TBR News June 29, 2020

Jun 29 2020

The Voice of the White House
Like the Titanic, Trump’s ship is slowly sinking into the depths of the sea. How many people will it take with it? A schemer since he was a boy and incapable of either facing reality or telling the truth, Trump most surely is plotting some way to cheat on the presidential voting in Novembe. He did in 2016 and he will at least try in 2020. Probably, if controlling the electronic voting machines doesn’t work,he will try to stir up civil strife so he can call out the police and the military and frantically  try to stay in power, just like his idol, Adolf Hitler. Failure is a word Trump has never understood and he is capable of almost any act to keep failure and shame from him. Very soon, millions of Americans will run out of money, be unable to pay rent or utilities and be without shelter or food and when this happens, the public will not tolerate it and his defeat in November will be assured. That’s when he tries to stay in power by force, not law. Be advised.


Sinners, wrung with true repentance,
Doomed for guilt to endless pains,
Justice now revokes the sentence,
Mercy calls you; break your chains.

Trump’s Approval Rating

June 20

USA Rating

Approve     Disapprove

35%          65%

The Table of Contents

1.The Encyclopedia of American Loons – Mike Pence
2.A cash cliff spells trouble for U.S. unemployed, and everyone else
3.Trump’s brother tries again to block niece’s tell-all book after failed attempt
4.Rewriting History & Rehabilitating George W Bush
5.What Law did we break?

The Encyclopedia of American Loons

Mike Pence


A.k.a. A disturbingly good reason to be hesitant about wanting President Trump impeached even if the opportunity were to arise.

Mike Pence, the 48th Vice President of the US and formerly Governor of Indiana, radio show host and Represenative from Indiana’s 6th District, is a fundamentalist science denialist and occasional conspiracy theorist. Though appearing to many to be far more balanced, stable and boring than Trump, it is possible to make a case for the claim that Pence is, in many ways, crazier.

Fundamentalism, anti-gay campaigning and anti-feminism

Claiming to have received his political mandate from Jesus himself, Pence has long campaigned to obliterate the distinction between religion and politics, and maintains a close relationship with various dominionists (although it would admittedly be an exaggeration to call him a dominionist himself). Indeed, he first received national attention when he introduced (and signed into law) a bill that would allow private individuals and companies to discriminate against LGBT people on “religious freedom” grounds.

In 2000 (Pence’s history of anti-gay campaigning is as long as it is insane), Pence stated that “Congress should oppose any effort to recognize homosexuals as a ‘discrete and insular minority’ entitled to the protection of anti-discrimination laws similar to those extended to women and ethnic minorities,” and his campaign website called for “an audit to ensure that federal dollars were no longer being given to organizations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus” but rather redirect resources toward institutions that “provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior”. Meanwhile, homosexuality “is incompatible with military service because the presence of homosexuals in the ranks weakens unit cohesion.” According to Pence, Obama thus wanted to “advance a radical social agenda,” and he falsely claimed that anti-discrimination efforts would mean that pastors “could be charged or be subject to intimidation for simply expressing a Biblical worldview on the issue of homosexual behavior.” As for marriage equality, Pence has reminded us that “societal collapse was always brought about following an advent of the deterioration of marriage and family”. This is incorrect.

Pence is known to adhere to the rule that men should avoid spending time alone with women to whom they are not married, ostensibly to avoid temptation. He seems less than cognizant about what the rule tells us about his character. It is worth thinking about.

As a radio show host, Pence expressed numerous notable opinions about a variety of subject matters. In 1999, he argued, in an op-ed, that the Disney film Mulanwas a piece of liberal, feminist propaganda: “Obviously, this is Walt Disney’s attempt to add childhood expectation to the cultural debate over the role of women in the military,” though he seemed very satisfied that Disney apparently undercut their own argument by letting Mulan fall in love: “Moral of story: women in military, bad idea,” said Pence.


“Despite the hysteria from the political class and the media, smoking doesn’t kill” – Mike Pence

Pence is a creationist and has a long history of advocating intelligent design creationism, arguing for instance that evolution is “just a theory” and “just one of many theories”; apparently it follows that these many theories are all equal. Also, the science of evolution hasn’t remained the same since Darwin; therefore it must obviously be bullshit. (It is, in other words, abundantly clear that Pence doesn’t have the faintest idea what a scientific theory in general, and the theory of evolution in particular, actually is). In a 2002 statement on the floor of the House of Representatives Pence told his colleagues that “… I also believe that someday scientists will come to see that only the theory of intelligent design provides even a remotely rational explanation for the known universe.” Wishful thinking comes no more delusional than that.

Pence recommends abstinence-only sex education, which demonstrably doesn’t work to achieve the stated aims. But facts be damned when purity and spiritual hygiene are at stake. For similar reasons, Pence claimed that “condoms are a very, very poor protection against sexually transmitted diseases.”

As for embryonic stem cell research, Pence is opposed to it, wants it banned, and claims that there are alternatives that “obviate” the need for embryonic research, which is bullsit.

Pence also has a long backstory as a climate change denier; he “does not accept the scientific consensus that human activity is the primary driver of climate change,” and claims that “global warming is a myth” and part of a “liberal environmentalist agenda” to raise taxes. Indeed, according to Pence “the earth is actually cooler today than it was about 50 years ago”. This is incorrect, but Pence has probably realized that with his intended audiences there really is no limit to how egregiously he can lie and get away with it; a similar example is when he imagined his way to the claim that there is “growing skepticism in the scientific community about global warming.” After all, Pence has patiently tried to explain to them that CO2 can’t cause global warming because CO2is a “naturally occurring phenomenon”. More recently, however, Pence has actually come out admitting that he, with a bit of hedging and lots of hesitation, accepts that “there’s no question” that human activity affects climate and the environment. If you expect a more reasonable voting and policy-related behavior, you probably shouldn’t hold your breath, however.

Finally, Pence is largely responsible for passing “the cruel sham known as right-to-try”, which is largely, and despite the rhetoric, an effort to limit the powers of the FDA to intervene when scams are pushed on people in desperate situations.

He denies that he is anti-science, though. He just rejects the parts he disagrees with. He likes the rest.


Keep in mind that Pence has argued at length for impeaching Trump.

Diagnosis: Fundamentalist anti-scientists are hardly uncommon; neither are fundamentalist anti-scientists in positions of power. But few of them (there are admittedly some) have more power than Mike Pence.

A cash cliff spells trouble for U.S. unemployed, and everyone else
June 29, 2020
by Jonnelle Marte and Ann Saphir

(Reuters) – Judith Ramirez is bracing for July. That’s when the hotel housekeeper and her electrician husband – who have both been out of work for three months – expect their combined unemployment benefits to drop by more than half, and their deferred $1,500 monthly mortgage payment on their Honolulu home to come due.

It’s a cash cliff millions of Americans face this summer as the emergency benefits — which lifted U.S. consumer incomes by a record 10.8% in April — expire. The loss of that safety net looms in the weeks ahead, well before a sustained recovery is likely to take hold from the sudden and deep recession brought on by the novel coronavirus. Personal income dropped 4.2% in May, data Friday showed.

