Friday was a busy day at the Human Resources Administration office in Brooklyn’s Boerum Hill, where New Yorkers can apply for food stamps and other forms of public assistance. Lines were moving slowly, and the drab gray building was packed. Jazmine Headley just wanted to get a voucher for city-funded day care so she could find someone to look after her 1-year-old son, Damone, while she went to work as a cleaner, her mother would tell reporters.
Instead, Headley, 23, ended up behind bars — and at the center of the latest viral video to inspire outrage over alleged police brutality.
The two-and-half-minute video posted to Facebook on Friday shows Headley lying on the floor, surrounded by uniformed New York police officers and security guards. She holds her 1-year-old son firmly in her arms as the officers forcibly try to yank the child away. “They’re hurting my son,” she screams again and again. Unmoved, the officers keep on tugging. As onlookers gather around and begin filming the commotion, one officer pulls out a stun gun.
As of early Monday, the video has been viewed more than 195,000 times on Facebook. Multiple elected officials have expressed shock and outrage. “It’s hard to watch this video,” New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson (D) wrote on Twitter, calling the violent arrest “unacceptable, appalling and heart breaking.”
State Attorney General-elect Letitia James, who currently serves as New York City’s public advocate, said in a Sunday statement that the police officers’ actions had been “appalling and contemptible.” Calling for the officers to be put on desk duty while an investigation takes place, she wrote, “No mother should have to experience the trauma and humiliation we all witnessed in this video.”
“Being poor is not a crime,” James said.
Nyashia Ferguson, who shot and posted the video on Facebook, told reporters that the dispute started when the young mother sat on the floor because there were no more seats available in the crowded room.
“The security guard, I guess she came over and told her she couldn’t sit there,” Ferguson told WCBS. “So she’s like, ‘Where am I going to sit?’ ”
Told that she would just have to stand, Headley refused.
“She was like, ‘What is the crime? What did I do wrong?’ ” Ferguson said. “And then it just escalated.”
In a statement emailed to The Washington Post, a spokesperson for the New York Police Department called the video “troubling” and said that the NYPD and HRA are investigating the incident. Police also said that office staff and security guards at the benefits office made multiple attempts to get Headley to leave “due to her disorderly conduct towards others, and for obstructing the hallway.” When that failed, they called 911.
Officers who arrived at the scene then told Headley to leave the office, police said. When she repeatedly refused, the security guards brought her to the floor. She continued to resist as police officers arrested her, according to the statement. It’s unclear whether Headley or her 1-year-old was hurt in the process — police said that she refused medical treatment for herself and for her son. No officers were injured.
Headley has been charged with resisting arrest, acting in a manner injurious to a child, obstructing governmental administration and criminal trespass, all misdemeanor offenses. According to police, New York City’s child welfare agency was notified, and a family member took custody of her son. Her mother, Jacqueline Jenkins, told WABC on Sunday that Headley is still in jail and has been barred from seeing Damone.
Ferguson, who filmed the altercation, questioned why the entire episode had to take place. Police could have done more to defuse the conflict, she suggested.
“If they would’ve just talked to her as a woman, gave her time to calm herself down, then I think it would have went way different,” she told WCBS. “She wouldn’t be in jail.”