The incident happened just before noon Wednesday inside the Atlantic Avenue/Barclays Center subway station, where police officers handing out masks encountered Kaleemah Rozier, who they say had a mask around her neck and immediately became belligerent when asked to put it on.
NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said the officers were polite and informed the woman she could not enter the transit system without properly wearing her mask, at which point she allegedly responded with a profanity-laced tirade that included threats to "cough on all of you."
Face coverings are important to protect everybody — they’re not optional.— Mayor Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) May 14, 2020
But no one wants to see an interaction turn into this.
We’ve made progress with de-escalation. This isn’t it. https://t.co/jVx22uLSj8
He said she was twice escorted from the station but reentered via another staircase on both occasions. The third encounter quickly deteriorated, Shea said, as the woman tried to pull away and struck one of the officers.
Police said one of the officers told her, "Do not do this in front of your kid ma'am."
She was placed under arrest, while another transit rider recorded the incident and begged police not to handle the woman roughly in front of her child.
"She got a baby with her," he can be heard saying. "That's too much."
Mayor Bill de Blasio admitted Thursday that social distancing enforcement is causing profound problems for police.
"It shouldn't have gone down that way, period," he said. "Does not respect our values. It's not what will we want to see in the city."
Rozier is charged with resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and harassment.
"To say the least, whatever else was going on in that video, whatever else was happening in that moment, we should never have a situation where a mom with her child ends up under arrest for that kind of offense," de Blasio said. "It's just not right."
Police insisted the officers acted properly, and that the woman's behavior led to her arrest.
"We are confident that the police officers in this incident acted appropriately and with respect," the department said. "This individual was arrested only after her behavior toward officers warranted police action."
Still, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson called for social distancing enforcement to be the responsibility of another agency.
This failure to deescalate is unacceptable. The NYPD should not be enforcing social distancing. We need to move to a CURE violence model with respected community leaders showing the way as @NYSenBenjamin has suggested. https://t.co/klBBPVUu4v— NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson (@NYCSpeakerCoJo) May 14, 2020
Since mid-March, the NYPD has issued 125 summonses for social distancing violations. An examination shows that 66% of the people arrested are black, and 30% are Hispanic.
"We want our interactions with cops to be positive," City Council member Vanessa Gibson said. "But we, in communities of color, we want to be treated like everyone else. Giving us face masks and talking to you, and not these interactions that we're seeing of spiraling out of control."
Council member Helen Rosenthal suggested it should be the health department enforcing social distancing.
"Would you be willing to pick up the phone and say, my agency is not equipped to do this work?" she said. "I think that's going a little too far on that one...We are certainly willing to work with agencies, and we do on a daily basis."
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