En Español Know Your Rights
Source: The New York Times
Subject: Youth & School Programs
Type: Media Coverage

Cruel and Gratuitous

It
happened last spring.

The police
commissioner’s office and a New York City police
captain tried to convince the public that a marauding band of kids had gotten
out of control and terrified residents, motorists and pedestrians on a street
in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn.

The cops
were wrong. And they must have known that they were wrong, that the picture
they were creating of youngsters climbing on top of cars and blocking vehicular
and pedestrian traffic was completely false.

The Brooklyn district attorney, Charles Hynes, carried the
canard further. That had to have been deliberate, too. He went on the Brian
Lehrer radio program on WNYC and said that his office had investigated the
matter — had conducted what he described as an "independent inquiry."

"We had
many, many interviews with local store owners and people who live in the
neighborhood who are, frankly, scared to death of these kids," he said. "And
they were not just walking on one car; they were trampling on all sorts of
cars. It was almost as if they were inviting their arrest."

Thirty-two
people were arrested on that Bushwick street last May 21, including young women
and children. They had been walking along a quiet, tree-lined block of Putnam Avenue on
their way to a subway station where they had hoped to catch a train to attend a
wake for a friend who had been murdered. The police, who have said that the
friend was a gang leader, surrounded the group and closed in.

The
youngest person arrested was 13. All of the kids were handcuffed, cursed at and
humiliated, and several spent 30 hours or more in jail.

To date,
there has been no evidence produced — no witnesses, no photographs or
videotapes, no dented vehicles or broken mirrors, nothing whatsoever — to
indicate that any of the youngsters had done anything at all that was wrong.

How is it
that you can have a rampage in broad daylight on a street in New York City and not be able to show in any
way that the rampage occurred?

At least
22 of the 32 people arrested have had their charges dismissed or were never
formally charged at all. No one has been convicted of anything.

The case
against 18-year-old Zezza Anderson was dropped last month after his lawyer, Ron
Kuby, filed a motion demanding that Mr. Hynes’s office produce documentary
evidence of the youngsters misbehaving. No evidence was produced. Instead, an
assistant district attorney moved to have the charges against Mr. Anderson
dismissed, acknowledging that the case against the defendant could not be
proved.

I’d like
to know why, after the better part of a year, the authorities are still
tormenting some of these kids. Why are charges still hanging over 10 of them?
Why should it take more than nine months to resolve charges of unlawful
assembly and disorderly conduct?

A number
of the kids have missed days at school to show up for court dates at which
nothing of consequence happens. Asher Callender, a senior at Bushwick Community
High School, had to go to
court on Friday, only to have his case postponed again until March 3.

These are
not gangsters. These are not drug dealers. These are kids who were trying to go
to a wake for a friend. 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.

All the
charges in this case should be dropped and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who
apparently wants to be mayor of this city, and District Attorney Hynes should
offer the kids a public apology.

The
authorities have become accustomed to treating disadvantaged young people in New York City like dirt
and getting away with it. In this case, local school officials, community
residents and the civic group Make the Road New York rallied to the youngsters’ cause.

Neither
the police nor the district attorney expected to be confronted in any kind of
sustained way over their treatment of these kids. Mr. Hynes said on the radio
program: "None of these kids are going to be prosecuted. They’re not going to
go to jail … We are going to offer every one of them community service."

What he
meant was that he expected the kids to go quietly, to plead guilty and
passively accept the blot on their records and what he thought of as mild
punishment.

But the
kids had a surprise for him. They refused to plead guilty to something they
hadn’t done. Ten of them are still paying the price for standing up for
themselves.