Discretion is the better part of valor, but that's not a phrase anyone would associate with the NYPD these days. This week alone, a rookie officer "accidentally" fatally shot an unarmed man; another officer was caught on video beating a fare beater with a nightstick; and another officer treated cyclists like second-class citizens.
But this of course doesn't mean that every cop is incapable of using their discretion to reach a peaceful outcome. Long Island City resident Christopher Keelty, 35, witnessed one such interaction this week in which police were able to show a good deal of restraint in dealing with a person sleeping on the subway.
Keelty got on the 7 train at Queensboro Plaza around 3:15 a.m. on Friday for work when he noticed a man "dead asleep;" he was sprawled across the seats and snoring loudly, his fly was down and he didn't appear to wearing underwear. The train was held up and after a few minutes, four or five police officers boarded and confronted the man. "I'm guessing someone thought he might be dead," he said. "They started shaking him and trying to wake him up."
He decided to start recording: "I turned on my cell phone video camera, realizing I might be about to witness something bad and the guy could use help." You can see that brief video below.
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Keelty explains what happened:
The cops got the guy into a sitting position, though he was still totally out of it—maybe drunk, maybe high, maybe just a heavy sleeper. On the video you can hear them shouting to try and wake him up...at about the 13-second mark on the video, the sleeper wakes and punches one of the cops pretty hard in the chest. That's the point where I thought the guy was going to jail, and you can hear a beat of a second or two as I think the cops have an internal debate about what to do.
Their decision was to wish the guy well and leave the train. At the very end of the video you start to hear another passenger expressing his utter shock that the guy didn't get taken off in cuffs.
In late May, the NYPD took the exact opposite tack, choosing to arrest a sleeping man on an empty subway train in the early morning hours.
Although it might seem like a backhanded compliment to say that people were shocked by the NYPD's behavior in this most recent incident, there have been enough chaotic arrests in similar situations to make this stand out: "This could have been a shooting death or a beating video, but instead they chose to check their egos and everybody went on with their nights," Keelty said, adding that he is "generally very suspicious of police, especially in their interactions with people of color and people living in poverty."
As for what happened to the man after the cops left, Keelty said, "The guy pretty much went right back to sleep, by the way—though he remained sitting up."