By Marshelle R. Sanders
Defender Contributing Writer
Filmmaker Steven Maing captures a group of minority New York police officers as they come together to fight and expose racially discriminatory policing practices in a documentary, “Crime + Punishment”. This film was documented for years with the cops, who were labeled as the “NYPD 12,” employing secret undercover recordings and intense interviews to detail a widespread web of injustice, which continues to have disastrous consequences for communities of color.
The film was shown at the DOC10 film festival in Chicago this past weekend, followed by a provocative question and answer session.
As the officers go public, the tension escalates. And the sympathetic police officers, such as Sergeant Edwin Raymond, an eloquent spokesperson and rising top cop, face pressure and retaliation from the powers-that-be.
Sergeant Raymond, an African American male, attended the film festival this Friday, April 6, to premiere the film and answer questions from the audience. He and 11 other officers (NYPD 12) filed a lawsuit against the New York Police Department for violating multiple laws and statutes, including a 2010 state ban against quotas, and the 14th Amendment, which outlaw’s racial discrimination. They ask for damages and an injunction against the practice. Plaintiffs have provided courts with evidence suggesting the department uses quotas, however, this is the first time the department has been sued for violating the 2010 state ban against the practice.
The lawsuit claims that commanders now use slang terms to sidestep the quota ban, pressuring officers to ‘‘be more proactive’’ or to ‘‘get more activity’’ instead of blatantly ordering them to bring in two arrests and nine tickets by month’s end. ‘‘It’s as if the ban doesn’t exist,’’ Raymond said. The lawsuit was effective and could work to change the influence of officers from quantity to quality, but according to Raymond and others, the pressure to arrest people for minor offenses has not ended at all.
Raymond was subjected to sabotage of a promotion solely because he didn’t obey orders from his superior to make his quotas. Raymond was given the excuse that he was a young black male with dreads, very smart but very loud with his words. He was given low evaluation scores and even slandered by a newspaper publication for letting a Black kid “slide” from an offense. Raymond also stated in the film, “To be asked to participate in something that disenfranchises Black people even more, it’s horrible.”
At the festival, this must-see documentary’s examples of discriminatory practices made the audience gasp in disbelief. The audience (the majority non-minority) could not imagine that these actions exist. Even though many people see it on TV, it is reality for many Black and Latinos. The viewers of this documentary got to see it through the lenses of the filmmaker and voices of the officers.
Many of the scenes were part of three different circumstances that tied into one. It goes from the 12 cops having private meetings to get ready for the lawsuit, individual testimonies of mistreatment, and a worried Latino mother who fights for her 16-year-old son to be proven innocent and freed from prison.
Ex NYPD/Private Investigator Manuel “Manny” Gomez, who works on cases to help innocent people in prison and on the streets, reports that he was forced off his job in 2011 because he wouldn’t comply with their indecent orders. “When I was a police officer, I saw a lot. But the police department wants you to be the kind of cop that keeps his mouth shut and doesn’t say anything, so I refused to do that.”
Jessica Perez, mother of 16-year-old Pedro Hernandez, hired Manny to prove her son’s innocence . Perez stated that her son, who was locked up, couldn’t graduate from high school because of this ordeal. Hernandez was arrested in July 2016 and charged with firing a gun into a crowd. He refused to plead guilty for a crime he did not commit. “I can tell there’s multiple kids with the same problem as this, they get arrested, they go and there’s not a shred of evidence and then what the court does is dismiss the case. They (police and justice system) are messing up these kids’ lives.”
NYPD Detective Derick Waller shared, “I had a sergeant tell basically everybody that our job is to lock people up, but that’s not my job. Our job is to keep the peace and to protect property. I wish one of those chiefs from the headquarters could watch me on patrol. Out of the eight hours I’m on patrol, I have at least 30 people in the community come up to me and shake my hand.”
Law enforcement all around the world has historically struggled with race and gender discrimination. The fourteenth amendment of the constitution protects citizens from state actions that “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
Although there has been allegations of police targeting people of color to reduce crime rates, there is a big issue with police singling out activity or action only to make their numbers. These quotas generate money for the city, but it’s at the expense of innocent people being locked up with no evidence held against them.
NYPD Officer Kareem Abdulla stated, “I don’t know what’s going to happen because it is a big thing. It’s not just the 12 of us that have been harassed, it’s much more. They don’t want everybody to come forward, so they have to do some type of retaliation to put fear in others and discourage them (other police officers) from coming forward.”
At the festival, Raymond encouraged the community to help spread the information about “Crime+Punishment”. “I hope that this film influences people. There are good officers out here. Let elected officials know what’s on your mind; let them know you saw this film and what we can do (police officers and community) about this matter. Not only is racial discrimination happening in New York, California and other prominent cities, it’s also happening here in Chicago right now.”
The documentary is another powerful example of how art can serve as an agent for change.
“Crime+Punishment” is only being previewed at film festivals for now. For more information visit http://www.doc10.org/