The $600 supplement Congress added to weekly unemployment benefits is due to expire July 31.

Without new support, recipients face a substantial loss of income – particularly devastating for those like the Ramirez family who worked in hard-hit sectors like hospitality where new jobs are scarce. During high unemployment and a still-raging pandemic, the end of enhanced jobless benefits could drag on consumer spending, set off a wave of missed rent and mortgage payments and translate to a slower recovery, economists said.

That’s a great concern for Rachel Finchum, 55, who lost her job at a Nashville-based T-shirt printing company after 18 years. She has sought forbearance on her mortgage but is worried about what will happen when the government programs run out.

“I’m very scared to think I may not be able to make my bills,” Finchum said. “With my future so uncertain, I have a house payment and bills based on 18 years of what I was making.”


As the novel coronavirus pandemic exploded in March and local authorities shut down large parts of the U.S. economy, the Trump administration and Congress softened the blow by moving quickly to roll out a patchwork of emergency aid.

The centerpiece: stimulus checks for most households and more generous unemployment benefits for tens of millions of newly jobless Americans.

The combined cash aid provided $3 in support for every $1 in lost income in April, Oxford Economics’ Gregory Daco estimated. And until it expires on July 31, the extra $600 weekly unemployment payment on average makes up for income lost due to unemployment and reduced hours, he said.

Indeed about two-thirds people eligible for unemployment benefits can collect more in benefits than they earned while working, researchers from the University of Chicago found.

For low-wage workers like Ramirez, the help was particularly critical. Households across the board slashed spending as coronavirus-related restrictions began in March. But after the government began issuing stimulus checks, lower-income households resumed spending much faster than higher income households, with much of the cash going to basics like utilities and groceries, said Michael Stepner of Harvard University’s Opportunity Insights.

Outlays by low-income households are now only about 3% below pre-crisis levels, versus minus 13% for high-income households.

When the extra benefits run out, jobless benefits will revert to their typical pre-pandemic levels, low by design to encourage people to look hard for work. In 15 states, the maximum unemployment benefit would replace less than half of the median earnings for a worker with a high school diploma, according to Kathryn Anne Edwards, a labor economist for the RAND Corporation.

That may pressure some people short on cash to risk their health to take a low-paying job at a restaurant or delivery company, which may expose them to the virus, said Julia Coronado, president of MacroPolicy Perspectives and a former Federal Reserve economist. “That’s a very terrible choice for our policymakers to be telling people they need to make,” she said.

And with unemployment expected to stay high and businesses in some sectors unable to open, many won’t be able to find even those jobs, she said.

The drop-off in support is also a problem for the economy as a whole, reducing GDP by 2.5% in the second half of 2020, estimated Jason Furman, a Harvard professor who ran the Council of Economic Advisors under President Barack Obama.

Congress may consider at least a partial extension of the benefits, but the uncertainty is making some families cautious about their spending, said Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s Analytics.

“Lower-income households are worried that the pandemic will re-intensify and disrupt their incomes further,” said Zandi. “They are also unsure of how much – if any – more help is coming from Washington D.C.”

Ramirez, 40, spent a month chasing down her unemployment benefits after she stopped working in late March. When the payments finally started arriving, Ramirez banked them to build a cushion.

Knowing that the benefits are going to be reduced dramatically and unsure of when they’ll get back to work, Ramirez and her husband are living frugally. To save money on groceries, they wake up at 5 a.m. about once a week to get in line at a nearby food bank.

Ramirez will likely have reduced hours if she gets her job back in August, her manager told her. The hotel that employed her husband is still shut down.

“We need to have a backup,” said Ramirez, whose daughters are ages 1 and 5. “I have children to feed.”

For Finchum in Nashville, there is no prospect of a return to her old job. Her employers were nearing retirement so decided to close the business down when the pandemic struck.

“The stimulus package has been a life saver,” she said.

Additional reporting by Anna Irrera in New York; Editing by Dan Burns and Cynthia Osterman

Trump’s brother tries again to block niece’s tell-all book after failed attempt
Robert Trump takes his bid to stop publication of Mary Trump’s ‘Too Much and Never Enough’ to the New York supreme court
June 29. 2020
by Alison Flood
The Guardian

Donald Trump’s brother is making a second attempt to block publication of the much-anticipated book by their niece Mary Trump, about “the damaged man who currently occupies the Oval Office”, shortly after his first lawsuit was dismissed.

Robert Trump’s attempt to stop Mary’s memoir Too Much and Never Enough was dismissed in a Queens county court in New York on 25 June, with surrogate court judge Peter Kelly calling the bid to stop the book “fatally defective”. However, Robert Trump filed another motion in New York State supreme court in Dutchess County on 26 June. As well as seeking to block publication, the lawsuit is looking for potential damages and for a declaration that Mary has breached the confidentiality agreement she signed in 2001, relating to litigation over her grandfather Fred Trump’s will.

Mary is a trained clinical psychologist and the daughter of Donald Trump’s late brother Fred Trump Jr, who died in 1981 from a heart attack after struggling with alcoholism. Her book, set to be published on 28 July, is reported to allege that both his father, Fred Sr, and Donald “contributed to his death and neglected him at critical stages of his addiction”.

Her publisher Simon & Schuster has claimed that Mary is “the only Trump willing to tell the truth about one of the world’s most powerful and dysfunctional families”.

Robert’s second lawsuit lays out the details of the confidentiality agreement Mary signed in 2001, saying it provided “that the parties who had objected to Fred Trump’s will, including Mary Trump … would not publish any account concerning the litigation or their relationship with each other”.

Acknowledging that Robert has not seen Mary’s forthcoming book, the lawsuit says it is clear from details provided to the media that the book will reveal that Mary provided the family’s confidential tax returns to the New York Times, as well as “insight into the supposed ‘inner workings’ of the Trump family”, “allegations that the late Fred Trump and the president neglected Mary’s father, Fred Trump Jr, supposedly contributing to his early death”, and “Mary Trump’s personal observations, allegedly informed by her training as a psychologist, about her supposedly ‘toxic’ family”.

A Trump family lawyer told the court in a memo that the family wanted to move fast to avoid “the situation presented in the recent case of United States v Bolton”, according to Publishers Weekly. The John Bolton case saw a federal judge decline to block the publication of the former national security adviser’s tell-all book, noting that hundreds of thousands of copies of The Room Where It Happened had already been shipped and excerpts had been published.

A letter from Mary’s lawyer to the court on 26 June said she would be fighting the motion to block publication.

“The First Amendment unquestionably protects Ms Trump’s right to participate in the electoral debate by writing and having published her work concerning the president’s character and fitness for office, and it independently protects the right of defendant Simon & Schuster, Inc, to publish it as well,” says the letter.

