New York cops see us as human prey

June 17, 2013

The New York Police Department's Warrant Squad is wearing T-shirts comparing what they do to hunting animals. Lichi D’Amelio reports.

THE NEW York City Police Department has long been accused of treating many city residents as subhuman. Now some of its officers seem determined to prove their critics right.

Last week, members of the city's Warrant Squad, assigned to find people with outstanding warrants and bring them to court, were spotted wearing T-shirts that compared their job to hunting animals. The photo at right was sent to by someone who works in the court system. As the photo shows, on the back of the officer's shirt is a quote from Ernest Hemingway:

There is no hunting like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted armed men long enough and liked it, never care for anything else thereafter.

What you can't see is that the front of the T-shirt has the words "Fugitive Enforcement NYPD," and what appears to be an official department insignia.

New York City just finished defending itself in a trial over its "stop-and-frisk" policy, under which hundreds of thousands of young people are detained, interrogated and often searched each year, for no reason other than the color of their skin in most cases.

A T-shirt worn by a member of the NYPD's Warrant Squad
A T-shirt worn by a member of the NYPD's Warrant Squad

Many observers expect the courts to rule against city, and the U.S. Justice Department recently announced its interest in assigning a federal monitor to oversee the department. At a time when his department is under so much scrutiny, it's incredible that police commissioner Ray Kelly would allow officers to wear such offensive T-shirts on the job.

The Warrant Squad operates without much publicity, but the few stories in the media have been fawning portraits of these cops as action heroes. "They are an elite team of parole officers whose job every day is to track down fugitive felons on the run," began one recent story from WABC's Eyewitness News. "They operate in a world of urgent whispers and silent signals, because every sound and every movement could be the difference between life and death."

Judging by these T-shirts, Warrant Squad officers view themselves in the same way. In reality, they spend most of their time dealing with poor people accused of non-violent violations, misdemeanors and felonies--who comprise the vast majority of New Yorkers who get caught up in the criminal justice system.

In fact, the officer in this photo was taking a woman into Queens misdemeanor court when the picture was taken. So much for the glory of "the hunt."

But the dehumanizing attitude displayed by these T-shirts is no laughing matter. A few years ago, the city settled a lawsuit in which the Warrant Squad was accused of breaking down a Queens grandmother's door, falsely accusing her grandson of murder and then beating him up. The officers let their dog bite him and threatened to run him "against a fence in a maneuver known as the 'cheese grater.'"

One of those officers, Hassan Hamdy, went on last year to shoot and kill unarmed Noel Polanco on a Queens highway after Polanco allegedly cut off the Hamdy's police van.

"The [Hemingway] quote for me signifies a mentality that has been reserved for hunting animals," said Lawrence Hayes, a former Black Panther and longtime community activist. "It has no place in a police force with the duty of protecting citizens. The Warrant Squad should be disbanded and Ray Kelly dismissed for allowing this mentality to infest New York City's police force."

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