En Español Know Your Rights
Source: Make the Road New York
Subject: Youth & School Programs
Type: Media Coverage

Charges Against Innocent Young People Are Dropped

In a
vindication of what Make the Road New York and community allies have been asserting
for months, charges have been dropped for all but ten of the thirty-two young
people who were arrested last May on the way to a friend’s
wake.


Last May,
thirty-two young people gathered in Bushwick to attend the wake of a friend,
Donnell McFarland, who was murdered on a Bushwick street corner earlier that month.
The Bushwick youth planned to take the subway together to the wake and met in a
local park, some wearing t-shirts memorializing McFarland.

As the
young people walked toward the subway, they reported being surrounded by police
vehicles. According to the youth, police shouted at them, ordered them to get on
the ground, and frisked each young person for weapons and drugs but found none.
All thirty-two young people, the youngest of whom was thirteen, were taken into
custody at the 83rd Precinct.

Six of the
accused who were under sixteen and all of the young women present were released,
but several young men were moved to Central Booking to face criminal charges.
Many of the young men were held for almost thirty-six hours. They were unable to
attend McFarland’s wake and many of them said police harassed and humiliated
them and insulted their deceased friend while they were in
custody.

The
New York Times characterized
the arrest as a stakeout:

"Undercover
officers circled in unmarked cars; a police captain monitored the teenagers
gathering; and blue-and-white vans and buses cut off Putnam
Avenue in both directions
at a key moment, trapping the teenagers less than a block into their
journey."

Police
claimed that the young people were being a threat to community safety by
blocking the sidewalks, walking on top of cars and displaying gang
signs.

However,
the police have not been able to corroborate their story with any witnesses or
evidence. Not a single community member who witnessed the event reported any
illegal or disruptive behavior by the young people.

"If the
police receive information that a funeral procession is going to be attacked,
you don’t arrest the mourners. They would never treat white youth on the
Upper East Side in such
a fashion," Ronald L. Kuby, a prominent civil rights lawyer who took on the "32"
case, told the Times in
January.

Oona
Chatterjee, co-executive director of Make the Road New York, told the
Times, "it’s astounding to
me that the Brooklyn D.A. and Ray Kelly would come out publicly and condemn
these kids and assume that they had a case when they obviously didn’t. I think
that young people in our city merit more respect than
that."

Immediately
following the arrests, the young people and other community members joined
together to form the Student Coalition Against Racial Profiling (SCARP) to
combat a serious problem faced by young people in Bushwick and other low-income
communities of color. With the assistance of Make the Road New York, SCARP has
organized protests and press conferences to bring attention to the high
incidence of racial profiling and the deteriorating relationship between police
and young people throughout the city.

On February
2nd SCARP and community supporters held a protest outside the City
police headquarters, demanding charges be dropped for the remaining ten young
people. One of the defendants, Kumar Singh told the Bushwick Courier, "They don’t have
evidence on us. I don’t understand how they dropped more than ten of my
co-defendants’ cases. Why haven’t they dropped mine?"

In a
scathing criticism of the DA’s office and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly,
New York Times columnist Bob
Herbert wrote, "It was not the kids who were out of control, it was the criminal
justice system, which can’t seem to tell the difference between right and wrong,
between the truth and deliberate lies, or between justice on the one hand and
gratuitously cruel behavior by public officials on the
other."

Youth
leaders at Make the Road New York are working alongside SCARP and other
community members to mitigate tensions between youth and the police. They are
working to minimize police presence in schools and to change school policy to
prevent criminalization of students. 

With the
help of Make the Road New York, these young people have refused to consent to
their mistreatment or to accept a system which unfairly criminalizes people on
the basis of their race and economic status. What began as an incident of racial
profiling has motivated hundreds of community members and young people to work
for change.