Saturday, May 11, 2013

Crime at the farmers market

I was walking to the Sankofa farmers market on St. Claude this morning and had almost arrived when I saw a police officer forcibly pushing a young black man against the wall of the school where the market takes place. I watched as the officer handcuffed the man and then led him over to the police car parked on adjacent Pauline Street.

The cop pulled a number of items, including a fistful of cash, from the man’s pocket, all of which he put on the top of the car’s trunk. Pushing him into a seated position, he then instructed the man to get in the car.
Steve Earle gets his 5-a-day at a recent farmers market

Though I was about 10 feet away from the whole interaction, I did not hear the officer inform the man why he was being detained, if he was being arrested, or what his rights were if he were in fact under arrest. The officer repeatedly asked the man where “the drugs” were, to which the man kept replying that he didn’t have any.

After the man was inside the police car with the door closed, the cop asked me if I had seen the man running from him earlier. “No,” I told him. “I only saw you pushing him against the wall.”

“Well, he has drugs. You don’t see the drugs anywhere?”

“No, sorry,” I said.

A few more cops pulled up soon after, and some of them started looking around the lawn where the farmers market was set up. They told the vendors, including student workers, that they were looking for “a baggie of weed,” and that we should try to prevent children from finding it.

The whole thing was like an outtake from COPS: Amateur Hour. The police didn’t appear to be following a particular procedure for apprehending the man, confiscating and securing his belongings, and searching for the contraband he allegedly had dumped on the ground. Third-grade aspiring archeologists could have done a better job mapping out quadrants on the lawn and methodically looking for the “baggie,” no offense to third-graders intended.

I’m not sure what happened to the man or the contents of his pockets (especially the cash that was left lying on top of the cop car), or if the involved cops know that the recommended punishment for possessing a small amount of marijuana in the City of New Orleans is a summons, not an arrest

I’m pretty sure that whatever benefit to public safety was served by taking this alleged criminal off the streets, was overwhelmed by the negative effect on the student workers at the farmers market who watched yet another incidence of police misconduct against a black man. They were witnesses to the crime of a racist status quo.

And while I can’t exactly condone drug trafficking on school grounds, I also can’t get down with wack cop behavior. Acts of police aggression do not make us safer. They do not reduce crime and they do not build community. They reinforce structures of violent authority, and that’s just not for sale at the farmers market.

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