Malik Richards is a young man who perhaps exhibits too much youthful pride, but finished school, works, and is tired of being disrespected by police. Getting to his job on the L train in Canarsie, he had been stopped and asked for id. on two occasions in the prior few weeks. These were brief police encounters that ended with no summonses, no arrests, and no escalation, thanks to Malik’s restraint and mental discipline.
But one evening last year, on his way to his job, he had enough. He was speaking on the phone on an elevated platform, when a man interrupted him and said “I heard you curse, keep your voice down.” Recognizing immediately that the person was an undercover cop, he replied “my voice is down, stop listening into my conversations”. As the cop continued to hover around him, he explained to his friend on the phone that these undercover cops keep harassing people with an exasperated tone.
After the obligatory juvenile behavior from the cop, telling him to get off the phone “pussy”, the cop demanded identification. Malik explained that he hadn’t committed any crime, that he had to go to work, and proceeded to the door of the incoming train. The undercover cop could have simply let him go on his way, realizing it wasn’t going to end well for anyone. Instead, he forced him away from the train and back up against the wall to arrest him.
Malik protested, not wanting to be arrested. Other officers arrived, throwing him to the ground, and holding him there, one cop with her knee pressing down on his neck.
If you’re old enough to remember the tragic death of Anthony Baez, you will understand why the NYPD Patrol Guide prohibits pressure to the neck, under any circumstance. Mr. Baez died when a police officer put him in a choke hold while arresting him for having a football catch on the street. The City was stunned by the brutality, and NYPD made this change in policy.
The officers who responded apparently didn’t get the memo. One of them, we believe Officer Ileen Estevez, broke a hyoid bone in Malik’s neck. A simple google search will tell you that fracturing a hyoid bone is rare and is most commonly seen in murder investigations where the victim was strangled to death. Malik was arrested, spent 30 hours (with a broken neck) in custody, charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. All charges were dismissed quickly.
It’s a dilemma that young men of color face in certain neighborhoods in New York City all the time. Do you allow yourself to just be humiliated, or do you challenge an officer’s abuse of his authority. As the case of Malik Richards shows, it’s a risky proposition.