On August 17th, 2015, I attended a peaceful Black Lives Matter demonstration for Malissa Williams, an unarmed homeless person of color murdered by Cleveland police, who were recently fired nearly four years after the fact.
The demonstration began in Grand Central Station, as many of them do, and continued marching north on the east side towards East 50th Street. There we were confronted by an irate, power-tripping Sergeant from the 17th Precinct, determined to arrest at least one person in the hopes that demonstrators would disperse.
I had no idea that this officer had such a callous disregard for human life that he thought nothing of nearly killing one demonstrator and violently assaulting the other, the latter a woman.
Earlier this month, The Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), a third party review agency in New York City responsible for dealing with complaints against the police, has substantiated four of five complaints I brought against an NYPD sergeant from the 17th precinct caught on video using a chokehold on a Black Lives Matter protester in August of 2015. I did not know either of the victims at the time – Michael Bento and KaLisa Moore – but I could not sit by and do nothing.
The gross behavior that I witnessed from the NYPD typifies why the work that Black Lives Matter does on the ground is so critical in the struggle for racial justice. Would this officer have reacted so virulently if the demonstration was for Climate Justice or against Planned Parenthood?
The incident was recorded on video by activist and writer, Keegan Stephan:
The New York City police sergeant in the video was identified as James Slavin of the 17th Precinct. A brief search of Sergeant Slavin on PACER revealed that he has been sued for use of force at least three times prior to this incident, including for “causing the Plaintiff to choke” at least once.
Stephan writes further:
Despite the final finding, the city has yet to drop charges against Moore, who was cited with resisting arrest and two counts of disorderly conduct. Moore’s next hearing in the case is scheduled for February 3.
Outside of the use of a chokehold, CCRB substantiated three other complaints that I filed: Unlawful use of physical force, Restriction of a victim’s breathing, and the unfounded issuing of a summons to Michael Bento, the activist put in a chokehold.
I am not shown in this video, but was a few steps next to Michael screaming at the officer, yet I miraculously avoided both assault and arrest. This demonstration was the first realization what my friends of color have continuously told me: my white privilege affords me protection everywhere, even in the context of a political protest against police brutality.
Click here to support the brave work that Black Lives Matter NYC is doing on the ground every Monday and beyond. I am constantly in awe of their courage and relentless determination to change our criminal justice system.