How Does the Threat of Police Violence Affect How You Use the Street?

When the news came out yesterday that a Staten Island grand jury had failed to indict officer Daniel Pantaleo for killing Eric Garner with an illegal chokehold, like many people I found the outcome difficult to comprehend. With clear video evidence showing that Pantaleo broke NYPD protocol and a coroner’s report certifying that Garner’s death was a homicide, this grand jury should have reached the conclusion that had eluded grand jurors in the Michael Brown case in St. Louis County: There should be a trial to determine if Pantaleo had committed a crime. But apparently that’s not how our justice system works.

Eric Garner, the 43-year-old father of six who was killed by police officer Daniel Pantaleo on a Staten Island sidewalk.

As the editor-in-chief of Streetsblog, I’ve been grappling with how and whether the site should cover these incidents of police violence. Do the killings fall within the Streetsblog beat? My first inclination was to say they do not. I don’t believe there is something intrinsic to the streets of Staten Island or Ferguson to explain the deadly force that Pantaleo and Darren Wilson applied against unarmed black men. Wilson did initially stop Brown and his friend Dorian Johnson for jaywalking, but another pretense could have been concocted — none of the other high-profile police killings in recent months began with a jaywalking stop.

Nor is police harassment and aggression against black men limited to streets. John Crawford III was shot and killed in an Ohio Wal-Mart. Akai Gurley lost his life in the building where he lived. It is an “everywhere” problem, not just a “streets” problem.

Nevertheless, for people of color, the mere act of going out on the street carries the disproportionate risk that an encounter with police will escalate into a fatal situation — or, on a more routine basis, the threat of a random police stop turning into an arrest that can have profound life consequences. As Adonia Lugo wrote for the League of American Bicyclists last week, these considerations affect how people use streets and public spaces, including their choice of how to get around.

I’m white; I don’t know what it’s like to carry this apprehension with me whenever I’m out walking or riding my bike. So I would like to do something a little different with this post and invite people of color who read Streetsblog (or who just came across this post floating on the internet) to share your thoughts. What effect does the threat of police violence have on how you experience and use streets and public spaces?

  • Bolwerk

    Where they live doesn’t matter that much. The way they conduct themselves is worse. And what’s worst of all is they have special privileges the rest of us don’t have (like getting away with manslaughter).

    Padding their pensions as much as possible and migrating to Florida is a much more irksome habit than simply living in the suburbs (hey, somebody has to, and I’d rather it not be me!), and should be stopped unless Florida wants to return the favor.

  • Today there are Wars of Religion and many conflicts around the World between races and social casts but all of them regardless end up to a single concept: Equality.
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    The concept of Equality has been conveniently adopted in the past by many causes that had nothing to do with Equality.
    For example, Marxism is not Equality and came to exist from one mindset that saw money as measure of what is equal. Karl Marx was a Jewish philosopher who could not separate from the teachings of his culture and that led him to confuse the meaning of the concept. Recently, the media took possession of this concept by leveling Equality with the right for same sex marriage.
    Still, Equality is something else.
    Although many people want to pursue this ideal much confusion makes it much too blurry to materialize.
    It is not possible to Respect a concept that is not understood.
    The solution to the problem starts from far away and begins with a new and clear definition of the concept of Equality.
    A recent discovery holds new meanings far beyond the scientific progress. Although scientists in the past had played with the idea that waves could transform into atoms no one before had discussed the consequences of this finding.
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  • Nathanael

    Pantaleo should be in prison or executed. If he isn’t, and if violent criminals like Pantaleo continue to walk around with guns and badges, eventually people will start to organize what their own “law enforcement” and do it themselves. I’m hopeful we can get reform before that becomes the only option, but if things keep going downhill, ask the Bolsheviks what they did with the Tsar’s police.

    Yeah, the problem is that a bunch of police think that people should obey their orders whether or not the orders are arbitrary or even illegal. People who think this way shouldn’t be police. People who think this way and are police should be fired for cause.

    And of course the police need to live in the communities they are patrolling; otherwise they’re an occupying military force, and will tend to act like one, and will eventually be treated as one. (And ever since 1776 Americans haven’t taken kindly to occupying military forces.)

