Monday, September 17, 2007

Police Brutality in the 26?

According to Columbia's newspaper - The Spectator - a curious little incident occurred on West 114th Street near Broadway on Thursday night/Friday morning. It seems that a sophomore from Columbia - Garam Sohn, SEAS 2010 - was walking along the street with an open can of beer. Not that uncommon around campus as we are a college. Well, when the po-po saw him, they did not take too kindly to it. It is illegal to have an open container of alcohol in public according to New York City Administrative Code 10-125. However, the punishment is not arrest but simply a summons (which boils down to a fine of $25). As it turns out, the cops asked for some ID, which Sohn was unable to produce. While I can not find any law that says one must have a photo ID on them at all times in New York, I do not know if it is illegal to be unable to produce an ID for a cop following a violation (I do not think it is, however). Anyway, this really must have pissed the cops off because according to eyewitnesses, the police officers cuffed Sohn, threw him to the ground, and put him in the back of their patrol car. Sounds a little excessive for a non-arrestable offense.

Here, however, is the kicker. An eyewitness claims that while the po were questioning Sohn, two white boys walked by with open 40s and were told by the police to cover them up with brown paper bags. No cuffs, no ground throw-age, no nothing. As a crowd gathered (nothing nearly this exciting ever happens up around Columbia because the cops have it on lock), the original officers called for backup and antagonized the crowd, which was reportedly majority-Asian, asking them if they understood English and if they had had too much sake that night. Not the most racially sensitive cops the 26 has to offer (I hope). Sohn said that he was brought back to the precinct, tossed in a cell for two hours and was told - verbatim - that he was being a dick. The cops have not been identified because they allegedly threatened arrest when a witness asked for their names and shield numbers (again, nothing illegal about transparent policing). Sohn was charged with the following: having an open container of alcohol, obstructing pedestrian traffic, refusing to comply to an order for dispersal, and creating a hazardous environment.

The four violations (the newspaper article lists them as misdemeanors, but under New York law they are simply violations) seem a bit stretched. The open container of alcohol is a given. Obstructing pedestrian traffic (New York Penal Law 240.20(5)) will not stand because he simply was not doing it. Unless someone complained about Sohn blocking an exit or an entrance or the whole sidewalk (impossible for any one man), then this is a bogus charge. Refusing to comply to an order for dispersal (New York Penal Law 240.20(6)) will be declined prosecution as well due to the fact that the police officer was not within his or her authority to ask Sohn to move anywhere. The cop was within his or her authority to write Sohn a ticket and dispose of the booze, but asking him to move anywhere is not included in that. And finally, creating a hazardous environment (New York Penal Law 240.20(7)). Are you kidding me? The actual text of the law is, "He creates a hazardous or physically offensive condition by any act which serves no legitimate purpose." He was creating no hazardous condition, that was what the police were doing by making a big deal out of an open can of beer. The four charges were probably the arresting charges and I doubt that they made it to arraignment, unless the reporting in the Spectator is completely off and there are facts that the public are unaware of.

So where does this leave us? If everything that has been alleged is true, what should have been a simple fine of $25 turned into four violations of which only one is legitimate. These cops, if they made the remarks they have alleged to, should be reprimanded appropriately and they should go through some more training with how to deal with the public that they have sworn to protect and to serve. If anyone has any photos or any other media of the event please let me know and I will be more than happy to post it. Peace.

Photo - Some cop holding an open container of alcohol in public (the girly Smirnoff Ice is not necessarily the drink that Sohn was drinking) (

1 comment:

  1. whoaaa crazy.
    i was just googling my brother's name and this showed up. and wtf it really is my brother. small world huh?