By Lee A. Daniels, Special to the NNPA from thedefendersonline.com –
The words allegedly spoken by a New York City police officer accused of illegally arresting a Black New York City resident – “fried another nigger,” – are shocking.
But not if you’re familiar with the long, infuriating history of police racial profiling. Not if you’re among the millions – yes, millions – of citizens who’ve been unfairly stopped by the police over the past decade. Not if you’re familiar with the details of the two separate, current federal lawsuits which charge that two different New York City Police Department practices are racially discriminatory and unconstitutional.
One, filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights, claims that the city in implementing its street-level stop-and-frisk tactic has engaged in widespread and unjustified stops and racial profiling.
The second, brought against the New York City government and the New York City Housing Authority by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., the Legal Aid Society of New York City, and the private law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP. contends that the city’s policing practices in its public housing developments – most notably, its “vertical sweeps” of buildings — “routinely” subject residents and those who visit them to illegal stops and false arrests that serve no lawful purpose. The lawsuit charges that the number of these vertical patrols, which are conducted by both Housing Authority police officers and the New York City police officers, has approached 200,000 a year in recent years and has resulted in thousands of residents of these buildings and visitors to them being stopped and/or arrested on trespass charges.
The incident involving Officer Michael Daragjati, who is white, occurred in Staten Island in April. Daragjati was in plain clothes and driving an unmarked police car when he stopped and searched the citizen, a Black man, without cause. He found no contraband; but when the man complained that he should never have been stopped and asked for Daragjati’s badge number, the officer arrested him for resisting arrest. At the precinct house, Daragjati lied about the incident on the required documents, claiming the man had become physically belligerent. As a result, the man spent a day and a half in the police station lockup.
But the officer’s lie began to unravel that very night, according to the criminal complaint against him, when the government intercepted telephone calls and text messages he made bragging about the incident. The telephone call to his friend in which he used the racial slur occurred the next day. Investigators were shadowing Daragjati’s communications because he was suspected of extortion and insurance fraud. He is now under indictment for those charges as well.
Of course it is to the credit of the federal prosecutor’s office and the police department that they have pursued this case against an officer intent on harassing people of color. Officer Daragjati acted alone.
Nonetheless, the sworn testimony of individuals involved in the federal lawsuits as well as the accounts of individuals interviewed for news stories recently and over the years make it clear that the wrong he perpetrated isn’t an isolated incident.
On the contrary, their words underscore the human cost of the astonishing statistics showing that each year the hundreds of thousands of police stops of ordinary citizens in New York City lead to only a small number of arrests and a miniscule number of convictions – and those are usually for minor offenses.
It’s long past time for the New York Police Department’s street-level stop-and-frisk policy and its housing development illegal stops policy to just stop.
Lee A. Daniels is Director of Communications for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and Editor In Chief of TheDefendersOnline.com.