Rewriting History & Rehabilitating George W Bush
Obama’s recent glowing comments about the 43rd president surely came as a shock to anyone who still has a functioning memory of the Bush years
June 26, 2020
Consortium News

The liberal rehabilitation of George W. Bush is now virtually complete, with his successor Barack Obama declaring this week that the 43rd president was committed to the rule of law, despite all evidence to the contrary. In an online fundraiser for presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden Tuesday night, Obama stated that Bush “had a basic regard for the rule of law and the importance of our institutions of democracy.”

Obama, who ran for president in 2008 with promises to restore habeas corpus and uphold the rule of law, went on to claim that when Bush was president, “we cared about human rights” and were committed to “core principles around the rule of law and the universal dignity of people.”

Obama’s comments surely came as a shock to anyone who still has a functioning memory of the Bush years and hasn’t succumbed entirely to the effects of Trump Derangement Syndrome. Rather than being a champion of democratic principles, when Bush left office, he left behind a shameful legacy of upended human rights norms including due process and the legal prohibition against torture.

If 2008 Obama could speak today with 2020 Obama, he might remind himself that Bush had started a “dumb war” in Iraq in violation of the UN Charter, launched a warrantless surveillance program of Americans and that he had established a penal colony in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in violation of the Geneva Conventions.

As Obama himself said in said in 2013, during the Bush years, “we compromised our basic values – by using torture to interrogate our enemies, and detaining individuals in a way that ran counter to the rule of law.”

Bush’s ‘Rule of Law’

At the heart of Bush’s approach to the “rule of law” was the rejection of any independent court evaluation of its detentions. Without judicial review, the U.S. government didn’t need to present any evidence to show that a person actually had ties to Al Qaeda or was otherwise guilty of a crime. The Bush position also held that once designated as Al Qaeda members, individuals have no legal protections against torture.

He dismissed provisions of the Geneva Conventions as “quaint” and offered legal rationales that justify torture in cases of “military necessity.”

Bush’s approach to the “war on terror” was in fact a steady descent into the “dark side,” as Vice President Dick Cheney had called it. A subsequent Senate investigation found that the torture program instituted by the Bush administration following 9/11 employed gruesome techniques such as near drowning, forcing detainees to stand on broken legs, threatening to kill or rape detainees’ family members, forced “rectal feeding” and “rectal hydration.” It also offered disturbing details on a medieval “black site” prison in Afghanistan known as the Salt Pit, where at least one detainee froze to death.

The brutal interrogation sessions lasted in many cases non-stop for days or weeks at a time, leading to effects such as “hallucinations, paranoia, insomnia, and attempts at self-harm and self-mutilation,” and produced little to no useful information. CIA agents had illegally detained 26 of the 119 individuals in CIA custody, and the interrogation techniques used on detainees went beyond the methods that had been approved by the Bush Justice Department or CIA’s headquarters (guidelines that were likely overly permissive in the first place).

Calls for Accountability

When the Senate torture report was released in late 2014, it was met with calls for accountability from around the world. The United Nations, the European Union, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, as well as numerous governments, all demanded that those responsible for the illegal torture program face justice. The U.S. was reminded that as a matter of international law, it was legally obligated to prosecute the perpetrators of the torture program.

Some of the strongest words came from the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counterterrorism Ben Emmerson, who stated unequivocally that senior officials from the Bush administration who sanctioned crimes, as well as the CIA and U.S. government officials who carried them out, must be brought to justice. “It is now time to take action,” the UN rapporteur said.

Needless to say, no one was ever prosecuted by the Obama administration’s Justice Department. And now, Obama not only excuses these abuses, but he actually claims that Bush was committed to “the rule of law and the universal dignity of people.” A charitable explanation for Obama’s comments is that he was trying to draw a distinction between the Trump administration and every other president, and to draw this distinction, he made a clumsy attempt to draw an exaggerated contrast.

Obama’s Damaging Comments

But considering that 6-in-10 Americans now have a favorable view of Bush, almost twice as much as the 33 percent who gave him a favorable mark when he left office in 2009, it should be appreciated how impressionable Americans are and how damaging comments such as Obama’s can be. Much of Bush’s ascent to popularity has come from Democrats, 54 percent of whom now approve of the Bush presidency. Democrats’ change of heart appears to be primarily motivated by Bush’s opposition to Trump, which apparently has absolved him of his many failings while president.

This historic shift in attitudes was abetted by many liberals who have helped refurbish Bush’s image, including daytime talk show host Ellen DeGeneres and former First Lady Michelle Obama.

To hear Barack Obama now making the claim that Bush was committed to the rule of law and human rights is just the latest betrayal of a Democratic Party that has systematically prevented a reckoning for the crimes of the 43rd president, a party that is clearly uninterested in truth or accountability, and is more than willing to rewrite history to advance its political goals.

Only time will tell how America is affected in the long term by this rewriting of history.

How the NYPD Weaponized a Curfew Against Protesters and Residents
June 28, 2020
by Ryan Devereaux
The Intercept




HUSAN BLUE, his family, and his neighbors were having a cookout on the patio outside their apartment in Crown Heights. It was a warm summer night in Brooklyn. Little kids were running around and playing. People were talking and celebrating. Blue’s dad had just had a birthday, and a couple of the neighbors had new babies on the way. “It was a calm night,” Blue told me. “There was a lot of things to be happy about.” Around 11:30p.m., Blue made a run to the corner store. When the 30-year-old came back, a small army of police officers in riot gear were gathered outside his building. They were dressed, in Blue’s words, “for war.”

Blue asked his family and friends what was going on, and quickly learned that the police had ordered them to go inside. New York City was three days into a newly imposed curfew, the first in 75 years, announced in a joint statement by Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo as a measure to restore order amid the protests and looting that followed the killing of George Floyd by Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin. Blue had done his research, and he was fairly certain that the curfew, which was focused on public areas, did not apply to private property. Nonetheless, there was nothing to be gained in testing the New York Police Department. “Let’s clean up,” he said. “No need to get hostile.”

Blue and his father were packing up when a ranking officer in a white shirt began putting his hands on people, shoving them inside the building. “Get the fuck inside!” Blue recalled the officer shouting as he pressed forward. From his vantage point on the patio, Blue could see into the building’s lobby. He watched as the officer shoved his mother from one side of the room to the other. She fell to the ground, her spine colliding with the sharp edge of a staircase. “My instinct is to protect my mother,” Blue said. “I don’t know what else they’re capable of.” He rushed inside, hands in the air. As he reached out, an officer grabbed Blue by the arm. He was slammed to the floor a short distance from his mother, who was still struggling to get back on her feet.

The officers piled on, driving their knees into Blue’s torso. They yanked his arms behind his back and zip-tied his wrists together. Blue had shoulder surgery just four days prior, his stitches were still in. The pain was excruciating. “I’m on the floor and they’re cursing at me, calling me a nigger,” he said. Two other men Blue was arrested with also recalled police using the slur. “They don’t say it out loud, they whisper in your ear while they’ve got you on the floor,” Blue’s friend, 30-year-old Samuel Gifford, told BuzzFeed News. Pinned to the ground, Blue’s mind raced. He thought of the videos he had seen over the years. The bad ones. The ones where a young Black man dies at the end. “I’m just in shock that I’m going through something that I see on Facebook every day,” he said. He tried to hold it together, telling himself, “I’m not gonna make the situation worse. I’m not going to resist arrest.”

