New Repressive Moves Proposed Against the People in NY

February 16, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper |


On February 4, there was a joint hearing of four New York State Senate committees that focused on recent protests against police brutality and last year’s killing of two NYPD officers. At this hearing, NYPD Police Commissioner William Bratton, and Pat Lynch, the president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, put forward proposals for new moves to increase repression and punishment against the people.

1. Making “resisting arrest” a felony

Bratton, testifying at the hearing, called for New York State to change the charge of resisting arrest to a felony. Currently, resisting arrest is a misdemeanor carrying a maximum punishment of one year. Making resisting arrest a felony would mean someone found guilty of this could face anything from four years of probation to, in some cases, life in prison. It is unclear if Bratton is proposing that resisting arrest be made a felony charge in all cases. But he is proposing that what is now a Class A misdemeanor be changed to a felony. He told reporters, “I think a felony would be very helpful in terms of raising the bar significantly in the penalty for the resistance of arrest.”

Bratton even admitted, “The vast majority might end up being dismissed,” but went on to say, “We’re asking district attorneys to treat them more seriously than they have been treated in the past” and that this should be considered a felony.

There are already two different bills in the New York State Legislature, one that would explicitly create a felony resisting arrest charge to cover the use of physical force against a cop making an arrest. Another version of the bill would make resisting arrest a felony when the person has a prior resisting conviction in the previous 10 years.

Now Bratton—with the support of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio—is adding his powerful voice to and pressing forward such efforts to make resisting arrest a felony.

In fact, resisting arrest is frequently used as a bogus charge to trump up charges against people. This happens even in minor arrests, like someone being taken in for having a joint in their pocket after being stopped and frisked. And it’s used the time against protesters. In all these instances, what happens a lot of times is basically that the pigs beat you up for no reason and then they pile on a “resisting arrest” charge to justify it.

Sam Walker, a former criminal justice professor at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, notes, “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. Why did the officer use force? Well, the person was resisting arrest.” Monica Potts, a journalist who previously worked on a civilian review board that investigated complaints against NYPD officers, says police are given wide discretion in deciding what counts as resistance during an arrest. She says resisting arrest is part of an array of charges—along with disorderly conduct and assault on an officer—that investigators casually refer to as “P.O.P.,” or “Pissing Off Police.”

This new and dangerous move comes in the context of the tremendous upsurge of protests against police brutality—starting last August in Ferguson, Missouri, after the police killing of Michael Brown; the spreading of the courageous protests in Ferguson to cities all over the country; and then the powerful waves of continuous protests for weeks from coast to coast after grand juries refused to indict the police who murdered Michael Brown and then Eric Garner in Staten Island.

According to a WNYC radio report, in New York City there were at least 51,503 cases of resisting arrest charges between 2009 and 2014, approximately 13,500 per year. Of these, less than 6.2 percent resulted in any conviction, according to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, and in some areas like the Bronx, less than 4.4 percent resulted in any conviction. That means that each year, more than 10,000 people are arrested, charged, and held in jail on completely bogus charges. This same report found that “a black person arrested for disorderly conduct is 65 percent more likely to be charged with resisting arrest than a white defendant, and 85 percent more likely to be charged in arrests involving drug possession.”

In other words, tens of thousands of people a year—disproportionally Black—are hit with resisting arrest charges the police can’t prove in court and judges have to throw out. But the victims of this still have this arrest on their record and have to go through all the bullshit in court to try to get the charge dropped.

Already, the police, judges, parole officers, etc. can use a record of “resisting arrest” to target people as “troublemakers”—even if the charge is eventually dropped or even if the resisting arrest charge happened in connection with an arrest for which the person was eventually found not guilty. Look at the case that the police and courts are trying to build up against the revolutionary Noche Diaz, who is facing multiple charges stemming from arrests at protests and, if convicted, could receive a two-year sentence. Noche has been singled out in protests by the NYPD—threatened, assaulted; and when he has been arrested he has almost always been slapped with an additional “resisting arrest” charge. This can be used by prosecutors to argue that there is a pattern of behavior that the courts must punish with added jail time.

Changing resisting arrest from a misdemeanor to a felony also has huge repercussions for those found guilty of this charge. People with a felony conviction on their record are treated like pariahs in this society—where they have to “check the box” on an employment form and are denied all kinds of things, from housing, to employment, to government loans, and the right to vote.

2. Increased Penalties for Charges of “Assault on a Police Officer”

Pat Lynch, the president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, also testified at this hearing putting forth another outrageous and ominous proposal. Lynch called for ratcheted-up penalties against protesters—asking the legislature to make assaulting a police officer at a public assembly a Class B felony, which would carry a penalty of up to 25 years in prison. Lynch connected this directly with recent demonstrations against police brutality, saying he believed this change in law was necessary to “deter the type of conduct we saw during last month’s demonstrations.” This was a blatant threat against protesters who not only have a legal right to be demonstrating in the street—but these protesters are DOING THE RIGHT THING in demonstrating and refusing to tolerate police brutality, terror, and murder.

Lynch’s proposal for stiffer penalties for assaulting a police officer was made in clear reference to recent demonstrations—and comes after the December 13, 2014 protest on the Brooklyn Bridge when NYPD cops claimed they were assaulted by protesters. A whole campaign was launched in the media to hunt down, arrest and convict these protesters—based mainly on a two-minute YouTube video. The level of hysteria was ratcheted way up for days. There were high-profile press conferences with Bratton and other city officials calling on people to help identify those responsible for supposedly “assaulting two NYPD lieutenants.” A “Wanted” poster was issued with photos of seven “suspects”—that then appeared on tabloid front pages. People were called on to turn these people in and were offered a reward of $25,000. This orchestrated “trial by media” was an attempt by city and police officials to target the protests as a whole, put those who have been defiantly taking to the streets on the defensive, and try to put a lid on any further demonstrations against the police.

Now Lynch and others, in the context of all this, are trying to change the law to threaten people with bigger prison time if they are charged with assault on a police officer at a protest.

Meanwhile, at the hearing, Lynch and Bratton made it clear that they are going to stand by and protect the right of the police to murder people in the street and not face any consequences. Both asked the state legislature to block a proposal for an independent monitor to oversee cases in which a grand jury declines to indict a police officer accused of killing a civilian.


In recent months tens of thousands of people have acted in a way that forces millions here and around the world to confront the unacceptable reality that police in the USA kill people, especially Black and Latino people, all the time and are almost never even indicted on any charges. People have taken to the streets and protested in other ways, saying: NO MORE to this! What people are doing is RIGHT and it is WRONG to suppress and criminalize it.

The efforts to drastically increase the penalties for so-called “resisting arrest,” and other charges that are frequently thrown at protesters to cover up police brutality, like “assault on a police officer,” are part of a counter-offensive by the powers-that-be to suppress and kill the massive and inspiring movement against police murder. These moves are aimed at both protesters and at tightening the existing police-state repressive apparatus generally, especially in the oppressed communities. These moves by Bratton and others must be exposed and beaten back.

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