Marijuana Policy Project

New York Police Tackle Marijuana User During Unnecessary Arrest

A video of police taking down a 20-year-old Brooklyn resident is sparking new outrage in New York.

Fitzroy Gayle, who is black, was allegedly smoking pot with a friend in a park in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn at 7 pm on March 5 when police arrived after supposedly hearing gun shots. Gayle and his friend split up and ran. Gayle was caught by an undercover cop who held him against a closed store gate until more police came to the scene.

During the encounter, Gayle repeatedly asked, "What crime did I commit? What did I do?"

After about 90 seconds, several backup police ran towards the arresting officer and then proceeded to tackle Gayle to the ground, kneeing and stepping on him as he cried out, "Help me!"

For many New Yorkers, it was a reminder of the 2014 incident when police used a chokehold to tackle Eric Garner, who died during the struggle.

At a press conference, from left: Rev. Kevin McCall, Daphne Gayle, Fitzroy Gayle and attorney Sanford Rubenstein

"When they put him down on the ground, it reminded me of Eric Garner," Gayle's mother Daphne said after watching the video recorded by a passerby. "It's the same thing. You're going to call backup for a young man who doesn't have a gun, doesn't have a weapon? Does it take six or seven stong NYPD men to hold down one young man?

"I was like, here we go again. Here's another case like Eric Garner. That man died at the hands police officers and he didn't do anything."

The good news is her son survived the rough treatment he received. Arrested and charged with resisting arrest, obstructing government administration and marijuana possession, Gayle was given a summons and not jailed.

Gayle says he didn't have any marijuana on him. Even if he did, possession or smoking in public are no longer causes for arrest in New York. 

Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted: "This was painful to watch. We still need to get all the facts about this case and a full investigation is underway, but I don't like what I saw. It doesn't reflect what we're building in New York City."

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who's a likely candidate for mayor in 2021 and a former police officer, tweeted: "I'm calling for all the officer involved in Wednesday's unacceptable incident in Carnasie to be put on modified duty by (Police Commissioner Dermot Shea) until a full investigation has been completed."

The newly appointed executive director of Drug Policy Alliance, Kassandra Frederique, posted the following statement at Instagram:

“The bloodcurdling scream of the young man who was violently arrested for allegedly possessing marijuana should shame New York policymakers. The time to have dealt with the laws that serve to justify interactions like this was long ago. Having marijuana decriminalization on the books for the last 40 years is not enough to end this type of aggressive and targeted enforcement that has harmed individuals and communities across our state for decades – and continues to lead to violence. People think legalization is about money and business – but the foremost reason we are advocating for legalization is to prevent harrowing moments like this. Legalization will not end targeted enforcement but it will remove a tool that for too long has been used to target and harass communities of color. This young man deserved better and Gov. Cuomo and the Legislature must pass comprehensive legalization as a priority that reflects the urgency of what’s at stake.”

Gayle is being represented by Sanford Rubenstein, who's also sueing the NYPD on behalf of Oren and Ronen Levy. Ronen was arrested in November when he tried to pick up nine boxes of legal hemp that had been shipped from Vermont to New York, intercepted by FedEx and seized by the police.

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Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of CelebStoner.com, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.