Video shot from inside Blue’s building shows uniformed officers in helmets swarming into his hallway, sticking their heads into individual apartments and ordering outraged residents to stay inside. A tall, white officer slapped the protective shield of his helmet over his face and gripped his nightstick with both hands as he barked orders at an elderly Black woman pushing her walker away from the scene. Approximately 20 police vehicles and a helicopter responded to the barbecue. At least one young woman was pepper-sprayed outside the property. Blue was dragged out of his building, thrown onto the hood of a car, punched in the mouth, and tossed onto the pavement — all with his hands tied behind his back. “They picked me up like I’m a bag of garbage and then slammed me in the middle of the street,” he said.

Blue and his brother, who was clubbed over the head while pleading with the visor-wearing officer to ease up, were taken to the NYPD’s 71st Precinct and then to central booking; roughly a dozen of the cookout attendees were arrested in total. They spent the night crowded into a filthy cell. Between the people peeing in the corner and spitting on the floor, Blue said, “You wouldn’t want to lay down.” When he was finally released the next morning, Blue learned that he had been charged with “obstruction of governmental administration,” an offense the NYPD often cites in protest situations when officers have no observed violation of the law to point to. To Blue, it made little sense: He and his neighbors were on their own private property, minding their own business when the NYPD came crashing in.

“Honestly,” he asked, “What law did we break?”

Miles away and hours earlier, the police were engaged in another beatdown. As the clock struck 8 p.m. on Thursday, June 4, marking the beginning of curfew hours, bicycle-mounted police in body armor swarmed on protesters in the Bronx in what witnesses and journalists described as a well-laid trap. “Without any warning or apparent provocation, protesters found themselves trapped in a shrinking crush of bodies, facing a whirl of batons and bikes in either direction,” Gothamist reported. “Those who attempted to flee were tackled to the ground and arrested. Others pleaded with officers to de-escalate, begging them to evacuate a pregnant woman. As protesters gasped for air, a dense fog of pepper spray descended over the crowd, launching several people into a protracted choking fit.”

Protesters were left bleeding, and at least two were carried out on stretchers. Legal observers and medics were among the more than 250 people loaded into awaiting police vans. Devaughnta Williams, a 27-year-old janitor clocking out of work was swept up as well, despite the fact that essential workers were supposedly shielded from NYPD curfew enforcement. A week later, the lifelong Bronx resident was still in jail, leaving his wife and three young children at home without him.

The operation was “executed nearly flawlessly,” NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea told reporters the following morning. Shea’s boss seemed to agree. Confronted with firsthand accounts of police violence, de Blasio falsely claimed that the Bronx protesters had been given an opportunity to leave before the NYPD moved in. In an interview with WNYC’s Brian Lehrer, the mayor flatly denied that a mountain of video evidence showing officers using violence against protesters suggested a problem with the department. “There was explicit warning in the case of that gathering in the Bronx,” de Blasio said. “Groups organizing that event advertised their desire to do violence and create conflict.” When Lehrer pressed further, the mayor accused the veteran radio journalist of failing to maintain objectivity and spreading fake news. “I don’t know what your reporters are telling you,” de Blasio said. Later on, the mayor urged a caller to question what her eyes were telling her. “Sometimes what we see with our own eyes is the whole story and that means fast investigation and fast action,” he said. “Sometimes it’s not the whole story.”

The mayor did not mention the flurry of emails his closest aides were sending the night before, when his head of community affairs requested that a medic be sent to the scene to rescue de Blasio’s own liaisons, who were trapped “behind the line.”

Brooklyn, NY – JUNE 23, 2020 Husan Blue was arrested when a team of NYPD officers in riot gear ordered residence indoors during a city-wide curfew meant to quell Black Lives Matter protests across New York City. Blue says cop harassed residents on the patio area despite the fact that they were not participating in the protest and were on their own property. CREDIT: Melissa Bunni Elian for The InterceptHusan Blue was arrested when a team of NYPD officers in riot gear ordered residents indoors during a citywide curfew meant to quell Black Lives Matter protests across New York City. Photo: Melissa Bunni Elian for The Intercept

While New York City’s curfew is now over, important questions remain. For six days, law enforcement had a pretext to openly conduct the kind of crackdown that would normally take place in the shadows. In the span of a week — May 28 through June 4 — the NYPD arrested more than 2,500 people for their involvement in activities related to the protests against police violence, more than any other protest-related multiday arrest total in recent memory. Nearly 1,350 people were issued summonses for curfew violations, a majority of them Black or Hispanic, and contrary to the claims coming out of City Hall, many of those arrests were violent. Despite the fact that just a few weeks prior, New York City was considered the global epicenter of the coronavirus, individuals who were cited for curfew violations were physically processed through the system, rather than being issued a ticket. Once in custody, some arrestees reported that the masks they were wearing to protect themselves from Covid-19 were taken by the NYPD. Public defenders saw others disappear into the system altogether, whereabouts unknown, for up to 24 hours.

The events associated with the protests in New York have their own title in the NYPD’s filing system: Civil Disorder 2020. It’s unclear how many of those events might be cases like Husan Blue’s: incidents totally unconnected to protesting, in which the curfew was used to arrest residents going about their daily lives. What is clear is that in addition to Blue’s arrest, local and federal authorities capitalized on the curfew to conduct a fishing expedition targeting individuals whose politics the Trump administration has deemed tantamount to domestic terrorism. In recent weeks, I have spoken to five individuals who were arrested by the NYPD for curfew violations, then turned over to the FBI for questioning, including a former staffer to the mayor and a local EMT. None were accused of anything remotely resembling a violent crime. All described the bureau’s intense focus on the “outside agitators” supposedly hijacking the nationwide protest movement.

In some respects, New York City’s protests followed a familiar historical script, with police and local officials gesturing at a loose network of unidentified leftists as the source of unrest, and videos of cops beating up protesters leading to more protests. There were even some familiar faces involved. In the Bronx, the white-shirted officer orchestrating operations was Deputy Chief Terence Monahan, the NYPD’s highest-ranking uniformed official, who days earlier was filmed taking a knee with protesters. In 2004, Monahan was the subject of a series of complaints concerning the mass arrests he oversaw during the Republican National Convention.

For the most part, the NYPD’s street-level tactics were not new, said Gideon Oliver, a New York City civil rights attorney who spent years litigating on behalf of protesters arrested in the RNC crackdown, before going on to serve as president of the local chapter of the National Lawyers Guild during the 2011 Occupy Wall Street protests. “It is a massive and sustained show of force by the police department that in many ways was consistent with crowd control protest response practices that we’ve seen in the past,” he said. Still, the 2020 uprising was distinct. The RNC protests were planned more than a year in advance, Oliver explained, and involved people driving in from all over the country. The police made more than 1,800 arrests, and the city paid more than $35 million to settle lawsuits and cover lawyers’ fees as a result. Arrest totals from the George Floyd protests, which unfolded organically with blinding speed in every state in the union, quickly sailed past those of the RNC. “Twenty-five hundred arrests is just an extraordinarily large number of arrests to occur over a week’s period of protest,” Oliver said. “It’s certainly unprecedented as far as I know.”

