Commentary: Violent Arrest in Manhattan this Week Leads to Questions, As Armed Protesters Get No Resistance

The video has gone viral, all over the news and social media, of a man in New York where the video shows the officer approach an African American man.  He has his Taser drawn, then hits the man and throws him to the ground.

In the video the officer can be heard saying “Move the f—k back right now!” and “What you flexing for?  Don’t flex.”

The issue has highlighted concerns about how social-distancing enforcement “may not be applied equally in all communities.”

Media accounts in New York have shown people congregating in parks across the city in affluent neighborhoods and yet the violent enforcement actions are in communities of color.

One group in a letter asked the NYPD to “release a report on social distancing enforcement statistics by neighborhood and demographic.  The report should include all citations including warning and fines, along with 311 complaint data on the matter so that we and the public can compare application of the law.”

The man, 33-year-old Donni Wright, was arrested and charged with assault of a police officer, menacing and resisting arrest, but the DA’s office has deferred prosecution pending further investigation, according to one media account.

Meanwhile, Wright was hospitalized according to his mother with “severe injuries to his back, ribs and chest.”

“The doctor said he’s in pretty bad shape,” Donna Wright said of her son. “The officer really did physical damage to my son. He is not able to lift or sit.”

The police in response indicated the Manhattan DA will “defer” charges in the incident.  The officer has been stripped of his gun and placed on modified duty.

“You see a number of people not wearing masks at that scene,” NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said Monday. “And that is the scene that the officers in plainclothes…initially walked up to investigate.”

Dermot Shea added, “This did start out as a social distancing encounter — it escalated into what you see on this video with a total of three arrests made, recovery of a small amount of I believe marijuana, recovery of a Taser that was not an NYPD Taser in this encounter.”

The deferral of charges was not enough for some.  Janos Marton, who is running for DA, tweeted on Monday: “Not good enough. These charges should be DISMISSED. The charges of assaulting an officer and resisting arrest are clearly bogus from the video. Deferring the charges at this point is just to save face for the arresting officers.”

He earlier suggested that regarding social distancing the “answer should not be NYPD, unless a crime is taking place. In some neighborhoods, they lack community trust, and their presence at a scene represents unnecessary escalation.”

He added, “One answer is civilian city employees encouraging socially distancing and handing out masks.”

Marton added, “Ultimately, we need a cultural shift in thinking about our obligations to each other, not brute enforcement.”

The Washington Post reports today that reporters and police watchdogs have called out “what appeared to be the department’s uneven enforcement over the past weekend, during which they say officers handed out masks in parks largely packed with white residents but aggressively enforced social distancing orders in minority communities.”

“Why are sunbathers who violate social distancing guidelines treated one way and young men in certain communities another,” Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) recently tweeted.  He added, “Police officers aggressively ‘enforcing’ social distancing in our community.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio called the video of Wright’s arrest “very troubling” and “unacceptable”—at the same time he said this should not be considered an accurate reflection of most social distancing enforcement.

But in a way this is a microcosm of a much larger problem.  In New York, we contrast the treatment of Wright with the white and largely affluent people gathering in the parks, clearly in violation of social distancing orders.

Across the country we see largely white protesters armed to the teeth with weapons, suffering little to no consequence.

This actually started before the COVID-19 crackdown—armed gun rights activists carried semi-automatic firearms into the capitol in Frankfort, Kentucky.  It was a scene reminiscent of the Black Panthers’ move into the Capitol in 1969, except for one major difference.

A reporter from the Louisville paper tweeted, “Weirdest thing about guns in the Kentucky Capitol: if you have one, you’re told to walk around the metal detector. Others must pass through and get wanded.”

Meanwhile, people are banned from entering with umbrellas or sticks that are used for protest signs because they can be “used as weapons.”

In the more recent protests over COVID stay-at-home orders, militia members toting guns showed up in places like Pennsylvania and Michigan.

One Michigan station reported: “Gun-carrying protesters have been a common sight at some demonstrations calling for coronavirus-related restrictions to be lifted. But an armed militia’s involvement in an angry protest in the Michigan statehouse Thursday marked an escalation that drew condemnation and shone a spotlight on the practice of bringing weapons to protest.”

As the station reported: “For some observers, the images of armed men in tactical gear at a state Capitol were an unsettling symbol of rising tensions in a nation grappling with crisis. Others saw evidence of racial bias in the way the protesters were treated by police.”

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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        1. David Greenwald

          It seems like there are multiple things happening within this. Overreaction by law enforcement. Selective enforcement by law enforcement. And overreaction by protestors. What I think bears watching is once again this strand of political violence based in white working class subgroups that has long punctuated American society.

        2. Keith Olsen

          political violence based in white working class subgroups 

          What is a white working class subgroup?   How are they politically violent?

          Pleas explain.

  1. David Greenwald

    Because this is what we are dealing with – the black man in Manhattan who is doing basically nothing gets beaten and the white protesters in various places are allowed to tote their guns with limited to no repurcussions.

      1. David Greenwald

        At the very least social distancing laws And stay at home orders (before you scoff remember that’s what the guy in Manhattan was arrested for), in some cases, they broke actual gun laws.

      2. Alan Miller

        Not gun laws . . . but they sure as h*ll were being idiots rubbing up against each other and many of them mask-less.  How would the right-leaning element feel about that red-haired woman from the foothills being a left-progressive coming up to the CHP officer and yelling “traitor!” into his face from inches away with no mask?  Hmmmmmmmmm!!!

        1. Alan Miller

          That would be fascist, don’t you think?

          It’s only facist if you disagree with the fascists.

          . . . otherwise, the fascists are ‘anti-fascists’, in your mind.

  2. Alan Miller

    I hope that the subtopic of racial inequity doesn’t end up pooching the entire need for social distancing and mandatory masks in public.   I am not encouraged when the NY police union is now calling for an end to health-order enforcement by police altogether:

    The inmates are running the asylum in the US.  We are all responsible for the safety of everyone else.  I generally agree with individualism and independence.   This isn’t the time.  We are at war – with a virus.  War is defined by the aggressor.  It is not defined by your hair needing color, or that masks aren’t fashionable, or that no-one-can-tell-me-what-to-do, or that it’s hot, or whine, whine, whine.  The virus sets the rules.  So let’s get on a war footing and kill this thing.

    Nope.  Let’s just dig in with US inane politics.  #sigh#

    1. David Greenwald

      ” I am not encouraged when the NY police union is now calling for an end to health-order enforcement by police altogether”

      Typical response – we can’t act with appropriate amounts of force and maybe a little bit of finesse, so we won’t enforce at all.

      1. Keith Olsen

        But you’re the one who decided to bring up the comparison of the white gun toting protesters at the Michigan Capitol not getting arrested but here we have black gun toting men also going to the Capitol and not getting arrested.

  3. Ron Oertel

    I hope that the subtopic of racial inequity doesn’t end up pooching the entire need for social distancing and mandatory masks in public.  

    Too late.

    In any case, I’m relieved that I generally don’t comment on these types of issues. Oh, damn! 😉

    No – I didn’t look at the video, but I often find them disturbing.

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