A New York City councilman and an aide to the city's Public Advocate were roughed up and briefly detained during the annual West Indian Day Parade in Brooklyn on Monday, raising the ire of witnesses and local politicians, who blasted the NYPD for what they called biased policing tactics.
Jumaane Williams, the dreadlocked councilman and the aide were tossed to the ground and handcuffed by officers after the men had walked down a section of the street blocked off by the police. According to reports, an argument ensued, and while Williams tried to explain who he was and that the men had been given permission to cross the barricade to attend a post-parade event at the Brooklyn Museum, officers forcibly detained the men (see video here).
As the councilman and the aide, Kirsten John Foy, both of whom are black men, were being accosted, someone from the crowd that had gathered around to watch the fracas punched an officer in the face, according to the NYPD.
After about 30 minutes, Williams and Foy were released without being charged, according to The New York Times.
But the episode raised questions of racial profiling, an issue over which Williams has taken the police department to task in the past.
During a press conference on the steps of City Hall this morning, Williams denounced the police account of what happened as "bald-faced lies."
“I’m defying the police to find one police officer punched in the face,” Mr. Williams said during the news conference, flanked by nearly a dozen city officials. "Cease and desist with the lies,” he continued. “Please don’t insult our intelligence. Because we’re black, we’re not dumb.”
City Council speaker Christine C. Quinn, who came to the news conference in support of Williams said that she found the treatment of the two men “distressing” and “unacceptable.”
"It's broad daylight, they get thrown to the ground, they both get arrested," Bill de Blasio, the Public Advocate, told the New York Times Monday night, not long after the detention. "If that's what happens to an elected official and a senior appointee, imagine what happens to a general member of the public."
In a statement, de Blasio said that he was "very concerned that officers escalated this situation needlessly, even as two public servants were trying to show identification."
State Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, who also represents Brooklyn, denounced the NYPD for what he called a "siege mentality."
"The unjustified arrest and treatment of Councilman Jumaane Williams is further evidence of the siege mentality the NYPD has unleashed against black men in New York City," Jeffries said, according to local reports. "Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Commissioner Ray Kelly should apologize forthwith and make sure all responsible officers are strongly disciplined."
Raymond W. Kelly, according to a spokesman, met with Williams and Foy after the episode and promised to conduct a probe.
The incident came amid an already emotionally charged day-long event. The parade, an annual celebration of West Indian and Caribbean culture, draws millions of revelers, waving flags from their respective native countries and partying the day away. But this event was capped by nearby violence and bloodshed.
Three people were fatally shot, and two police officers were wounded Monday night not far from the parade route a couple hours after the festivities had wound down.
A gunman allegedly emerged from an apartment building and began firing at another man, striking him in the neck, killing him. A 56-year-old woman sitting on her stoop was also struck and killed. The gunman, Leroy Webster, 32, was then shot and killed by the police, but not before firing on officers.
One of the officers suffered shrapnel wounds in his arm and side, while another suffered a graze to his elbow.
According to the police more than 30 people were wounded by firearms in the New York City over the holiday weekend.