Another thing that was new this time around: the curfew. “The curfew provided total cover for the police department to go wild,” Oliver said. “Because it provided a total pretext for them to arrest anyone at any moment.”

Losing Control

When I first emailed the NYPD a list of questions for this story, the department’s press shop sent me a 23-minute audio clip from a press conference Commissioner Shea gave on June 4. The audio begins with a dramatic radio distress call reporting the stabbing of an officer in Brooklyn the night before and ends with the sound of a woman screaming in terror. At the press conference, the clip was accompanied by body camera and surveillance video from around the city. “Look at those images,” the commissioner told the assembled reporters. “Look at them. You can hear the horrific pleading in some of them.” The commissioner later acknowledged that the NYPD had no evidence linking the stabbing to the protests.

In the world Shea laid out, the first weeks of June 2020 were a policing nightmare. In the face of well-coordinated groups of teenagers and young people, more than 36,000 police officers, a force larger than some national armies, had failed in one of their central missions: protecting high-end Manhattan businesses from looting and property damage. Police vehicles were torched, and there were multiple instances of protesters allegedly throwing Molotov cocktails at NYPD personnel or property. The commissioner rattled off reports of anarchists grabbing bricks from construction sites, a protester arrested “five minutes ago” carrying a loaded gun, and a car intercepted from out of state, driven by two men in possession of “gravity knives, bricks, rope, pepper spray and cans of gasoline.”

Brooklyn, NY – JUNE 23, 2020 Husan Blue’s arrest unfolded in this hallway of his childhood apartment. A team of NYPD officers in riot gear harassed residents into their homes on the fourth night of New York City’s curfew, which was imposed to discourage Black Lives Matter protesters. When Blue’s mother was pushed to the ground her back hit the left set of stairs. Police pinned him to the ground before the stairs on the right. At one point the were both on the ground across from one another.    CREDIT: Melissa Bunni Elian for The InterceptHusan Blue’s arrest unfolded in this hallway of his childhood apartment. A team of NYPD officers in riot gear harassed residents into their homes on the fourth night of New York City’s curfew. Photo: Melissa Bunni Elian for The Intercept

“What was their intent?” Shea asked. Relevant as the question seemed to be, he did not say.

What mattered more was the portrait Shea was painting, of a city descending into mayhem. “This is violence, pure and simple,” he said. “This is what fear feels like if we lose control.”

The unrest was rooted in a toxic mix of facts, rumor, and misinformation, driven by social and mainstream media alike, the commissioner argued. “The vitriol becomes oxygen that will fuel the fires of discord and violence,” he said. Shea identified three groups shaping conditions on the ground: “anarchists,” “looters,” and “core protesters, who are worried that violence is hijacking their message and sabotaging their cause.” The curfew was a means of isolating the problematic elements, he explained, and its enforcement was left to the discretion of officers on the ground. Where post-curfew arrests were made, the commissioner said, they were made “strategically, because of the violence, looting, intelligence that we have, or other factors.”

For all of the talk of outsiders, the most aggressive of the NYPD’s operations — the arrests in the Bronx — targeted local Black abolitionist groups and organizers from the community. Nonetheless, Shea’s dissection of who was in the streets echoed the views of his top counterterrorism and intelligence official.

Four days prior, John Miller, the NYPD’s deputy commissioner for intelligence and counterterrorism, told NBC New York that the department had evidence of “anarchist leaders” using encrypted communications to coordinate between “a complex network of bicycle scouts” and vandals lurking among peaceful protesters. “Before the protests began, organizers of certain anarchists groups set out to raise bail money,” Miller said. In addition, “they set out to recruit medics and medical teams” in anticipation of violent encounters with police. These individuals were “prepared to commit property damage,” the counterterrorism chief said, “and directed people who were following them that this should be done selectively and only in wealthier areas or at high-end stores run by corporate entities.”

While encrypted apps, cyclists coordinating traffic, and bail funds are all standard elements of protesting in the 21st century, the NYPD wasn’t alone in pointing the finger at outside agitators pulling the protests’ strings.

On May 31, the same day Miller spoke to NBC New York, President Donald Trump tweeted that the U.S. government would designate the leaderless movement against fascism known as antifa as a domestic terrorist organization. Attorney General William Barr, the most powerful law enforcement official in the country, followed the president’s tweet with a formal Justice Department statement declaring that “the voices of peaceful and legitimate protests” had been “hijacked” by “outside radicals and agitators.” All 56 of the federal government’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces were being called up to respond, the attorney general reported.

“The violence instigated and carried out by Antifa and other similar groups in connection with the rioting is domestic terrorism and will be treated accordingly,” Barr said, adding that the JTTFs, which partner FBI agents with state and local authorities, would be tasked with identifying “criminal organizers and instigators.” The following day, the curfew in New York City began.

With Trump beating the antifa drum, the Facebook conspiracy machine went to work, and soon small towns were arming themselves in preparation for buses of leftists to arrive. So far, none of the dozens of serious federal prosecutions associated with the recent protests have tied defendants to antifa. Federal authorities have, however, arrested multiple far-right extremists engaged in efforts to ignite a civil war through crimes ranging from the plotting of terror attacks, to the assassination of a federal court security guard and the killing of a sheriff’s deputy.

For those who would look out at the protests for racial justice and see a Trojan horse for the left-wing takeover of American society, Barr might be an attractive figure to coordinate a response. As a college student at Columbia University, he organized counterprotests and physically fought opponents of the war in Vietnam. He went on to rise through the ranks of the CIA at a time when the agency was deep in illegal domestic surveillance operations, many of them targeting leftists. During his first stint as attorney general in the ’90s, Barr coordinated the federal government’s response to the L.A. riots and built a massive drug war surveillance program that swept up billions of phone call records from the U.S. without first checking to see if it was legal.

In his second turn as the country’s top prosecutor, Barr inherited the enormous power of the post-9/11 national security state, and with Trump setting the agenda by tweet, it didn’t take long for that apparatus to make its presence known in New York City.

The King of Antifa

By the time Husan Blue’s barbecue was raided in Crown Heights, Hannah Shaw was just on her way out of NYPD custody.

Up until last fall, Shaw was a contractor in de Blasio’s Office of Economic Opportunity. Before that, she worked with the mayor’s criminal justice office. The 34-year-old and her sister were among a large group of protesters marching through downtown Brooklyn on the night of June 4. The police had been following the march for some time without incident. Just before 9:30, they moved in. “Suddenly my arms are behind my back and a baton was at my sister’s neck,” Shaw recalled. Though the crowd was large, Shaw was the only demonstrator taken into custody. She was transported to the NYPD’s 78th Precinct where she was placed in a cell with a cyclist still wearing his clip-in shoes. “He clearly hadn’t been participating in a protest,” Shaw said.

