There are a litany of things people “believe” when it comes to criminal law that, though completely false, never seem to go away. No Miranda Warning? “That means the arrest isn’t valid,” say the twitter lawyers. Of course, it’s nonsense, but they believe it, spread it and perpetuate it among people who want it to be true. An arrest in Kips Bay went viral, with the unduly passionate losing their minds over the “kidnapping.”
That this is how the warrant squad operates, has always operated, doesn’t offer much comfort. If they’ve been doing it wrong all along, that’s no justification to continue to do it wrong.
But they weren’t doing it wrong. There is no requirement that they be in uniform. There is no requirement that their vehicle be marked as a police car. They do not need to ask permission of the person they’re arresting before taking her into custody. They do not need to crowdsource their procedures for the approval of the activists on social media.
Yet, this doesn’t seem to matter at the moment.
While the police indicated that they were following standard procedure, the incident comes at a time when law enforcement practices are under intense scrutiny. Several city officials said on Tuesday that they were troubled by the videos of the woman’s arrest and publicly demanded a fuller explanation from the Police Department.
The defendant was accused of the misdemeanors criminal mischief and making graffiti, which aren’t generally crimes of such weight that the cops would go to great lengths to find her, nab her. But she was accused of spray painting police surveillance cameras, which not only pissed the cops off, since it was their cameras, but made their job harder. Of course, that’s likely why it was done.
The Police Department said in a statement that the protester, Nikki Stone, 18, had been taken into custody by officers from the warrant squad in connection with “damaging police cameras during five separate criminal incidents in and around City Hall Park,” an apparent reference to incidents that occurred during the Occupy City Hall protests.
Ms. Stone, a transgender woman who the police said was from the Lower East Side, was one of 12 protesters arrested on Tuesday, the police said.
That she was a transgender woman bears no connection to anything, but failure to identify one’s place on the victim hierarchy violates the rules of New York Times engagement, so it must be said. The cops had located her in the midst of a protest, which made their decision to grab her all the more problematic. In the past, people tended not to interfere with police arrests. Those days are gone, and people not only try to interfere, often by screaming useful things like “what the fuck” and “leave her alone,” but physically interfering, including striking and swarming on cops to prevent them from making the arrest.
But the issue this time wasn’t that the allegations, if proven, didn’t constitute a crime. It was that the arrest violated the sensibilities of the activists and their friends.
I think a majority can agree that vandalizing police cameras is justifiably considered a crime, and that police action like this is not a justifiable way to address it.
Combining these two thoughts doesn’t strike me as difficult, despite some efforts to insist it’s either/or.
Would a “majority” agree that this was not a “justifiable way” to address it? Probably, if one’s majority is made up of people who were completely ignorant of police procedures and tactics. How do people think arrests happen? How should they happen? What would have happened if a police officer, in uniform, in an RMP, strolled into the crowd of protesters, walked up to Stone, who would stand there calmly, and politely said, “Ms. Stone, kindly put your hands behind your back so that I can arrest you”?
Yet, it’s not just an academic on the twitters who indulges in the fantasy of abject ignorance to reach the conclusion that “these two [don’t] strike me as difficult.” Of course they don’t, because Dunning-Kruger doesn’t discriminate based on graduate degree. Yet, Governor Andy Cuomo has no excuse.
“I’m surprised that, especially at this time, the N.Y.P.D. would take such an obnoxious action,” Mr. Cuomo said during a news briefing. “It was wholly insensitive to everything that has gone on.”
And as is banal these days, a New York City councilwoman seized the opportunity to pander.
On Tuesday, Carlina Rivera, the city councilwoman who represents the district where the arrest occurred, called the arrest a “massive overstep” and said she was exploring legislation over the use of unmarked vans and plainclothes officers.
But there was nothing about this arrest that wasn’t entirely lawful and logical. Except the optics. As Andy said, it was “wholly insensitive.” That could mean that actions like this inflame the situation, generate greater unrest and violence and perpetuate the commission of crimes in the streets of New York. Or that could mean that it would have made Andy look unwoke and antagonistic toward whatever the protesters were protesting unless he fed into the feelings of protesters, costing him votes and support, and so he chose to condemn the cops because he already has their votes and union money anyway.
The cops could have let Stone’s arrest slide in light of the fact that they found her in the midst of a protest, which would almost certainly turn into a riot to prevent them from effecting the arrest. As annoyed as they were with Stone’s vandalism of their cameras, it was still only a misdemeanor.
The cops could have waited for another opportunity to nab Stone, when she wasn’t in the midst of a protest and there was far less likelihood of the optics being awful, far too much like the feds grabbing black-clothed citizens off the streets of Portland but with the material difference that there was no question that this was NYPD doing NYPD work. Whether they knew where to find Stone or this was, as far as they knew, their one chance to arrest her is unclear.
But then, if the unduly passionate sensitivities of the mob or the ignorance of the “majority” who feels that there was a more “justifiable” way to deal with this, dictate otherwise lawful and entirely reasonable police procedures, is there really any way to constrain people to adhere to the law? If the police need the permission and approval of those being arrested and their legally idiotic pals, can they function at all?