Open Letter to Commissioner William Bratton
October 14, 2015
Commissioner William Bratton
1 Police Plaza Path
New York, NY 10007
Dear Commissioner Bratton,
I write this letter to you as a Brooklyn resident, a community leader, a member of the Mayor’s Task Force on Behavioral Health and Criminal Justice, a small business owner, and a Soros Justice Fellow working to create ‘ChildSafeZones’ in central Brooklyn; areas where no one will have to carry a gun—not even the police. On the night of October 1, 2015 I was pulled over by two NYC plainclothes officers, presumably of the 79th precinct, during what I thought was a routine traffic stop. What ensued was anything but a “routine traffic stop,” and it supports what you stated is “a hole in [y] our data.”
Just 2 ½ blocks away from my home, I was driving a rental car when an unmarked police vehicle flagged me down. Both officers exited their vehicles; one came to my driver’s side window, and the other walked to the rear passenger side window. The officer at the driver’s side directed me to lower my window and put the car in park, which I immediately did. The first question the officer asked me (before he asked for my license) was, “Are you on probation or parole?” to which I answered, “neither.”
I cannot fathom that question being ‘routine’ for traffic stops. The discriminatory and offensive remarks did not end there. He next asked for the vehicle registration and my license, which I immediately handed over. He then passed the documents to his partner to run an identification check through their system.
The next line of questioning was extremely offensive, intrusive, unprofessional, and irrelevant to the traffic stop:
Officer to me: “Did you kill someone?”
Officer to me: “Did you stab or shoot them?”
Officer to me: “So why were you convicted of assault in the 1st degree? Why were you charged with attempted murder?
Me: “Brother, that was 16 years ago.”
Officer to me: “Oh, okay.”
The rest of the stop consisted of the officer asking me if I was drinking and if I was in a rush to get home. One of the last things the officer told me was why he stopped me in the first place. He said they stopped me because I was driving too close to him, and switched lanes without signaling, but no ticket was given.
It is my experience that during traffic stops the outset of the conversation usually begins with the purpose of the stop. That procedure was not followed in this case. It is my belief that my wearing a hoodie, a black baseball cap, and having black skin played a pivotal role in the officers reasons for stopping me and the ensuing initial questions. This interaction is indicative of former Attorney General Eric Holder’s comment that, “This notion of implicit bias; seeing a young black man and making an assumption about who he is; what he thinks; what he is about; how likely he is to be involved in criminal activity simply because of the way he looks.”
As a leader in criminal justice, youth empowerment, and gun violence prevention, I am aware of my power as a citizen with civic responsibility. However, not everyone is able to express their discontent with police through advocacy and activism. Some use the moment of interaction as their moment to voice their anger—because it is the only viable option at their disposal. It is these everyday interactions that contribute to the deep-seated distrust that Black and Latino citizens maintain of law enforcement. It is this steady flow of unprofessional and discriminatory police-community interaction that stirs the winds of resistance to police authority and credibility.
The costs of negative interactions to society are quantifiable and palpable. Distrust is reinforced, as you and the mayor acknowledged in the case of James Blake. But, more glaringly, flames of animosity are stoked as we experienced with Eric Garner’s death.
With police reform on the tongues of many including Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and the Inspector General, I request a meeting with you at your earliest convenience. As someone who has been directly impacted by police unprofessionalism and discrimination, and as a leader in the community, I look forward to meeting with you to discuss ways to prevent these types of discriminatory encounters, or this type of encounter.
As I close this letter I am reminded of two things my elderly father advised regarding interactions with police:
1. “Marlon, please just survive the moment.”
2. “It’s your word against theirs.”
Benjamin Tucker, First Deputy Commissioner
James P. O’Neill, Chief of Department
Edna Handy, Counsel to the Police Commissioner
Susan Herman, Collaborative Policing