Saturday, July 26, 2008

Harlem Cops Caught Playing with Dolls

In a very odd series of events, NYPD officers in Harlem are being accused of racially insensitive behavior after two white officers were seen driving an unmarked car with the head of a black doll attached to the rear antenna. When a Harlem resident went to take a picture of the doll head in order to report it, the two white officers came out of the restaurant they were in and removed the doll head, placing it into the trunk of the car, while allegedly laughing about the incident.

As the New York Times article today points out, the fact that the doll head was on the car is not in dispute. What is in dispute is how it got there. The NYPD is saying that someone else put it there, while many Harlem residents, probably seeing through a weak excuse like that, ponder whether the cops driving the car put it there as a joke.

I do not know how the head got there, but the NYPD's version of events do not hold water for many reasons. To begin with, I personally do not believe that a Harlem resident would take the time to put a doll head on a cop's car. In an environment where the police and the residents do not get along too well (stop and frisk incidents in the neighborhood run rampant), the wrath of a cop whose car is being messed with is nowhere near worth the risk. I suppose under the realm of "anything's possible," a resident could have put it up there, but it makes little sense.

Looking beyond this, however, is the fact that the cops' report of the incident indicates that the two officers did not notice the head on the back of their car. If this is the case, then these cops probably need to get their eyes checked or need to be more vigilant. If you cannot even keep track of what is on your patrol car, I would have little faith in any report written that mentions the surrounding environment and the placement of objects (something that many police reports require). Additionally, when you drive a vehicle, you are responsible for everything associated with that vehicle. If someone else puts a brick of coke in your car and you get pulled over and say, "That's not mine, officer, someone else must have put it there," do you think that's going to work? Is the officer going to give you the benefit of the doubt? No, it's in your car, which you are operating and thus have custody of, which means you are responsible for everything in it (including attached items on the outside of it). So why is this rule different for cops?

Essentially what we have here is two possible scenarios: the cops did not put it on the car but are morons and are unable to take in their immediate surroundings, calling in to question their ability to police a neighborhood or, the cops put the doll head up themselves and are lying (which would not be unprecedented within the ranks of the NYPD).

In addition to all of this, I have seen people saying that they do not see the big deal of putting the head of a black doll on a police car driven by white cops. While the symbolism should be quite obvious, it is lost on some. The way I see it, the black doll head brings up many negative connotations for people of any color, but especially for blacks. To begin with, it brings up images of lynchings under the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups throughout the United States throughout the 19th and early 20th century. The image of these cops cutting a black doll's head off to place on their antenna conjures up past images of lynchings following which participants would cut off various parts of the victim's body for souvenires. Additionally, the scene of a black head with a slender base as a body also parallels a lynch victim's posture following the disgusting act.

Beyond all of this is the one thing that many people who are not minorities can not understand. To be in a largely black neighborhood like Harlem and to be policed by a mostly-white police force, especially given the history of the NYPD and their treatment of minorities, is automatically a bit antagonizing. Plus, in many situations blacks often find themselves the lone member of their racial group in day-to-day life. Next time you're in a room, look around. Chances are if you're white, you're part of the majority of the group and chances are, if you're black, you are the only black person or one of a significantly small number. As someone who has been in the reverse situation many times - in that I was the only white person or among the only white people in a group of non-whites - I can say it is noticeable and you certainly feel as if you are out of place and your actions are scrutinized. Because I am white, however, I do not feel this on a daily basis and am not policed by a group of police officers who are not my race. If I were in the minority and was policed by the majority who bought a doll that was my race, decapitated it and placed it upon their rear antenna as a joke given the history of the treatment of blacks in this country, and then lied about it blatantly when called out on it, I would be pretty upset. Peace.

Photos - Unmarked NYPD vehicles (Dryblood's flickr), A black doll (, One of thousands of black American lynching victims (

1 comment:

  1. If they did do it knowingly, it's a stupid move and they should be removed from service. The police are supposed to be there to protect us. When the police turn against us, and are prejudicial, or attack and kill citizens without punishment, who will be there to protect us from the police?