Freedom Rider: NYPD punishes black victims

In the United States the blindfolded figure representing justice is a sham. Not only can she see but she also has her thumb firmly on the scales that she holds for dramatic effect. All evidence points to the fact that justice in this country is far from blind. She sees skin color quite clearly and makes sure that anyone of a darker hue is placed under lock and key for any and every reason.

In New York City, shooting victims are victimized twice if they have so much as an unpaid summons for an open container of liquor. That is what happened to Andre Daly, who survived a shooting only to be arrested himself. Daly didn’t appear in court to pay a summons for having a glass of wine in public. The unpaid fine was a misdemeanor and a mere $25, but no matter. As he lay wounded in the hospital he was shackled to his bed and became as much a prisoner of the system as an inmate in a prison cell.

The purpose of American criminal injustice is only partly to keep the population safe from crime. In reality, it is meant to keep certain groups, black people most obviously, under the control of law enforcement and thereby rendered vulnerable to any form of attack the system can devise.

Daly disputes that the police had cause to give him a summons in the first place, but police in New York City and elsewhere have one mantra, one reason for being, and that is to keep black people under surveillance and over policed. People like Daly can be stopped, searched and often arrested without justification. During the worst days of New York’s stop and frisk campaign nearly 500,000 were stopped for having a bulge in their clothing or making a “furtive movement.”

“The stain of chattel slavery is afflicts us now in the 21st century.”

Receiving a summons for a small amount of money may seem innocuous, but it can be life or death for black people. It leads an individual into the perilous world of law enforcement where they are now more easily included within the reach of a vicious system. When the lack of child care prevented Daly from going to court, he unwittingly became at risk of experiencing far more serious problems.

Not only was his medical care compromised but his family didn’t have the right to visit him, as they would any other hospital patient. Their visits were limited to once per day and they too became under the watchful eye of the police.

The game show Jeopardy ought to have a new category, “Things that only happen to black people.” The shackling of people with minor criminal charges certainly fits that description. Only black people would simultaneously have to endure a criminal background check even as they receive medical care after being assaulted.

The legal efforts to stop practices like this must certainly continue, but there has to be a serious and unflinching discussion about why these legally sanctioned abuses exist at all. The stain of chattel slavery is not just a moral one but one which afflicts us now in the 21st century.

This legacy mandates that the black population remain under physical control at all times. Harsh laws are enacted ostensibly against drug trafficking or non-payment of child support but every law enforcement system initiative ends the same way, with black people at risk when they walk down the street, or drive or even get sick. The legal mechanisms which terrorize black people have been perfected with each one feeding upon another and preventing escape, even when suffering from gunshot wounds. The expression “adding insult to injury” doesn’t begin to describe this awful practice.

“The legal mechanisms which terrorize black people have been perfected with each one feeding upon another and preventing escape.”

The police, judges and politicians couldn’t expand the reasons for keeping black people incarcerated unless they had both the tacit and explicit approval of the majority of the population. Most white New Yorkers thought that stop and frisk was just fine. Like their counterparts in the rest of the country, they think that George Zimmerman should have been acquitted of murdering Trayvon Martin. Speaking of insult and injury, they also think of themselves as the victims of racism instead of people like Andre Daly.

That is the ugly truth which must be spoken and spoken out loud. Most white people have varying degrees of hatred and or fear of black people. As a result, little children can be handcuffed when they have tantrums, mothers are jailed for enrolling children outside of their school districts and black men can be jailed or shot by the police at any time.

Yes Andre Daly and people like him must get justice for their mistreatment at the hands of the NYPD. But a larger justice eludes everyone unless the monster of race hatred is called by its name and condemned to disappear.

Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well as at Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)

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