 summonses for social distancing violations on Saturday.
Meanwhile, photos of large gatherings of unmasked people not practicing social distancing in the West Village went viral that same day. One photo even shows a cop seemingly handing out a mask to an unmasked person not abiding by social distancing mandates. Twitter quickly took notice of the stark contrast.
Same city. Same police force.
Passing out masks to white folks not social distancing, while literally having their foots on our necks.
This is beyond ridiculous at this point. pic.twitter.com/pY6kSGVEaZ
— zellie (@zellieimani) May 3, 2020
How the NYPD enforces social distancing: a tale of two cities.
May 2, 2020, approx 5:30 PM. pic.twitter.com/jV8oaK5YNB
— Rebecca Kavanagh (@DrRJKavanagh) May 4, 2020
Picture taken today at Pier49. Makes me kinda think that maybe the NYPD specialized anti-terror unit that @NYCMayor sent to Williamsburg last week wasn’t ticketing Chassidim “for their own safety”. pic.twitter.com/JqWmC31eKy
— Yaakov (Jack) Kaplan (@JackKaplanNY) May 3, 2020
NYPD brutalizes and arrests Black people for not socially distancing.
NYPD passes out free masks to white people enjoying the sun in city parks.
We don’t want white people brutalized – we want Black people to be treated with the same dignity and respect. They are worthy too.
— Linda Sarsour (@lsarsour) May 3, 2020
it’s just insanely sickening to me that you have NYPD brutalizing poc who aren’t practicing social distancing or just chilling outside but yet white folks get to parade their privilege in crowded parks in the middle of a pandemic and get rewarded masks for protection. pic.twitter.com/DYDsM1s0rj
— britney (@headassbritney) May 3, 2020
“I would just reiterate that we had tens of thousands of interactions with people all across the city yesterday, most of them without having to issue any type of enforcement activity, whether it’s a summons or arrest,” Shea said according to the New York Post.