Update: I wrote the below post in middle of August. This Sunday I ran into Vinny. He happily told me that both of Maria’s tickets where dismissed after he brought a copy of my write-up to the judge.
(Maria with tickets)
As the summer heat intensifies, the apartment buildings in Hunts Point disgorges its residents; the kids to play in the open hydrants, the women to cook on makeshift grills, and the men to play Dominoes in whatever shade can be found.
The intersection of Seneca and Bryant ave is especially busy, with three of the four corners housing massive apartment buildings. A makeshift basketball hoop draws crowds of teens, with the games only interrupted by the rare car.
The crowds also bring the police, they cruise by in an almost endless loop, periodically stopping to question and often ticket. Almost everyone who lives in the surrounding buildings has been stopped numerous times, subject to questioning and searches.
After spending much of the last two years photographing Hunts Point, “Stop and Frisk” is now familiar to me: Police pull up, target someone, question them, search them, and should they talk back, ticket them: Disorderly conduct, open container, littering, public intoxication, possession of Marijuana.
I decided I was going to start photographing the process when I see it. In preparation I met with The Bronx Defenders to learn the rights of the subjects and myself. I then went to the 41st precinct to talk with the police. Through the community affairs office I met with Lt. Betances and told him that I would be photographing his officers. He announced to roll call my intentions.
So this Sunday afternoon, when I saw two officers pull up to the intersection, I pulled my car over to watch and take pictures. I stood back the suggested 15 ft. The officers, two females, approached Maria who was leaning against the wall holding a large Styrofoam cup. They asked her for it, she gave it to them; they smelled it, then spilled it out and tossed the cup into the street. She claimed apple juice, they booze.
A crowd started to gather, watching as they continued to question her. A gentleman, Vinny, approached them to tell the police they where all minding their own business, just hanging out. They then started to question him. I approached Maria to give her a small “Know your rights” card. The police asked me to get back to my car.
(Officers with Vinny and Maria)
Vinny had retreated, so I went to him to talk. Maria meanwhile was talking back to the police, asking them what rights they had to empty her drink. She was in control, but losing her patience. While speaking to the police she unwrapped a stick of gum, and then threw the rapper on the ground. The officer said to her “ok, that’s now another ticket, add littering to open container.”
Her friends now started to boo. I got closer to get a shot of the wrapper. The officer then angrily told me to stay way. I told her what I was doing. “I don’t care what your doing, get away from us.” As I backed away, I snapped one more picture. She then approached me, and asked for my ID, and spied my car. In my haste I had parked with my right back tire half on the curb. “Is that your car? You want to play here? Want to take pictures, take a picture of your car and explain that to the judge. Where are your license, registration, and insurance?”
(My tire on curb)
“So you’re ticketing my parking because I am taking a picture of you?” “I don’t want to hear from you, stay away from us, one more word and its going to be more than parking. You’re interfering with Police work and antagonizing the crowd.”
Meanwhile Maria was exasperated, she mentioned to the officer, who had just tossed her cup into the street, the irony of getting a ticket for littering. Her friends talked her down; explaining to her that losing her cool was going to get her nowhere. She took her two tickets and walked across the street to the bodega. She emerged with another Styrofoam cup and empty apple juice bottle. She appeared calm but was seething. “They don’ treat us like people, they treat us like shit. My daughter wants to be a police. Maybe she can be one of the few good ones.”
(Cup thrown by officers)
A parking ticket is nothing. I suppose I was hoping for a little more subtlety from the police. The naked, “I can’t ticket you for taking my picture so I will find something else to toss at you” was laughable. Really? A tiny warning shot.
Its not even close to the absurdity of getting a littering ticket from a cop for tossing a gum wrapper on the ground after she had just tossed a large cup. Its nothing to the outrage most residents experience every time they get stopped and questioned for just standing outside their building: For men in Hunts Point that is about five times a year.
As Vinny said to me, “We don’t have the money here to have a summer home. The streets outside our apartments, that’s our summer home. The police don’t understand that. They harass us every day just for living.”
The “Know Your Rights” cards I hand out have as rule one “Always stay calm and respectful, even when they’re not.” It sounds easy, but its not. I have forced myself to walk away many times in the past. I have seen that being in the right is immaterial. The naked “I don’t care if everyone knows its absurd, I am still going to give a ticket because I can” attitude that some of the police have can boil ones blood.
The police are not so much patrolling Hunts Point as behaving as an unfriendly occupying force. It’s easy, lazy, and unproductive police work to hand out semi-random annoyance violations. There is awful crime in Hunts Point. Spilling drinks of women, ticketing them for littering. That does nothing but antagonize the residents.
My other thoughts on Stop and frisk here:
More on Hunts Point and addiction: Faces of Addiction
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