Stop, question and distance: Disturbing video exposes the need for smart policing in the coronavirus world

Garcia’s violent takedown of Wright demands investigation.
Garcia’s violent takedown of Wright demands investigation.(Daquan Owens / Facebook)

The shock of the new mixes with the achingly familiar: Caught on video this weekend, cops in the East Village approach a man and woman seemingly doing nothing but talking. They say the two were flouting social distancing rules; they are arrested, partly due to a visible bag of marijuana (though wasn’t that all-but-decriminalized?).
The video then shows one officer, identified as Francisco Garcia, with taser drawn, directing bystander Donni Wright backward; he suddenly strikes Wright and takes him to the ground. Garcia is heard saying Wright was “flexing” in what the NYPD asserts was a “fighting stance” — not discernible on the video. Garcia punches Wright several more times while attempting to handcuff him. The N-word is heard throughout the altercation.
In a city not a year past Daniel Pantaleo’s belated firing following the 2014 chokehold that contributed to Eric Garner’s death, the image of Garcia kneeling on Wright’s neck is searing.
Will the NYPD release all relevant bodycam images? It must, and soon.
Both Mayor de Blasio and Police Commissioner Dermot Shea call the video “troubling” and promise an investigation. Garcia has been placed on modified duty — rightly so.
Anecdotes across the five boroughs suggest that police are enforcing social distancing unevenly, with wealthier and whiter parts of New York getting treated with kid gloves while poorer, predominantly black and brown neighborhoods are on the business end of blunt crackdowns.
Even when plural, anecdotes aren’t evidence, but they’re troubling — and demand a strong reminder from Shea to his cops: One city needs one standard.

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