As she waited to be processed, Shaw and her cellmates were informed by NYPD officials that “the feds” wanted a word with them. Shaw was led to a hallway area, where two men in plainclothes began to ask questions. The men were chummy, though they did not mention who they worked for. “This isn’t about you,” they said. “We just want to talk to you a little bit about what’s going on at the protests.” Shaw asked if she was obligated to answer their questions and when she was told she was not, she was taken back to her cell.

The interviews were not an isolated incident. Just hours before Shaw was arrested, The Intercept published a story recounting a similar pattern of events. The previous evening, around 11 p.m., Joel Feingold, a tenant organizer, stepped out of his Crown Heights apartment, drawn by the sound of police violently arresting a group of protesters. Feingold was tackled by a senior NYPD officer and he, too, was taken the 78th Precinct and interviewed by two men. An officer on duty that night told Feingold that one of the men was a member of the NYPD’s Intelligence Bureau. He was big, bulky, and had the bearing of a city cop. The other was an FBI agent. He was slick, Feingold said, more put-together than his NYPD counterpart. The agent handled the more political elements of the interview, telling Feingold, “We want to know who’s hijacking your movement and making it violent.”

Feingold, who declined to answer the question, was the last of the four men in his cell to be called in. The others were picked up while marching in Brooklyn. Andrew Miele, a Ph.D. student, said the FBI agent identified himself as a bureau employee and asked if Miele had witnessed any protesters instigating violence. The protest was peaceful, Miele told him, the only violence he witnessed was instigated by the police. The interview couldn’t have lasted more than five minutes, Miele recalled: “I wasn’t interested in having a conversation.”

Next up was Shunt Ovanosian, an EMT whom the NYPD had tackled into a wall and thrown onto the street. This time, the agent began by explaining how there were two sets of people in the streets: the peaceful protesters, and then the rioters and the looters. He asked Ovanosian if he had come across any “outside agitators — people who are handing out bricks, people who are trying to start things.” Ovanosian had the same answer as Miele; things were peaceful until the police got involved. The conversation grew increasingly uncomfortable when the agent asked Ovanosian if he would report people getting out of line. “It felt like he was asking me to wear a wire to a protest,” Ovanosian said. “I’m not gonna do that.”

Both Ovanosian and another arrestee, Jared Day, recalled the agent’s interest in the social media accounts that led them to the protests, and whether they frequented Reddit. “The main thing they were focusing on was the organizers,” Day told me. “‘Did you know any of their names? How did you know that they were the organizers?’ Things like that.” To get at that information, the FBI agent suggested retrieving Day’s phone and going through the accounts he follows; Day declined the invitation. Day, who described being asked whether he attended protests in Ferguson, Missouri, after mentioning that he was from St. Louis, said that while his interviewers did mention white supremacists, their focus leaned left. “They were really heavily trying to put that there was outside agitators or antifa,” he said. Miele, who returned to the cell declaring “I am the king of antifa!” said that the “outside agitator” angle was clear. He pondered whether the FBI was just going through the bureaucratic motions, or if the bureau was incapable of recognizing that people might take to the street without being beckoned by shadowy left-wing forces. Either way, he said, “It was ridiculous.

For Shaw, whose relationship to the protests was informed by her time in City Hall, where she had seen the mayor repeatedly and righteously denounce the authoritarianism of Donald Trump, the experience was surreal. “Under this administration, in this political moment, the fact that the NYPD is handing folks over for questioning by the FBI, and that’s being done under the cover of the mayor of New York City’s curfew,” she said, “it’s just kind of mind blowing.”

All of the individuals I spoke to who were arrested during the curfew and subsequently interviewed by the FBI were only charged with curfew violations. Less than a week after they were released, Marty Stolar began making calls.

For the past three decades, Stolar and a small circle of colleagues have been the legal watchdogs ensuring that the NYPD is in compliance with guidelines laid out in a lawsuit known as Handschu v. Special Services Division. Born in the wake of a historic 1971 trial in which 21 Black Panthers were tried and acquitted of plotting a series of attacks in New York City, the case called into question a history of the NYPD targeting leftists — one that stretched back to the early 1900s and featured the use of specialized units with names like the Red Squad, the Anarchist Squad, and the Radical Bureau.

Litigated over nearly a decade, the suit came as Americans were learning of sweeping CIA and FBI domestic spying programs targeting the left. The bureau’s most infamous program, COINTELPRO, routinely targeted African American organizers, groups, and movements. The Handschu agreement sought to stop the NYPD from running its own COINTELPRO-style operations by prohibiting any component of the department other than its intelligence division from launching investigations into political activity and requiring that those investigations be based on hard evidence of criminal activity.

As reports of joint FBI-NYPD interrogations began rolling in earlier this month, Stolar went to work. If the accounts were true, there was a strong likelihood the NYPD would be in violation of Handschu. It wouldn’t be the first time.

Rather than coming to a close, the suit remained open, so that Stolar and his partners could revive the litigation if the NYPD ran afoul of its rules.

As reports of joint FBI-NYPD interrogations began rolling in earlier this month, Stolar went to work. If the accounts were true, there was a strong likelihood the NYPD would be in violation of Handschu. It wouldn’t be the first time.

After September 11, the FBI gained sweeping new powers that allowed agents to open “assessments” on their targets without evidence of criminal activity. In New York City, the judge overseeing the Handschu case modified the agreement to more closely align with those post-9/11 rules. The NYPD repeatedly violated the watered-down guidelines in the years that followed, first by conducting political “debriefings” of Iraq War and RNC protesters, and later by building a a regional spying operation that indiscriminately targeted Muslim communities throughout the northeast. More recently, documents have shown the NYPD and the FBI directing surveillance resources at Black Lives Matter activists both in New York City and around the country.

“We have been here before,” Stolar wrote in a June 8 letter to New York City’s law department. Stolar listed 14 questions individuals interviewed during the George Floyd protests reported being asked, including “Are you in antifa?” and “What are you protesting about?” In the experience of the Handschu attorneys, he wrote, these types of interviews usually led to the creation of files reflecting “purely political activity,” which is a violation of the agreement.

The day after Stolar sent his letter, the NYPD’s public affairs department began issuing a statement to reporters inquiring about the interviews. Sgt. Mary Frances O’Donnell wrote that from June 1 to June 4, the department’s intelligence and detective bureaus conducted approximately 100 interviews — out of more than 1,000 arrests — focused on “developing information on crimes that occurred around the protests including burglary and looting.” NYPD investigators focused on the “illegal activity” of “anarchist groups that have been the drivers of violence and property damage,” the statement said, and sought to determine if there was communication or coordination between the looters and the anarchists.

The statement was curious both for what it acknowledged and what it did not. For one, there was no mention of the FBI. What’s more, O’Donnell had written that the interviews “were only directed at persons arrested at night during the time when looting and vandalism was present.” The vast majority of the looting in New York City was concentrated in lower and midtown Manhattan, as well as the Bronx, on May 31 and June 1. The individuals I spoke to were arrested in Brooklyn, days later. Of the four who were arrested while protesting, none described witnessing any looting or vandalism. The marches were peaceful. Feingold wasn’t even on a march when he was taken into custody; he had simply stepped out of his apartment because he thought he heard the sound of police hurting protesters.

