A New York Cop Beat Someone Up Over Social Distancing. Will NYPD Policing Finally Change Now?

The same weekend, the NYPD tweeted pictures of its officers peacefully handing out masks.


The COVID-19 pandemic presents a unique threat to overcrowded jails, which has led many police departments to reevaluate how they enforce low-level crimes. But the outbreak hasn't stopped the New York Police Department (NYPD) from going after low-level offenses or from using force in the process.

For evidence, examine a viral video of a Saturday social-distancing arrest.

The video begins with several NYPD officers tackling someone to the ground. A small crowd gathers, protesting the officers' actions. Plainclothes officer Francisco Garcia, who had his knee on the suspect's back, gets up and points his taser toward members of the small crowd. He deploys the taser while commanding: "Move the fuck back."

Garcia walks toward a man, later identified as Donni Wright, and the two are heard having a verbal disagreement. Garcia asks Wright why he's "flexing," and Wright's fist appears to be clenched when his body enters the frame.

The situation escalates when Garcia—not wearing a mask—grabs Wright and punches him to the ground. Garcia drags Wright and continues to punch him while another officer rushes to his side to help make an arrest.

More bystanders are heard in the background telling Garcia that they've captured the events on camera. Garcia, whose body is pressed against Wright's on the ground, pulls out his taser once again and continues to argue with the witnesses.

The Associated Press has reported that the initial arrest was for a social distancing violation. Police spokeswoman Sgt. Mary Frances O'Donnell told the AP that Wright was charged with assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest because he "took a fighting stance against the officer" after Garcia ordered him to disperse.

After the video made its rounds, a "disturbed" Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted on Sunday that the officer was placed on modified duty and that an investigation was underway. The Manhattan District Attorney's Office has since deferred the charges against Wright pending investigation.

This is not the first time the NYPD's enforcement of a low-level offense has escalated without cause during the pandemic. Officials and advocates have asked the department to modify its policing of low-level offenses, in hopes of reducing the threat the virus presents to overcrowded jails. But NYPD Police Commissioner Dermot Shea assured everyone that the department has no such plans.

Well, sometimes it doesn't have such plans. Another viral image shows what appears to be an NYPD officer interacting with a group that wasn't abiding by social-distancing protocols. And the same weekend that Garcia brandished his taser at that crowd, New York cops elsewhere in the city responded to the pandemic another way: by peacefully passing out masks to people who weren't wearing them.