Bodycam video of the fatal shooting of Rameek Smith draws into question a New York City Police Department (NYPD) account of what happened. The footage, released by the NYPD on Friday, has raised doubts about what really happened on the night in May when two cops fired 19 times at Smith as he fled from them in the Bronx. One of those shots hit Smith in the head, fatally wounding him.
The NYPD said officers shot Smith after he fired at them, wounding one officer. They also said they recovered a gun at the scene.
In the newly released bodycam footage, Smith cannot clearly be seen shooting at the officers, nor are any officers shown getting hurt. Audio does not kick in until just before Smith is shot, leaving it unclear why NYPD Officer Dennis Vargas approached Smith as he seemed to be simply walking down a city sidewalk, nor why Vargas and his partner chased Smith when he started to run away. The edited footage also stops immediately after Smith was shot, omitting the part where police allegedly found his weapon.
None of this precludes the possibility that things happened as the official NYPD narrative said they did—and some suggest that the video does line up perfectly with their story. But the important parts of the NYPD narrative cannot necessarily be confirmed through this video. And what's been left out raises concerns that maybe Smith's death didn't go down the way police say it did—and wasn't the model case against criminal justice reform that the city's mayor made it out to be.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams and some others used the incident to condemn bail reform. Smith—who was arrested in 2020 for carrying a gun while on probation for a robbery conviction—had pleaded guilty to carrying a gun illegally. He was allowed to remain free as he awaited his sentencing in June.
"Adams said Smith should have been jailed on that gun charge. And he indicated that the state's bail reform laws, which prevent judges from holding those who can't afford bail in jail on certain offenses, were to blame," notes Gothamist. "Yet that argument didn't hold up." Since Smith was on probation when he was arrested for having a gun, a judge could have held him on bail but chose not to, a Brooklyn District Attorney's Office spokesperson told Gothamist.
Rather than a blow against supposedly overly lenient criminal justice policies, Smith's death may actually speak to the problem of overly zealous policing.
The officers who killed Smith were part of Adams' newly created Neighborhood Safety Teams, who have been tasked with using "intelligence based policing" to "remove illegal guns from our streets" and "all crime conditions that impact our public safety and quality of life," per an NYPD video on YouTube. The teams are stationed in neighborhoods and public housing areas where the most shootings take place and involve officers in unmarked cars.
"To some, these units are reminiscent of previous squads of plainclothes officers who jumped out of cars to go after alleged criminals and used violence at disproportionate rates," notes Gothamist. "The new Neighborhood Safety Teams wear modified NYPD uniforms and operate out of unmarked vehicles, which raised speculation that Smith may not have known who was pursuing him."
Vargas, the officer who was allegedly shot in the arm by Smith, has been with the NYPD for eight years and "faced 39 complaints through the Civilian Complaint Review Board, with 12 of them substantiated," Gothamist points out.
Many NYPD Neighborhood Safety Team trainees have a history of excessive force complaints, New York Focus reported in May.
An analysis last April showed that far from stopping all sorts of violent crime, the teams were mostly making low-level arrests.
Banned books battle in Oklahoma heats up after teacher posts QR code to access forbidden literature. The Daily Beast profiles Summer Boismier, the Oklahoma teacher who came under fire for trying to help students acquire banned books. Before Boismier resigned, local parents suggested she should be arrested:
Her alleged crime? Providing students…with a QR code leading them to UnBanned—a Brooklyn Public Library program offering teenagers unlimited digital and audio access to banned or challenged books—on the first day of school last month. Boismier did so after updated guidelines and a restrictive new law inspired her to cover her entire classroom library in butcher paper, which she adorned with the phrase "Books the state doesn't want you to read."
Now, Boismier has "caught the attention of Oklahoma Secretary of Public Education Ryan Walters, who sent a letter to the state Board of Education on Wednesday demanding the revocation of Boismier's teaching certification."
Sex worker bank accounts canceled by Wells Fargo. "Sex workers across the industry are reporting that the bank Wells Fargo has sent them notices terminating their accounts effective immediately, in what they see as an extension of the crackdown measures banks and other large institutions have been implementing over the past few years," reports EJ Dickson at Rolling Stone:
In the letters, which are dated August 25 and copies of which were provided to Rolling Stone, Wells Fargo offers zero explanation for the decision to terminate the relationship with these customers. The letter says that the bank "performs ongoing reviews of its account relationships in connection with the Bank's responsibilities to manage risks in its banking operations," and that the recipient's accounts will be closed "as a result of this review." Wells Fargo did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
One person whose account was canceled was Alana Evans, a porn performer and president of the Adult Performance Artists Guild:
After being a customer since 1993, and NEVER GOING NEGATIVE ONCE, @WellsFargo sent me this letter today.
After 30 years, they are closing my accounts.
What is going on? I'm being removed for being a sex worker.
In one week, I'm fired from a vanilla job AND losing my bank pic.twitter.com/siYgb5EDlr
— Alana Evans (@alanaevansxxx) September 2, 2022
For more on the push to thwart porn by going after financial intermediaries, see Reason's May cover story "The New Campaign for a Sex-Free Internet."
Special master granted. A judge has granted former President Donald Trump's request for an independent lawyer to oversee the handling of documents the FBI seized from Mar-a-Lago. The ruling also puts a temporary pause on the Department of Justice's investigation of the documents. From the Associated Press:
The decision by U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon authorizes an outside legal expert to review the records taken during the Aug. 8 search and to weed out from the rest of the investigation any that might be protected by claims of attorney-client privilege or executive privilege. Some of those records may ultimately be returned to Trump, but the judge put off a ruling on that question.
• Meet the U.K.'s new prime minister, Liz Truss.
• Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said he's "open to all options" and "privatization is on the table" after Jackson's water system failed, leaving residents without usable water for days. Water pressure has been restored, but a boil water advisory is still in effect.
• A judge has dismissed a child porn complaint filed by the man who as a baby was pictured naked on the cover of the Nirvana album Nevermind.
Last night, a judge dismissed the "child porn" lawsuit over Nirvana's "Nevermind" cover. Basically, this baby is just too old now to file a complaint. Full decision here: https://t.co/3Eo9dlEw5B pic.twitter.com/vhbjowRALj
— Eriq Gardner (@eriqgardner) September 3, 2022
• "Food trucks from Colorado to Alabama are still struggling with red tape and protectionism," reports Baylen Linnekin for Reason.
• North Carolina homeowners associations can't ban solar panels, the state's Supreme Court has ruled.
• The Libertarian Party's recent internal strife is nothing new, writes Reason Senior Editor Brian Doherty. "When an internal caucus led a self-styled 'takeover' of the Libertarian Party (L.P.) at its biennial national convention this past May, old-timers recognized a recurring conflict that has riven the party since its first national convention a half-century ago."
• Reason's Jesse Walker talks Willie Nelson with the folks at National Review.