Recent history has shown that sometimes, when a municipal police department provides officers to federal task forces like the ones William Barr has directed at antifa, the work the officers do for the feds disappears into a transparency black hole. The secrecy of the hybrid teams is a major reason why an increasing number of cities across the country have decided to cut off the collaborations.

Were the interviews the NYPD conducted alongside the FBI separate from the ones described in O’Donnell’s statement? Was that because those officers were assigned to a federal task force engaged in the Trump administration’s hunt for antifa instigators? I put those questions to the NYPD repeatedly. The department refused to say. The FBI, meanwhile, declined to answer any questions related to the interviews in New York.

The FBI’s involvement “smells like JTTF,” Stolar told me, adding that NYPD might try to wiggle out of its decades-old Handschu agreement by hiding behind the feds. “I could see them making an argument that it’s a gray area, ‘We’re not really NYPD officers, we’re JTTF officers and so the rules don’t apply,’” Stolar said. “I don’t buy that

Police Zombies

On the Saturday before the curfew ended, hundreds of young people filled the steps of the Old New York County Courthouse in lower Manhattan demanding that funds for the NYPD be redirected into youth education programs. A short walk down Chambers Street, beneath a covered archway that leads to police headquarters, a trio of city lawmakers huddled for a strategy session. Summoned by concerned public defenders and activists, public advocate Jumaane Williams, along with City Council members Brad Lander and Keith Powers, planned to invoke a city charter that empowered them to inspect city jails at will.

In a city under curfew, where a deadly and highly contagious virus was still raging, the police had arrested thousands of people, and the system for finding them was breaking down.

As the demonstrators up the street chanted and cheered, Jennvine Wong, a staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society’s Cop Accountability Project, laid out what defense attorneys were up against. Normally, people arrested in a major protesting event were taken to a dedicated center at NYPD headquarters. That wasn’t happening, Wong told the lawmakers. Following the curfew arrests in the Bronx, for example, some protesters were taken to a local processing center, while others were moved to a precinct in Queens. Since most protesters were receiving a summons or a desk appearance ticket, they weren’t getting an arrest number that would help a defense attorney locate them — and even for those who did, Wong added, the NYPD wasn’t logging those numbers right away. People were disappearing for 24 hours or more.

Wong herself had tried to run down a list of 10 recently arrested protesters by calling NYPD headquarters. “I got hung up on about a dozen times,” she said. “I could not get through to anyone to tell me where anybody was. I could not get a fax number or an email address at all, because they told me they didn’t have one, which I know is patently false.”

Protesters who emerged from custody described poor conditions on the inside, including a lack of medical attention, masks confiscated by the police, and inconsistent access to water. Between the coronavirus, the curfew, and the crackdown, the public defenders were stretched thin. “There’s little fires everywhere,” Wong told me. “It’s frustrating sometimes on a normal day but when you have mass arrests like this — it was just tenfold.” Unable to participate in the demonstrations, Wong had joined others across the city who were standing outside their apartment each night at 8 p.m., when the curfew officially began, to hold signs in protest. “We’re not getting stopped by the police,” she noted. “It’s very clear that the police are using the curfew for selective enforcement, as an excuse to crack down extra hard on protesters or people who they believe are undesirable.”

While the curfew itself was new, the phenomenon of the NYPD selectively enforcing the law was not. For the better part of the past two decades, the police department embraced a quota-driven policing strategy that resulted in millions of street-level stops that overwhelmingly targeted Black and brown men and boys who had committed no crime. The social cost was profound, with an entire generation of New Yorkers coming of age in a city where their skin color all but guaranteed unsettling, if not violent or traumatic, encounters with the police.

In 2013, a federal judge found that the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practices were unconstitutional. Officer Pedro Serrano was a key witness in the case, having secretly recorded his supervisors ordering him to indiscriminately stop Black teens and young men in the Bronx in order to meet department quotas; we met while I was covering the trial.

Though the protests had not yet come to his corner of New York, Serrano, a 16-year veteran of the force, felt their impact whenever he stepped outside in uniform. He saw it in the faces of people he passed on the street, he said, and in the way they clenched their fists. A feeling of vulnerability was coursing through the men and women on patrol. “Oh, it’s real,” Serrano told me. “It’s real and it’s dangerous for any cop who’s out there who has to walk through a crowd of people, especially if they’re Black and brown. They’re not liked right now.”

The collective anxiety and tension rose with the demonstrations, pushing uniformed cops into an exhausting state of hyper-awareness, he said. As for their purpose, Serrano was of two minds. Born in Puerto Rico, Serrano relocated to the Bronx with his family when he was a year old. Racism, including racist policing, was a fact of life, and something he’s tried to push back against now that he wears the uniform. “As a citizen, I say without a doubt, keep protesting, you gotta keep the pressure on,” Serrano said. As a cop, however, he could not tolerate the violence. Protest policing is a grind, he explained, and some officers are better at managing stress than others. “There’s a lot of angry people out there,” he said, including “a lot of angry cops.”

In Serrano’s view, the NYPD underestimated the scale of the protests early on, then embraced an arrest-driven approach that made things worse. The way he saw it, the department had two choices when the protests kicked off: protect people and property, or make arrests. It couldn’t do both simultaneously. “You can’t play offense and defense,” he said. “Once you start arresting one person, it agitates other people and escalates things.” Given the size of the recent demonstrations, the department was pulling administrative officers with no protest experience off of regular duty and sending them into the streets. Add to that mix a curfew that officers would be called upon to enforce, and you had a recipe for disaster. “You start arresting people for that, it’s just gonna make things worse,” he said. “As time went on, they made adjustments and it got better, but there are a lot of police officers that are not happy about what’s happening.”

The fundamental problem, Serrano said, is the same one that created the stop-and-frisk era: a rot at the top of police headquarters. It was true that the department had introduced some new training since it was hauled into court — some of it was quite good, he said — but none of that mattered if your precinct’s priorities remained the same. Seven years after he took to the witness stand, Serrano said the pressure to make stops is still there. “They’re still asking for numbers, just a lot less and it’s not so overt,” he said. “It’s more under the table.”

“The way the department works is they just change names,” he explained. Take the NYPD’s recent decision to disband its notorious “anti-crime” units. “They’re going to take these people, recycle them, they’re going to do the same work under a different name,” Serrano said. “That’s it.” The aggressive plainclothes units were merely the latest face of a toxic “hunter” mentality that NYPD leadership has embraced for decades, he said, and unless that culture is rooted out, nothing will change. “They’re doing more and more things, but it never gets to the core. They never punish the people, the bosses, that are in charge of everything.

“There’s no white shirt that goes to jail or loses his job or gets punished,” Serrano said. The leadership of the NYPD, the so-called super chiefs, are part of an invitation-only club. The members of that club, along with the leadership of the department’s right-wing unions, are almost all white men who became cops 20 or 30 years ago. “You remember what the thinking was back then,” Serrano said. “You don’t get rid of it overnight.” That entrenched power is now running up against communities that “have been messed with for so long, picked on and abused for so long that they’re finally standing up and doing something,” he said. “The last time I remember that was in the books, it took a civil war to make change.”

