On Wednesday, NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton urged state legislators to consider increasing the penalty for resisting arrest from a misdemeanor to a felony. The change, he argued, would help New Yorkers “get around this idea that you can resist arrest. You can’t.” It would also give cops an easy way to turn victims of their own worst impulses into the worst class of criminal.
In theory, a resisting arrest charge allows the state to further punish suspects who endanger the safety of police officers as they’re being apprehended; in practice, it gives tautological justification to cops who enjoy roughing people up. Why did you use force against that suspect, officer? Because she was resisting arrest. How do I know you’re telling the truth? Because I charged her with it, sir.
Consider a few recent would-be felons:
- Chaumtoli Huq, former general counsel to NYC Public Advocate Letitia James, who was charged with resisting arrest for waiting for her family outside the Times Square Ruby Tuesday’s.
- Jahmil-El Cuffee, who was charged with resisting arrest after he found himself on the receiving end of a head-stomp from a barbarous cop because he was allegedly rolling a joint. (“Stop resisting!” cops screamed at him as he lay helpless, pinned under a pile of officers.)
- Denise Stewart, who was charged with resisting arrest after a gang of New York’s Finest threw her half-naked from her own apartment into the lobby of her building. (They had the wrong apartment, it turned out.)
- Santiago Hernandez, who was charged with resisting arrest after a group of cops beat the shit out of him following a stop-and-frisk. “One kicks me, he steps back. Another one comes to punch me and he steps back…They were taking turns on me like a gang,” Hernandez told reporters.
- Eric Garner, who no doubt would have been charged with resisting had the chokehold from Daniel Pantaleo not ended his life first.
Cops using resistance as an excuse for their own abuse isn’t some wild conspiracy theory. Sam Walker, a law-enforcement expert and retired University of Nebraska-Omaha criminal justice professor, told WNYC in December:
“There’s a widespread pattern in American policing where resisting arrest charges are used to sort of cover – and that phrase is used – the officer’s use of force,” said Walker, the accountability expert from the University of Nebraska. “Why did the officer use force? Well, the person was resisting arrest.”
Fortunately, city district attorneys know the drill, and often have the good sense to dismiss resisting charges when perps are brought up in court. But Bratton would like to see that provision thrown out as well. “The vast majority [of charges] might end up being dismissed,” he said at the joint hearing of state senate committees Wednesday. “We’re asking district attorneys to treat them more seriously than they have been treated in the past.”
Anticipating criticism, Bratton told the assembled lawmakers that he already had a plan to curb abuse: the department would use its CompStat arrest-tracking system to monitor officers who make lots of resisting charges that are eventually dropped, leaving oversight of the NYPD to the NYPD itself.
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