Arrested: Walking While Black

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Best alleges that after he was unable to produce any identification he turned to walk away, but was pursued by police. “…then they tackled me, threw me on the ground, put me in a chokehold and put a knee in my back.� His eyes began to fill with tears as he described how he was cuffed and laid out on his stomach on the sidewalk. Best says he was told, “‘We’re not charging you, we’re holding you.’�

Hersel Best says his world was turned upside down on the night of April 8. He says he was walking and singing a Bob Marley tune when he was confronted by three NYPD officers who arrested him for no reason—to make matters worse, the police now say they only “held� him and never “arrested� him, even though Best says he was wrestled to the ground, cuffed, and herded to the precinct. The Police say part of “holding� Best includes taking him to the precinct.
It all started around 10:45 p.m. while Best was walking in front of the James Weldon Johnson Houses on 113th street and 3rd avenue, just blocks from his East Harlem apartment, when he was approached by three NYPD officers and asked to present identification. Best, who works at a graphic design company, was not carrying ID and, according to Best, 26, he was soon on the ground with a knee on his back and heading to the 23rd precinct station; later, officers transported him to the Metropolitan Hospital on 97th street.

Best was admitted at 11:56 for “anxiety and aggressive behavior,â€? according to hospital records he produced. Best was released early the next morning after “psychiatric evaluation.â€? A few hours later, around 7:30 am, he returned to the hospital to get treated for lacerations on his wrists, a bruised ankle, and loss of feeling in his hand allegedly sustained during his detention the night before. The reason listed for treatment on his bill – “alleged assault.â€?  Best has since contacted a lawyer and the Civilian Complaint Review Board.

Officers at the 23rd precinct refused to comment. According Sgt. Accursl, a police spokesman, Best was taken into police custody that night for appearing “emotionally disturbedâ€? in public, adding that he was held “probably for the usual, yelling and screaming.â€?  However, Best maintains that he had been minding his own business, on his way to get cigarettes, at the time he was approached.  “I was in my own world,â€? he adds, “singing Bob Marley.â€? 

Both police reports obtained by Sgt. Accursl, and Best’s own account concur that he was stopped by officers and asked for ID. Sgt. Accursl believes it may have been routine. “Sometimes you get a radio run,â€? he said, referring to the possibility of a complaint. 

Best alleges that after he was unable to produce any identification he turned to walk away, but was pursued by police. “Someone screamed run,â€? Best explained, when interviewed by The Black Star outside the 23rd precinct on Friday, April 15, “then they tackled me, threw me on the ground, put me in a chokehold and put a knee in my back.â€?  His eyes began to fill with tears as he described how he was cuffed and laid out on his stomach on the sidewalk. 
Best claims that he had begged the officers to loosen the cuffs, which were cutting into his wrists, but they refused. “They hadn’t even read me my rights,� Best said of the officers; he was unable to obtain names or badge numbers. When he asked what they were doing, Best says he was told, “‘We’re not charging you, we’re holding you.’�

According to Sgt. Kevin Czartoryski, a police spokesman, officers were not obligated to read Hersel Best his rights, adding that if an individual is “not charged with anything in police custody, we don’t have to read you your rights.â€?  For the same reason there is little information in the precinct records on the incident. The officer stressed that Best had “been heldâ€? in police custody and “not arrested.â€? He added: “If he feels that he was abused, he should file a complaint with the Civilian Complaint Revue Board.â€?

At the time of interview Best had already taken that step. He found Czartoryski’s response inadequate. “If you haven’t done anything, and you know it,â€? Best responded, “this is corrupted.â€?  Best feels that the abusive treatment that he had received was not appropriate as he had not being charged with any crime. He is equally outraged over his delivery to Metropolitan Hospital and forced psychiatric evaluation. The combined expenses of his two hospital visits, evaluation and medical treatment, respectively, amounts to $390.

Best’s co-workers are equally shocked and outraged. “No way, this is impossible, I thought when I heard,� stated Lucy Suarez, his immediate supervisor at Fast Sign, a design company at which Best has worked since last June. She added that Best “is nice, sweet, wonderful to work with, respectful and quiet...�
She said Best holds a degree in graphic design and has consistent work attendance. “It made me angry, it’s not fair.â€? 

Since the event took place on April 8th Best has worked tirelessly to bring attention to his cause. He struggles to avoid shouting or crying when he recounts his injuries. He recalls that he “didn’t sleep for days.� He has consulted a Hauppauge-based attorney about the case and is also reaching out to other media outlets and people in the community.

Best last encounter with the law was a 2001 misdemeanor over marijuana possession; “it was less than a joint’s worth,� he said.
 
If you or anyone you know have been similarly victimized by police, please contact editors@blackstarnews.com For more reports, call (212) 481-7745 to subscribe to the newsstand edition of The Black Star News or click or send your check to 234 5th Avenue, 5th Floor, NY, NY, 10001. Rates are available by clicking on “subscribe� on our home page.

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