“Obviously we’re not at that point that we were back then, but it’s still out there,” Serrano said. “Black and brown bodies are dying at a higher rate than their counterparts, and it’s alarming to see it.”

It’s not just the police shootings. In New York City, Black and Latino residents have died from the coronavirus at twice the rate of their white and Asian counterparts. The Bronx, a hyper-policed borough where the NYPD’s highest-ranking uniformed official directed the department’s most violent protest suppression, has been the hardest hit.

While the official line from the NYPD when asked about the protests often centered on public safety and officer safety, the department’s response to the crisis that preceded the uprisings calls those commitments into question. “They handled the Covid horribly,” Serrano said. The potential for problems was obvious from the start. “The police officers responding to your home, they will catch it from you, and then go to the next job to give it to the next person, and the next person, and the next person,” he said. “We started to infect each other, and we got one mask, and then we got three masks, and then finally they kicked in and started sanitizing or whatever, but this was a month or two after.”

“I was exposed. I got it, and I wasn’t allowed to be tested,” Serrano said. He brought the disease home, and soon his family fell ill as well. He  wasn’t the only one. More than 40 members of the NYPD have died of Covid-19, while thousands of others have tested positive for the virus. “A lot of police officers got sick,” Serrano said. “Cop safety didn’t even exist.”

“If this was a zombie virus, we all would have been zombies, all the cops,” he said.

The situation was particularly bad among patrol, the officers providing most of the muscle for the NYPD’s protest policing — very few of them wearing masks — who spend their days in the communities most susceptible to the virus. There were no guidelines or directives telling officers not to go into people’s homes, or to encourage community members to speak to them outside. “Nothing changed,” Serrano said. Particularly in public housing, the mission was the same one it has always been: “Go into the building, knock on the door, handle the job, and go to the next one, the next one, the next one.” The department has a better handle on the situation now, Serrano said, but he believes a slow response was harmful. “A lot of damage happens in a month,” he said. “We just made it worse.”

A Lifetime of Harassment

On June 7, de Blasio announced that he was lifting New York City’s curfew a day early. The following day, New York City entered phase one of relaxing its coronavirus quarantine measures. Protests in the city continue.

Husan Blue was still in physical pain when the mayor’s decision came down. Speaking was difficult, a fact he attributed to the time he spent with the officers’ weight on his throat. His forearm was in a cast. A doctor had observed signs of nerve damage up to his shoulder. “Right now, I’m still trying to process everything,” he said. “I can’t believe that it happened to me.” It would have been no thing for the police to observe that he and his neighbors were having peaceful cookout, politely ask them to pack it up, and give them time to do so, he told me. Instead, they attacked. “The trauma for me is that I could have been a hashtag,” Blue said. “My mother could’ve been a hashtag. And for what? A curfew that is over today.”

Two weeks later, the sense of disbelief had not lifted. Standing outside of the building where he was raised, the only home he was ever known, Blue stretched out his arm. The discomfort from the police zip ties was still there. A music producer by trade, Blue had recently begun giving piano lessons to kids to make a little extra money. He didn’t know how long it would be before he could do that again.

Blue led the way into the lobby where his mother was pushed to the floor and he was placed under arrest. The window on the front door was cracked, a result of the police pushing their way inside, Blue said. Tenants came and went as Blue walked me through his arrest; he opened the door for each of them, and they exchanged neighborly hellos.

“This is a family-oriented building,” Blue’s father, Gregory, explained, when he joined us in the lobby. Like his son, Gregory, who has lived in the building since 1977, was still trying to make sense of what happened that night. There couldn’t have been more than a dozen people on the patio when the police rolled up, he told me, and most were on their way out anyway. Gregory had tried to get to his wife and son when the melee unfolded in the lobby, but he found himself blocked by an impenetrable police line. “I said, ‘Yo, look. That’s my family in there. I’m a veteran,’” he recalled telling an officer, who then replied, “Thank you for your service.” As a grown man and a father, Gregory said the experience made him feel like he was nothing. “I was so distraught that night,” he said. “So messed up.”

According to the NYPD, the events surrounding Blue’s arrest are under internal review. The department would not say why officers came to the building in the first place. Blue’s lawyer, Sanford Rubenstein, told me that he has yet to see evidence of an emergency call that would have summoned the NYPD. In the wake of Blue’s arrest, a neighbor, Jessica Kaufman, wrote a letter to de Blasio expressing her “outrage and disappointment” at the police response. Kaufman explained that around 11:30 p.m., she had heard the sound of a loud firework, which was immediately followed by the NYPD’s raid on the barbecue. “My neighbors weren’t causing any sort of violence or trouble,” Kaufman wrote, adding that the police turned her neighborhood into a “war zone.”

Blue told me he had heard the fireworks too that night; they had been building for days. “Fourth of July is coming up, so you hear fireworks going off,” he said. “We had nothing to do with the fireworks going off, but we hear it.” Facing an influx of complaints over the explosions, the de Blasio administration recently announced that the same NYPD intelligence bureau that was questioning protesters about antifa earlier this month will now be running an interstate crackdown targeting individuals who buy, sell, or possess illegal fireworks. Even before the announcement, reports emerged of the NYPD using riot suppression tactics not unlike those deployed against Blue’s barbecue to target Brooklyn community members suspected of setting off fireworks.

Where and how the police devote their time is an issue Blue has been forced to deal with since he was a kid. He was 13 years old when stop-and-frisk became a part of everyday life. At the time, the NYPD’s 71st Precinct was stopping around 4,400 people in Crown Heights a year. By the time Blue was 20, that number would soar to more than 7,200. Because the vast majority of the NYPD’s stops were baseless and didn’t result an arrest, it was irrelevant that Blue had no criminal history. For a police department built on quotas, Blue and his friends were numbers, plain and simple. Plainclothes police would follow them into their building, asking where they were going. The harassment became so routine that they knew which days of the week the police would most likely be looking to make their numbers. “It was Tuesdays and Thursdays,” Blue said. They called them “Task Force Tuesdays.”

As he and his friends were being questioned week after week, year after year, Blue saw other issues on his block go unaddressed. “I’ve seen everything. I’ve seen people get into fights where the police never show up. I’ve seen people get shot,” he said. “Everything happens right after the police leave or when they’re sitting like two blocks down, watching somebody that probably ran a red light. I get that you’re doing your job, but you’re not stopping the things that are really causing chaos.” In the wake of the barbecue raid, Blue said his mother had largely stopped going outside except to go to work. An image of the senior officer who oversaw the operation lingers in his mind. “I can’t forget his look,” Blue said. “His eyes. The way he was looking at everybody, like he was disgusted and hated everybody.” It seemed that no matter what you do, Blue said, “they’re going to treat you like an enemy.”

“I really don’t get it,” he said. “I still don’t get it.”









































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