The Perils of Standing While Hispanic in the Bronx

After being searched for no apparent reason, a 23-year-old is beaten by NYPD officers. 

Meet Santiago Hernandez, 23. He lives in the Bronx. On a Monday evening last month, he was standing in front of an apartment building at around 6 p.m. when two NYPD police officers appeared and demanded permission to frisk him. He complied. They found no contraband. Yet he soon found himself handcuffed and then pushed to the ground, where he was pummeled by six police officers. "They were taking turns like a gang," he told a local ABC affiliate, which obtained video:

According to Hernandez, the police officers who initially searched him said they were responding to a noise complaint. "Although he was later charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, the Bronx DA declined to prosecute the case," the ABC news team reported. "And Hernandez was left with bruises from head to toe."

NYPD internal affairs is investigating the incident.

Over the years, I've covered protests and attended parties that resulted in noise complaints. The former usually involved bullhorns, drums, or, in one case, cowbells. The latter would typically happen after 10 or 11 p.m. A patrol car would show up and an officer would tell the host to turn down the music or else. If another complaint came, the party would be broken up and the host issued a ticket. The people making the noise were never searched, even when they were blatantly breaking the decibel limits set by law. How would a body search be relevant? Very rarely is a noise complaint traced back to a concealed whistle or vuvuzela.

Hernandez was ostensibly searched in response to a noise complaint made during rush hour on a New York City street, so one wonders if it was the NYPD fabricating a reason to frisk a young brown male, given its longtime Stop and Frisk policy.

The apartment stoop where Santiago Hernandez was standing, photographed on a different day. (Google)

In any case, Hernandez had no weapons or drugs. He would never be charged with any crime related to what he was doing before police arrived. The cops seemed to create the disorder that led to his alleged lawbreaking—when he asked why he'd been searched, a cop slapped handcuffs on one of his wrist, so he asked why he was being arrested rather than immediately placing his other hand behind his back. Police initiated force and later charged him with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

But why was he cuffed to begin with?

The ABC News segment starts out by referring to him as a suspect. Of what was he suspected? Videos don't always tell the whole story, but this one looks damning, and the NYPD has offered no explanation that would justify the initial arrest. They seemed to put an innocent person in a situation where his rights would inevitably be violated: Either Hernandez would be summarily arrested with no explanation of why, or he would attempt to get an explanation and be pummeled into submission for failing to submit to police officers quickly enough.

The video illustrates what can go wrong with the law enforcement attitude, "If you don't want to get hurt, don't challenge me." While laws against resisting arrest are legitimate, it is also legitimate for a citizen having handcuffs slapped on his wrist for no apparent reason to say, "Um, excuse me, what did I do wrong?" Hernandez was still on parole stemming from an assault he committed at age 14, so you can see why he'd want to know the reason for any arrest. Withholding an arm while calmly asking why one is being arrested shouldn't be considered an excuse for police to beat on someone like he's violently resisting arrest.

This was not a tense situation.

Hernandez was unarmed. The police officers knew that, having already searched him. A half-dozen armed cops nevertheless beat up this man who posed no apparent threat to their safety, all in order to successfully arrest him for the crime of... what? If a simple request to provide some justification for their actions caused NYPD officers to become agitated and abusive, it wouldn't be the first time.