Nearly two months after Jazmine Headley was arrested and forcibly separated from her child at a public assistance center in Brooklyn, the young mother is now calling for reforms to the New York City Human Resources Administration.
"I was just a number, a ticket, a problem, and I know each day, so many people have the same experience," Headley, 24, said through tears during a City Council hearing on Monday. “It’s not just the fact that I was arrested. It was the harsh way that I was treated by people who are supposed to help me...In my case, I was just sitting. A peaceful act."
She added, "What happened to me felt like a slap in the face. I’ve given my life to the city. I was born here, raised here, pay my taxes here."
Headley's "dehumanizing" experience began when she arrived at the Boerum Hill assistance center on December 7th, hoping to learn why her son's childcare benefits had been abruptly cut off. There were no seats in the main waiting area, and after standing for hours, she took a seat on the floor—drawing the attention of HRA officials, and later NYPD officers.
Footage from the incident shows police officers and HRA "peace officers" attempting to yank Headley's 1-year-old son from her arms as she lays on her back screaming. One of the police officers repeatedly jerks at the infant, at one point lifting Headley into the air as she desperately clings to her child. The same officer later pulls out a stun gun and waves it at the crowd and distressed mother.
Headley was subsequently arrested on charges of resisting arrest, and spent five days on Rikers Island, away from her child. Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez eventually dismissed the case, saying it was clear "that this incident should have been handled differently."
On Tuesday, HRA Commissioner Steven Banks said that one of the HRA officials involved in the arrest has resigned, and another is in the process of being terminated. The police officers involved in the incident will not face any punishment, after a "strenuous review" conducted by the Internal Affairs Bureau found no wrongdoing on the part of the NYPD.
Among the bills being considered by the Council is legislation requiring the Department of Social Services to issue quarterly reporters on use-of-force incidents, as well as a bill, sponsored by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, establishing an “Office of the Special Handler,” which would be tasked with logging complaints about benefits being suddenly cut off.
Headley's advice for the council, which drew applause and a standing ovation: "Social workers, not security officers."
Following Headley's testimony, Speaker Johnson offered his apologies to Headley "on behalf of New York City."
“You deserve so much more than you received and I am deeply, deeply apologetic that you had to have this experience," he said. “I am similarly deeply, deeply grateful for your bravery, for you wanting to tell your story, for you wanting to ensure that this doesn’t happen to anyone else."