  • Nathanael

    They should be fired for cause. Yes, even if they’re “nice” guys. Retaliation by police against citizens, for citizens filing legitimate complaints, is criminal and they actually belong in *prison* — but since they’re “nice guys”, firing would be a reasonable show of mercy.

    Why does the police profession seem to attract the congentially criminal mind? Maybe it’s the same reason firefighting attracts arsonists… I don’t know.

  • Nathanael

    An NYPD officer assaulted a *judge* (Thomas Raffale). And so far the criminal cop has gotten away with it.

    If I were the mayor, I’d dissolve the entire NYPD and fire everyone. It’s a racketeer influenced corrupt organization and you should start fresh.

    Really, it seems like most of the NYPD officers are simply criminals. I’m sure there are a few good apples, but they can’t clean the rotten barrel.

  • LN

    How about reviewing the color of the faces of those killed on the street and their survivors that you give blog posts and followup stories too. The media gives the most space to those families that have the power, lawyers, time and contacts to get their stories and loved ones in the news. Those faces and neighborhoods are predominantly white.

    What about giving extra effort to report on those killed on the street that are given only passing mention in other media? The majority of this group are killed on the street in poor neighborhoods predominately inhabited by people of color. What about offering the loved ones of those killed on the street a voice if they want it?

    This switch might potentially involve hiring reporters of color that actually live in some of these neighborhoods. It also might involve accepting that justice and grief does not look the same in every community or to every family. Especially in communities devastated by our broken criminal justice system, prosecution and incarceration of drivers may not be a goal.

  • Pedestrian Error

    Another issue to consider is that when Vision Zero-type or other safety campaigns include jaywalking tickets or aggressive policing of bicycling infractions, there is a strong tendency for that to have a disproportionate effect on minority communities – and place vulnerable groups at even greater risk of police violence. Even driver ticketing is often administered with racial bias. The involvement of police agencies in any transportation safety campaign needs to be viewed critically and not taken as a given just because it may be a politically expedient way to secure NHTSA funding.

  • AnoNYC

    NYPD police officers are not authorized to live within the confines of the precincts they patrol.

    Ridiculous rule created after the (PBA) I mean “research” indicated that corruption would increase as a result. As for danger, I don’t see how living in a neighboring precinct is any safer, as some officers do (more importantly, it isn’t any more dangerous).

    Maybe if police officers patrolled the very neighborhoods they resided in, more of them would give a damn about the community.

    As it stands, the NYPD socializes officers into suburbanization. You have cops that call sections of NYC the wild west despite comparatively low crime rates city wide. Yes there are pockets of communities that have real violent crime problems, but to write off entire neighborhoods is foolish. Even within those pockets, most crime occurs between certain types of people (typically involved in criminality)

  • AnoNYC

    All NYPD police officers should be mandated to live in NYC. I also wonder how many are actually residing in outside the 5 boroughs, while still claiming residency. I also wonder what percentage of police shootings/assults occur among those residing outside the city versus inside. I also wonder about the demographic differences, how many police officers live in the cities highest crime areas or those with the most minorities.

  • AnoNYC

    Indeed, people of color are disproportionately killed in traffic.

    More structural violence.

  • C Monroe

    here is chuck marohns blog that some news agencies republished.

  • Ruffo

    I really appreciate that everyone here in the conversation is being constructive in their responses (only one comment appeared to be deflecting by way of victim blaming). I live in DC and am a person of color. I want to invest in a bicycle but have been hesitant just because of how crazy drivers are in the city. I would hate for that to be further complicated by worrying about the MPD treating me unfairly. Thanks.

  • marc

    I live in the city, and I am a bicycle commuter. To be honest as someone of color in America I have to be ever vigilant of the police. It doesn’t take a lot for them to stop you, so I make sure to dot every i, and cross every T. I grew up in London, and never experienced the level of bigotry that I’ve experienced here in America. It’s everywhere, it pervades American culture. There is trepidation, because I know that if I encounter the Police there is a good chance that they will be overly aggressive. To be honest the whole thing stinks, and has really changed my view of this country.


A motorist, in the white SUV at right, waits to make the same turn taken by the driver who killed Jenna Daniels. Image: Google Maps

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