Another day, another story of police violence.
Last Sunday morning, New York Police Department officers responded to a call of several men harassing and throwing objects at people while on the boardwalk at Rockaway Beach. A video of the incident surfaced where NYPD Officer David Afanador could be seen using a banned chokehold on 35-year-old Richard Bellevue to detain him. Other officers handcuffed him during the detention.
The video showed Afanador, wrapping his arms all the way around Bellevue’s neck while onlookers screamed at the cops to let him go. The incident took place under the jurisdiction of the 100th Precinct. The precinct, along with the NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau, is investigating the interaction.
After the video, shot by a civilian, surfaced, the NYPD uploaded body cam footage of the incident on its YouTube page.
In a statement provided by the NYPD to the AmNews, Police Commissioner Dermot Shea didn’t go as far as condemning the incident, but spoke of holding officers accountable.
“After a swift investigation by the Internal Affairs Bureau, a police officer involved in a disturbing apparent chokehold incident in Queens has been suspended without pay,” said Shea. “While a full investigation is still underway, there is no question in my mind that this immediate action is necessary. We are committed to transparency as this process continues.”
When the AmNews requested a comment from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, we were directed to his Twitter account where he said “Today was the fastest I have EVER seen the NYPD act to discipline an officer. Within hours: immediate suspension, body camera footage released, discipline process initiated. This is how it needs to be.”
This incident isn’t Afanador’s first rodeo. In 2016, Afanador hit 16-year-old Kaheem Tribble in the face with his gun knocking out Tribble’s teeth in the process. However, he was allowed to stay on the force. According to Carolyn Martinez-Class of Communities United for Police Reform, the suspension is inefficient, there are blank spots in the story that need to be filled and the situation demonstrated the need for a change in legislation.
“NYPD Officer David Afanador must be fired, and the NYPD should immediately make public the names of other officers on the scene––and whether they reported the chokehold in their official reports and to superiors or whether they attempted to help cover up the chokehold incident––which is known to the public only because of the original bystander copwatch video,” said Class in an emailed statement to the AmNews. “Afanador’s continued presence on the force demonstrates why last week’s repeal of section 50-a is so important for increasing much-needed transparency and accountability around New Yorkers’ encounters with the police.”
Class also hopes Afanador faces a disciplinary trial before his 30-day suspension is up and hopes it’s not mean to “distract the public from whether or not Afanador will be fired…” Class wants the NYPD to make the names of the other officers on the scene public and whether or not the chokehold was in the official reports to superiors.
Last week, before the incident took place, Mayor de Blasio announced that the city would expedite the disciplinary process against NYPD officers accused of abuse and make the disciplinary records public.
Dawit Getachew, policy counsel for the Criminal Defense Practice at The Bronx Defenders, told the AmNews that this could work if only the city follows through.
“This looks like it could be a step in the right direction, but transparency will only be meaningful if it leads to accountability,” said Getachew. “We need to see how these databases are maintained and how these processes are put into effect before anyone can say any of this gets us closer to real police accountability. In the meantime, the mayor can take immediate action by firing police officers who have committed serious misconduct.”
Earlier this month, the New York State passed the “Eric Garner Anti-Chokehold Act” named after the infamous police murder of Garner via chokehold. Senator Michael Benjamin, who championed the bill, said the video of Afanador using a chokehold on Bellevue showed why the legislation was necessary.
“The video from NYPD’s 100th Precinct of Officer David Afanador holding a man in a chokehold on a Queens boardwalk is very concerning,” stated Benjamin. “Since the passage of my bill, the Eric Garner Anti-Chokehold Act, police chokeholds that lead to serious physical injury or death are now criminal and punishable up to 15 years in prison. If the investigation into this incident reveals that this man was seriously injured, then Officer Afanador should be charged. Excessive force cannot be tolerated.”
While New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo didn’t respond to requests for comment, his office did send a transcript of his appearance on “CNN Newsroom With Poppy Harlow and Jim Sciutto” talking about a change in policing and the efforts by anti-police brutality activists to “defund” the police.”
“You need to change the policies,” said Cuomo. “You need to change the way we police. And it’s not ‘Are the police right? Are the police wrong?’ Once the community stands up and says, ‘We don’t trust the police. We don’t respect this type of policing,’ the game is over because it’s a relationship. And the relationship is now breached, and it only takes one side of the relationship to say this relationship doesn’t work for me, and it doesn’t matter to say, ‘Well are you right or are you wrong?’ Right?
“One side says, ‘I want a divorce.’ That’s it, you have a problem in the relationship. And that’s where we are, but we now have to make change,” said Cuomo.
For Class of CPR, the time is here and the time is now to use city funding for the police for other areas of government.
“Incidents like this make clear that the NYPD’s FY21 expense budget must be cut by at least $1 billion and those monies must be redirected to programs, services and infrastructure in Black, Latinx and other communities of color to help ensure an equitable transition during and after the COVID-19 period,” said Class.