East Flatbush has been on lockdown for the past three nights, and protests against the NYPD’s shooting of Kimani Gray continue. Gothamist discusses an incident during the protests that characterizes the long-standing tensions behind them, between a female demonstrator and a male police officer. It “began with the cop telling her to get on the sidewalk, and her responding, ;Or what, you’ll shoot me?' The officer, whose helmet had the number 7987 on it, said, ‘No, but I’ll slap you.’”
The shooting of Gray, however indecent, is not the only reason protesters are angry. Police conduct in handling the protests surrounding his death are just one incident of many in a trend in the criminalization of dissent and the consequences of systemic racism.
Right now, tensions are high in the neighborhood where Kimani Gray was shot. Demonstrators have been marching in a vigil each night since the event, and over four dozen people were arrested Wednesday night. Over 100 people have shown up to protest each night, but on Monday, a smaller crowd reportedly looted a Brooklyn Rite Aid, injuring a pastor in the process. On Wednesday, police used pepper spray and orange nets to "kettle" groups of protesters, and some of the people arrested in that group were on their way home and had nothing to do with the night's action. These actions, plus the ability of the police to keep the media out of an area, is part of a Flatbush’s categorization as a “frozen zone,”where the police have significant discretion in restricting activity. This is a representation of the way the NYPD has stepped up its presence at all sorts of protest through over-policing.
The handling of East Flatbush right now is not an isolated event, but a trend in the treatment of protesters and dissenters by law enforcement. As City Councilman Jumaane Williams said to NYPD Commissioner Gray at a budget hearing this week: "We're not going to pretend that what happened yesterday is just one incident," Williams said. "It is not the details of one shooting. It is about how you and the NYPD and the Mayor have reacted to these communities. It is about years of not being heard." As a man who works with youth in the area (quoted in the New York Times) noted, “I understand the state of mind that these youths have. The problem is there is no relationship with the police.”
“The police say, ‘Look at these kids, they’re wild,’” Mr. McPhatter said. “And then they use that as an excuse to be wild themselves.”
It’s clear that whatever happens in East Flatbush is not a standalone occurrence. While the smashing of a Rite Aid is certainly not condoned, it must be acknowledged that the problem of police relations brought to the forefront by Gray’s death is not a new question, but the catalyst for frustrations built up in East Flatbush on an everyday basis. From the NYPD’s ”stop and frisk” policy to the shooting of Shantel Davis last summer, the residents of East Flatbush, and people of color all over New York and the United States, are viewed as suspicious simply because of who they are.
The police's reaciton to the Kimani Gray protests, then, are indicative of a broader trend in the criminalization of dissent and systematic racism around the country.