A Wintry Encounter With the NYPD

February 27, 2014 Updated: February 27, 2014

On an evening not long ago I was bicycling home through Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Snow and ice still covered the ground from a recent snowstorm, and the temperature was below freezing. By cycling standards the roads were rather treacherous, and I had to exercise a good deal of caution when navigating them. Adding to the difficulty, when pedaling it felt like the gears were frozen stiff, which doubled the amount of energy normally required to move.

Heading south on East Drive near the zoo, I came toward a parked NYPD van, which flashed its lights as I approached. A command was issued over a loud speaker: “Stop your vehicle.”

Reducing my speed, I came to a halt along side the van. Three heavyset officers sat inside. One opened a window and said, “This is a one way street—do you have any ID?” I knew it was one-way, but one always plays dumb in these situations. “Oh, I see that now … where is a road leading south?” “The nearest is Flatbush, which you can get to on foot. Do you have ID?” Surprised that identification was necessary to find Flatbush Avenue, I produced it, and was told to wait in front of the van, which I did. About three minutes later, the officer handed me a court summons. The official charge was “disobeying a park sign.”

His parting words were “stay safe.”

I am not sure what he meant by that. The sidewalk he directed me to was covered in slippery snow, while the road was clear of both impediments and traffic. Perhaps he wasn’t making a suggestion, but rather reassuring himself, as in, “I am keeping the city safe by issuing this summons.” Or perhaps he meant, “My job is safe because I am closer to fulfilling a summons quota.” Or maybe he genuinely thought I was safer with this “lesson” he taught me. However, this is all speculation.

My only other prior police encounter occurred following a similarly minor infraction, but because I had no ID on me at the time—making the issuance of a summons on site impossible—I was arrested and taken to a holding cell. I was 16.

The only thing I remember being said to me during that day as a teenager were the words “do not resist.” I will never forget them.

In recent days, when developments in the case of Suzanne LaFont and Karl Anders Peltomaa have made headlines, the issue of excessive police force has once again been brought to the public eye. (The couple, both university professors, were subjected to a clear-cut case of police brutality in their own home.) In no way am I comparing my own recent experience with their horrific ordeal, but both incidents serve as reminders that the streets of our city are ruled by 30,000 “gentlemen of the law” who exercise their own individual notions of what is acceptable to maintain the peace, and those do not necessarily embody the highest ideals of democracy.

If our civic leaders want New York to remain a hospitable place to live, they need to address the way law enforcement personnel interact with the citizenry. In that process, they need to ask themselves a key question: Are there higher virtues than “not resisting” and “staying safe”? I pray that there are, and hope they can be cherished and preserved in this great city for generations to come.

Jack Feinberg lives and writes in New York.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.