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Monday’s Headlines: Tom Wolfe Edition

A Council member's story about a supposedly racially motivated traffic stop got all around the world before the NYPD even got its boots on. Plus other news.

Photo: NYPD|

Council Member Yusef Salaam after being stopped by a cop for having tinted windows and an out-of-state plate.

There was a classic New York bonfire of the vanities over the weekend — and no one came out looking good.

It all started on Friday night, when new Council Member Yusef Salaam, much of whose adult life was defined by his wrongful arrest by cops for a crime he didn't commit, was pulled over by an officer from the 26th Precinct.

On that, everyone agrees. After that ... not so much.

Hours after the incident, a justifiably triggered Salaam issued a press release that suggested that the stop was racially motivated — the latest in what he called "unjust police stops."

"I introduced myself as Councilman Yusef Salaam, and subsequently asked the officer why I was pulled over. Instead of answering my question, the officer stated, ‘We’re done here,’ and proceeded to walk away,'" Salaam claimed in the email sent to some reporters, but not posted on his Twitter account or on his Council website.

“The fact that the officer did not provide a rationale for the stop ... calls into question how the NYPD justifies its stops of New Yorkers and highlights the need for greater transparency to ensure they are constitutional," Salaam continued.

Given police officers' well-documented racial disparity in traffic stops (see under "Driving While Black"), Salaam's press release was quickly picked up by many news outlets

Except in this case, the NYPD fired back.

A few hours after Salaam's broadside, the NYPD put out a detailed statement, body cam footage and the incident report that quickly revealed that Salaam's original statement had left out some key details. For one thing, his car has illegally tinted windows and a Georgia plate. And according to the camera footage, the officer did not say, "We're done here," as Salaam contended, but "Have a good one" and "Take care, sir."

The officer could have — and probably should have — written a ticket for the illegal glass. And he certainly should have asked why a New York City Council member, who took office on Jan. 1 and won a primary back in June 2023, is driving around with an out-of-state plate when state law requires residents to trade in such plates within 30 days of establishing residency.

And this is at least the second car with an out-of-state plate that Salaam has been spotted driving, Katie Honan reported:

Nonetheless, NYPD praised the "professionalism" of the unidentified officer, despite the fact that he let Salaam violate the law and drive off without so much as a warning — apparently simply because Salaam dropped his name and title.

After the police put out their statement, all the predictable battle lines were drawn, with three people who were on the conference call claiming they heard Salaam ask the officer why he'd been stopped (the NYPD footage is inconclusive on that):

Meanwhile, supporters of the police (including Council Members Bob Holden and Joe Borelli) jumped on Salaam for exaggerating the incident (Borelli) and also for driving with the illegal windows (Holden, below):

The gray area allowed the police union to claim the moral high ground (a lofty perch whose view the PBA has rarely enjoyed):

Others pointed out that no one came off looking particularly good.

All of the news outlets that had quickly jumped on the hot Salaam story rushed to update it with the new information from the NYPD. The New York Times waited and waited — wisely in this case because the Paper of Record got an exclusive interview with Salaam (whose office did not respond to multiple requests from Streetsblog).

Salaam said he didn't know that the tinted windows were illegal in New York City (which, frankly, is not a great look for the chairman of the Council's Public Safety Committee), and promised to finally start following the law. "Now I can correct the problem so that I am not stopped in the future," he said.

But beyond the good get, the Times coverage was weak, first barely referencing the illegal out-of-state plate and not mentioning at all that the city is awash in them, as all Streetsblog readers know. And the paper also failed to note that many Black drivers use tinted windows to avoid being racially profiled, which is why state Sen. Julia Salazar has a bill that would legalize some tint. No matter how you feel about the Stop Heard Round the World, this is important information.

All the outlets covered it (well, not The City), but not all of them (looking at you, amNY) fully updated their original stories based on Salaam's press release:

The only questions remaining are: Why is a New York City Council member driving around with out-of-state plates? When will he address that illegality? Will the other people on the call give more details of what they heard? Will Salaam stop conducting business and/or talking on the phone while he's driving? Will there be any fallout from the NYPD not even issuing a proper warning?

We'll see if there's a third-day story in all of this. Meanwhile, in other news:

  • An unlicensed driver killed a 14-year-old pedestrian in Brooklyn. (NYDN, amNY, Gothamist)
  • The Daily News blindly covered the NYPD's ridiculous award show for its supposed success in Vision Zero. We covered it the only way that mattered: with a critical eye.
  • Eight Council members (not Salaam, obvs!) did participate in the mayor's "ride along" and pony show with the NYPD. (NY Post, amNY)
  • A flaneur has completed one hell of a walk: Every street in Manhattan. (NY Post)
  • Fordham University has a new climate-change-minded president, the Times reported. Perhaps she'll revisit the school's opposition to better buses on Fordham Road?

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