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Mass Arrest of Brooklyn Youths Spotlights Police Tactics and Community Tensions

Police and Gangs, Trymaine Lee, “Mass Arrest of Brooklyn Youths Spotlights Police Tactics and Community Tensions,”  NYTimes, 24Jun07, p. 24.

 

OVERVIEW

 

Donnell McFarland (18) and James Kelly (16) had been friends in the neighborhood of Hope Gardens Housing in Bushwick, Brooklyn (NYC).Then friendship turned to enmity, climaxed by James Kelly allegedly shooting McFarland in the head and killing him. Kelly is said to be a member of Linden Street Bloods and McFarland a member of the Pretty Boy Family, which is either a tight group of friends or another subdivision of the national Bloods.

 

Grief for the friends of McFarland was profuse and Asher Callender (19) organized a trip to McFarland’s wake in Coney Island. Most got permission to miss school on that May 21st (2007) and bought T-shirts printed with McFarland’s picture with R.I.P. Freshh, his nickname. They were to meet in that park that day and Asher, who knew the way would lead them.

 

The group slowly congregated in the park, in small grieving groups, and when they felt that everyone was there, they began walking up Putnam St. toward the subway. Suddenly, they found the street blocked off by police vans and a swarm of police shouting, “Hands up,” “Don’t move,” “Get on the ground.” One of the kids yelled, “Nobody run,” fearing they might be shot. Apparently without any guns being drawn, with no injuries to either youth or police, and without any noise, the group was handcuffed and lead away.

 

Why?  There are two different versions from police and community.  The immediate charges of the police were that gang signs were being exchanged, gang colors were being worn with the name of the gang, pedestrians were being forced off the sidewalks into the streets, and gang members were jumping on cars.

 

Police also reported a series of incidents since McFarland’s shooting. “A member of the Pretty Boy Family was reportedly shot in the foot two weeks before McFarland’s death. Then there had been a confrontation between a William Gonzolez, who had been feuding with McFarland, and a man believed to belong to the Pretty Boy Family. That same day, Jakai King, whom the police described as a member of the Linden Street Bloods, was attacked by members of the Pretty Boy Family. Two days later, he was attacked again, stripped down to his underwear and sent running down the street.”

 

Furthermore, police in the 83rd precinct and 60th precinct of Coney Island, said they had been informed by community leaders that there would be a confrontation—that members of the Linden Street Bloods said they would shoot anyone wearing a T-shirt memorializing the slain McFarland. Paul J. Browne, a police spokesman, further explained that the police considered “Freshh” on the T-shirts a gang name since McFarland has belonged to what they considered a gang.

 

The police description of threatening actions on the part of these students was not substantiated by parents and witnesses. “Hector Polonia, 52, was sweeping the sidewalk in front of United Cleaners where he’s manager. He saw the group of young people crossing Putnam as the police moved in.”

 

They weren’t making any noise or anything (Polonia said). They were acting like a normal bunch of teenagers.

 

Ms. Guerrero was sitting in Putnam Park. “They didn’t get on any cars.” Other car owners whose cars were parked on Putnam St. said there was no sign of damage on any of the cars.

 

Those under 16 were quickly released. The rest were held, charged and questioned. “Six female mourners in the group were given summonses for disorderly conduct. The remaining young men were run through the system and charged with disorderly conduct and unlawful assembly. Most remained in jail overnight, some as long as 36 hours.”

 

Students are looking for an apology. “The district attorney is offering community service in exchange for guilty pleas. So far none has accepted.”

 

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION

 

1. What are your honest feelings about this story?

2. What arguments would you offer on the part of the students, their parents and the community?

3.  What would be the argument of the police and their supervisors?

4.  How would this same situation have been handled in a primarily white, suburban area?

5.  What can be learned from this situation in Brooklyn, NY?

IMPLICATIONS

 

1.  A situation like this should be investigated and talked through. Trust in the police must be restored in this community and with all who read this article.

2.  The boredom, frustration and violence on city streets involve personal and community responsibility. But school failure, the unemployment, family distress and resort to thug lifestyles also imply failures of our social systems.

3.  Strict, massive and consistent displays of police enforcement can reduce crime figures—as New York City has demonstrated. But it is not enough to put a lid on violence. It’s root causes must be explored and dealt with.

4.  Any solution to street violence that does not depend heavily on collaboration between politicians, police, educators, the community and its agencies and churches is bound to fail in the long run. We must listen to each other and work together.

 

Dean Borgman   c. CYS