New York Personal Injury Law Blog » Civil Rights


April 17th, 2009

Arrested While Grieving, Their Civil Rights Suit Settles (Updated)

Two years ago, New York City Police arrested 33 teens, six of them minors, in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. Their crime? They were headed off to a wake for a friend. Unfortunately, they were almost all black and Hispanic, which in many places is enough to get you stopped by the police and/or arrested.

Those arrests were the subject of an op-ed piece by Bob Herbert in the New York Times on May 26, 2007 (Arrested While Grieving). He wrote back then:

No one is paying much attention, but parts of New York City are like a police state for young men, women and children who happen to be black or Hispanic. They are routinely stopped, searched, harassed, intimidated, humiliated and, in many cases, arrested for no good reason.

Last Monday in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, about three dozen grieving young people on their way to a wake for a teenage friend who had been murdered were surrounded by the police, cursed at, handcuffed and ordered into paddy wagons. They were taken to the 83rd precinct station house, where several were thrown into jail.
Children as young as 13 were among those swept up by the cops. Two of them…were the children of police officers. Some of the youngsters were carrying notes from school saying that they were allowed to be absent to attend the wake. There is no evidence that I’ve been able to find, other than uncorroborated statements by the police, that the teenagers were misbehaving in any way.

Everyone was searched, but nothing unlawful was found, no weapons, no marijuana or other drugs. Some of the kids were told at the scene that they were being seized because they had assembled unlawfully.

According to Michael Scolnick, a civil rights attorney that represented 16 settling plaintiffs, an agreement was reached recently in federal court to dispose of those cases. The settlements ranged from $9,000 to $20,000. Scolnick said:

The settlement was on two levels: the 6 boys and girls (under 16 years of age) who either were not charged or were given desk appearance tickets and later dismissed without appearing, but were in custody from two to six hours, cuffed to a pipe or a Snapple machine, each settled for $9,000. The older ones who had formal charges issued against them for unlawful assembly and disorderly conduct settled for $20K.

All of the criminal charges against these 16 were dismissed.

This is a first report. A press conference has been scheduled for Sunday. Expect more press and information on this case in the days to come.

See also:


Bob Herbert followed up today on his original story from two years ago with another op-ed piece (No Cause for Arrest). He adds this priceless quote from Scolnick:

“I can’t imagine that 32 young white people walking down the streets of Scarsdale to pay their respects to a friend would have been arrested that way.”

Also, Scott Greenfield, who had written about the case two years ago, adds more at Simple Justice today (The Wake of a Wake):

The kids got at least something in return for being harassed, arrested and/or held in custody. As for Michael Scolnick, who fought for 16 settling plaintiffs, the fee will likely be scarcely worth the time and effort required by the case. But he did a good thing for some kids from Bushwick who needed someone who cared enough to help.

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