Brooklyn police officers tried to rip a one-year-old baby away from his mother while she waited at a public assistance office, a video uploaded to Facebook on Friday shows. Jazmine Headley had been sitting on the floor of the crowded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program office for hours before an argument between her and a security guard prompted someone to call the police.
In the video, three officers and a sergeant are shown pinning Headley, who is Black, to the ground while she attempts to keep her child in her arms. Onlookers can be heard screaming “Oh my god!” and “That’s a fucking baby in her hands!” At one point, an officer appears to yank the child from his mother and the screaming intensifies. Toward the end of the two-and-a-half minute video, an officer can be seen threatening other people in the office — many of whom had crowded around Headley in an apparent attempt to break up the altercation with the officers — with a Taser.
Police said they told Headley to leave the office many times after a security guard approached her for sitting on the floor and the two began arguing. When she refused to leave, security guards “brought the woman to the floor,” according to the New York Times. An NYPD spokesperson said police were called because Headley was “obstructing a hallway,” the New York Daily News reported.
Headley is being held without bail at Rikers Island and has been charged with resisting arrest, obstructing governmental administration and trespassing, and acting in a manner injurious to a child. The child is with a relative.
Nyashia Ferguson, a witness of the incident, told the Times that she took issue with the police account of what happened and said Headley was on the ground because an officer waved a stun gun, and that a security guard was not responsible for pulling Headley to the ground.
The Brooklyn District Attorney’s office announcing Monday that it would investigate the matter, with the intention of expediting Headley’s release.
Statement from the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office regarding Jazmine Headley: pic.twitter.com/rZSuvNyrdC
— Eric Gonzalez (@BrooklynDA) December 10, 2018
The incident brings to the fore the disturbing reality that U.S. police kill Black people at disproportionate rates and, like Black men, Black women and girls are often targeted for random stops and arrested at a higher rates. In an interview with the Washington Post, Andrea Ritchie, author of Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color, said, “Those perceptions of black women as animalistic, as overly strong, as menacing, as just not human, persist in the ways that police officers interact with them to this day.”
Ritchie added, “Police officers just punish black women for literally lifting their voice to ask a question because black women are perceived to have no right to do so. No right to insist on being treated with dignity.”
In a statement over the weekend, police said the event was “troubling” and that the NYPD and Human Resources Administration is currently reviewing the matter.
On Sunday, New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson (D) tweeted in response to the incident, “This is unacceptable, appalling and heart breaking … I’d like to understand what transpired and how these officers or the NYPD justified this.”
State Attorney General-elect Letitia James said officers should be assigned to desk duty while the event is being investigated.
“Being poor is not a crime,” James said in a statement, adding:
The actions of the NYPD in this video are appalling and contemptible. A full investigation must be conducted immediately, and the results should be made public so there is a transparent accounting of how this horrific situation occurred. All involved officers, including the assigned supervisor, should be assigned desk duty pending the investigation results. No mother should have to experience the trauma and humiliation we all witnessed in this video.
A number of social justice advocates spoke out against the actions of the officers. Dorothy Roberts, author of Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty, tweeted, “A Black mother and child brutalized by the collusion of the child ‘welfare’ system and the police. Shows how they operate together to devalue, punish, and destroy Black families. Now she is blamed for the trauma ACS and NYPD caused her child.”
A Black mother and child brutalized by the collusion of the child “welfare” system and the police. Shows how they operate together to devalue, punish, and destroy Black families. Now she is blamed for the trauma ACS and NYPD caused her child. Carceral state violence at work. https://t.co/tjF8bcoeaI
— Dorothy Roberts (@DorothyERoberts) December 10, 2018
Alex Vitale, author of The End of Policing and professor of sociology at Brooklyn College, questioned why, in an office where social workers and security officers were present, police needed to be present at all. Vitale bemoaned the actions of the officers in a tweet Sunday: “This was the best plan they could come up with? No threat to anyone, no emergency, just brutal disregard for the well-being of mother and child.”