Guyanese in Richmond Hill charge police with profiling, abuse
By Vishnu Bisram
February 1, 2007
Guyanese in Richmond Hill, Queens accused the New York police of racism and abuse of their powers at a Town Hall meeting on Tuesday held at the Guyanese-owned Nareesa Palace catering hall on Rockaway Boulevard in South Ozone.
Person after person came forward to relate experiences of racism and police abuse in an exchange with the Police Chief of Queens and the Captain of the 106th Police Precinct (Pct) which is responsible for most of the Richmond Hill Ozone area. Allegations were also levelled against the 102nd Pct but the bulk of the complaints were against officers of the 106th Pct.
The Guyanese victims complained about racial profiling accusing the police of capricious and arbitrary targeting of their community to meet ticketing quotas and to make unjustified arrests in order to obtain overtime pay.
Lawyer Trevor Rupnarain, one of the chief spokespersons for the community, charged that the police tend to make arrests towards the end of their shift in order to earn overtime pay. He contended that there has been a de facto increase in arrests in the precinct of some 22% since 1995.
However, Rupnarain applauded the work of the police in bringing down crime, noting that the district had seen crime decrease by 73% in the 106th Pct and 77% in the 102 Pct. He said: "The community is not against the police enforcing the law but the community should not be targeted."
He added: "Other ethnic communities are not targeted for aggressive enforcement of the law. The officers don't enforce double parking in White neighbourhoods such as Howard Beach but they have zero tolerance in Richmond Hill. We would appreciate answers, explanations and solutions to our complaints and an end to profiling."
One Guyanese taxi driver says he triple parks every day on Cross Bay, an Italian neighbourhood, and he never received a ticket. But on Liberty Avenue he gets tickets and is harassed for double parking even when sitting in his car. Mike Persaud, a teacher, who was subjected to an unjustified summons that was thrown out by a judge said "What the police is doing to this community is tantamount to harassment. We must put an end to it."
There were also several complaints about motorists getting tickets for dropping off relatives at bus stops (when there is no where else to stop) or for double parking letting off passengers. In one case, the police issued a ticket to a motorist who was dropping off an 81-year-old at the bus stop. Another motorist was issued a summons for dropping off a pregnant woman at the bus stop. It was alleged that the police don't issue summons for putting off passengers at bus stops in White neighbourhoods. And in White neighbourhoods, the police gently ask drivers who are double parked to move on rather than issue summons. But in Indian neighbourhoods, they are issued a summons for US$105. (equivalent to approximately G$21,525).
Lawyer Albert Baldeo suggested that the police show more sensitivity when issuing summons. "Drivers should not be issued summons for dropping off." The police chief agreed with Baldeo and promised to re-examine the issue with his officers.
Chief Tom Dale said officers should use commonsense and discretion when issuing tickets. Dale also requested speakers from the community to come forward and address officers about the diversity of the community.
Baldeo also called on Chief Dale for better community policing. "There is a problem with the method the police use in going after residents in the community. They are arrogant. There is a cultural divide between the police and the community." Almost all of the officers are from outside the area, and living in Long Island they have no knowledge about the cultural background of the community.
One victim, Faroukh, described how he was ridiculed and taunted by a police officer who arrested him without justifiable reason. Faroukh claimed he had just come from the Masjid after 10:00 PM during Ramadan and was parking his vehicle when the police came up to him and asked if he was drinking. "I told him I am fasting and he asked 'What is fasting?'".
The Muslim period of Ramadan was all over the mainstream news. But that police officer did not know anything about Ramadan and fasting.
Faroukh claimed: "He took me for a ride for three and a half hours and then took me to the precinct for booking. He said he was charging me for drug use. I am going to teach you Indians a lesson."
Faroukh said that the same officer did a similar thing to another Guyanese motorist in the evening, charging him for drug use. Both motorists had their charges thrown out by the court. But no action was taken against the abusive police officer who is free to continue harassing other Guyanese.
Guyanese also complained that the police would question them about their luxury cars such as BMWs, Rolls Royce, and Mercedes Benz. "If you drive a luxury car, they will stop and question you. The oft repeated complaint was the police would ask "Is this your car or how did you afford this car?".
One real estate owner charged, "They can't believe we could afford such expensive cars. We work very hard and want to enjoy our earnings." Chuck Mohan, a labour union leader, charged that "the police treat us as foreigners who don't belong here. They think Guyanese are animals. The police should be held accountable."
Chief Dale urged the community to file complaints against abusive police with the Community Civilian Review Board. But Guyanese say the CCRB pays lip service and almost never takes action against abusive police.
Captain John Dorothy of the 106th Pct invited Guyanese to attend the precinct's monthly meeting to voice their concerns and grievances and to make suggestions on improving police-community relations.
Both Chief Dale and Capt. Dorothy agreed there is need for interaction between the police and community. Dale also promised there will be more meetings for the community to voice their concerns and grievances. "We want to know what is going on in your neighbourhood. Let us work together to improve relations and to make police work better."