Friends and young family members of the black 17-year-old apparently knocked out by a police officer in Clinton Hill in June say the incident was scary, but it wasn’t surprising.
One 21-year-old cousin of Marcel Hamer, the neighborhood teen whose family says an undercover cop knocked him out for smoking a cigarette, says that police have stopped him without cause for years.
“This has been happening to me on a day-to-day basis since I was 16,” Tevaughn Johnson said. “They say they have probable cause and go through my pockets.”
Johnson’s mother said she has had to pick him up from the police station for small infractions such as forgetting his identification, and that once officers arrested him for disorderly conduct, the same charge police made against Hamer after the apparent knockout punch. Johnson’s mom said that her son and his friends sometimes misbehave, but that the bigger issue is how much more police focus on them than their white peers — and how much less regard police hold them in.
“The police target the minorities,” Dree Johnson said. “They are typical teenagers and they get into some mischief, but the attitude from police is that they just have no respect for minorities.”
Hamer was walking home down Gates Avenue with friends near Waverly Avenue on the afternoon of June 4 when a plainclothes cop jumped out of a van, accused him of smoking marijuana, and shoved him to the ground, he and his family said. Hamer’s left arm was immobilized when it hit a planter during the fall, he told a nurse. Hamer’s pal, Mary Bethea, started filming with a smartphone as the officer stood over Hamer lying in the gutter, handcuffed by his right hand, according to the medical account. In the footage, the cop taunts the teens gathered around asking one, “Do you wanna get f----- up?” moments before delivering the apparent knockout punch. Then, addressing the camera, he says, “Yeah, get it on video.”
Speaking to a reporter on Friday, Bethea said that police are a constant presence in the neighborhood, and that experience has taught her to record any interactions with them, because they view people who look like her as a threat.
“The cops are always around here,” said Mary Bethea, 18. “This is our community, but they do not want us here.”
One middle-schooler walking home from school near where the undercover officer struck Hamer said that he avoids police as much as he can.
“I do not talk to any cops,” the 12-year-old said. “I just stay out of the way.”
Bethea, Johnson, and another friend said they have not spoken to Hamer since the June incident, and that his mother has accompanied him everywhere since. The boy’s family claims he suffered brain damage from the blow and now experiences regular headaches, dizziness, and memory loss.
They have filed a court notice saying they intend to sue the city and the Police Department for $5 million.
District Attorney Ken Thompson said his office is eyeing the incident.
“What we want is what everyone should want, which is respect for the law, whether it’s a civilian or a police officer,” said Thompson. “So if any police officer has crossed the line, we have to hold him accountable.”
Video of the officer apparently knocking Hamer out drew international media attention, prompting articles in England’s Daily Mail, Canada’s National Post, as well as in national media outlets such as Gawker, Mother Jones, The Root, and MSNBC. The video’s release coincided with the publication of two other videos showing alleged police misconduct, one of officers pistol-whipping and punching an unarmed Bedford-Stuyvesant teen who has his hands raised in surrender, and another of an officer pulling cash out of a man’s pocket on a Coney Island basketball court, then pepper-spraying him and his sister, but arresting neither. The man whose money was taken claims he lost $1,300 that he intended to spend on a birthday celebration, but officers insist that the amount was only $62, and that it was properly accounted for, according to reports.
Police have so far refused to release the name of the officers involved in the Hamer incident.