While campaigns against police brutality struggle for attention, one heartwarming NYPD-promoted photo goes viral
The NYPD have received the gift of holiday-period good P.R.: A tourist in Times Square snapped a photo of an NYPD officer giving a pair of boots and warm socks to a barefoot homeless man. The image — an undeniably heartwarming scene of protection and service — became an online sensation once the NYPD posted it to its Facebook page on Tuesday. More than 370,000 users “liked” it as of Thursday morning, and over 109,000 shared it.
Officer Larry Deprimo, the cop who gifted the boots and reportedly told the recipient, “I have these size 12 boots for you, they are all-weather. Let’s put them on and take care of you,” showed the sort of human kindness worthy of sharing online and “IRL” (in real life). Little wonder the NYPD would use the photo of Deprimo as an image boost over social media. There is, however, something galling about the viral celebration of the image as something representative of NYPD’s attitude toward the homeless when there is an ongoing battle by homeless advocates in New York to combat mistreatment by cops. Equally, it’s worth noting that images of severe police brutality get far less online attention. Meanwhile, reporters and citizen journalists have repeatedly in the past year been physically prevented from filming NYPD aggression.
Bronx-based homeless organizing group Picture the Homeless has for over 10 years been conducting a citywide civil rights campaign specifically aimed at curbing police abuses against individuals sleeping on the streets. PTH highlighted that police regularly use force, arrest and ticket homeless individuals for “disorderly conduct” without citing an offense, essentially (and technically illegally) criminalizing homelessness.
“The NYPD has been on a warpath against the homeless, going back decades,” Jean Rice, a PTH member and longtime civil rights campaign leader, told Salon Thursday, adding, “The kindness of one individual officer is a drop in the ocean of the NYPD’s pattern and practice of violating homeless people’s civil rights. The level of corruption and illegal police behavior that exists in our current city government has not been seen since Teddy Roosevelt was this city’s police commissioner. Random acts of kindness and mere cosmetic adjustments will not provide the progressive reform that disproportionately communities of color in this city need to ensure their survival.”
Through surveys and testimonies, PTH is building a case for a possible lawsuit against the NYPD. This hard-fought and ongoing campaign does not, of course, detract from Officer Deprimo’s generosity, but it does highlight a counter-narrative about the NYPD that is deserving of vastly more attention.
The disturbing footage of two NYPD officers brutalizing a shirtless, shoeless homeless man found sleeping in a Brooklyn Jewish community center is not undone or counteracted by the photo of Deprimo giving a homeless man boots, nor does the brutality undo the kindness — that’s not how it works. But the NYPD is an institution and should be judged as far as possible by the sum of its acts and effects. Thus, when evidence of police goodness is splashed over social media at a rate and an extent far outweighing evidence of brutality, it’s clear that some skewed judgment of the institution is being produced.
It’s worth noting too that in New York and other major cities, journalists both professional and citizen have been prevented on numerous occasions from filming or photographing police acting aggressively or brutally. Famously, journalists and photographers were physically removed (some with force) and cordoned off at a distance while police evicted Occupy Wall Street’s Manhattan base in Zuccotti Park last year. A New York Times freelance photographer was on one occasion arrested and on one occasion physically roughed up by NYPD officers attempting to photograph arrests (which is legal in New York). It was only this week that the Supreme Court ruled against Illinois prosecutors seeking to enforce a law that banned people from filming police. Items of media showing police kindness must then be viewed in a context wherein conveying police wrongdoing has been prevented both legally (in some states) and at street level.
Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email firstname.lastname@example.org. More Natasha Lennard.
More Related Stories
- Developers evict historic women's shelter to build luxury hotel
- Kaitlyn Hunt refuses plea offer, will go to court over high school relationship
- DHS admits "impossible" to control 3D-printed guns
- Journalists file suit against Manning trial secrecy
- Russia: Syrian regime ready to talk peace
- Report: Nearly a quarter of all Americans struggle to afford food
- Ted Cruz against the world
- Louie Gohmert: Women should be forced to carry nonviable pregnancies to term
- 2 men arrested for endangering commercial aircraft
- Oversized load blamed for bridge collapse
- This is what Guy Fieri looks like as a balloon
- Iran hackers aiming at U.S. energy firms
- Lawyers release data in attempt to discredit Trayvon Martin
- Anonymous rallies behind Kaitlyn Hunt
- Bridge collapse: Part of "aging infrastructure"
- Mistrial in penalty phase of Arias case
- Amanda Bynes arrested after hurling bong from window
- Interstate 5 bridge collapses north of Seattle
- Mississippi could begin prosecuting women for miscarriages
- Teenage girl claims she was beaten up for looking like Taylor Swift
- UK Military: London attack victim was a "model soldier"
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11