After a week of Tweeting about the tragic murder of Trayvon Martin, chef-turned-reality star Roblé Ali used social media to document yet another ordeal that speaks to the climate of hatred Black men face in this country.
Ali, the star of Bravo’s hit “Chef Roble and Co.” spoke with EBONY shortly after what he describes to be a brutal case of police brutality in Brooklyn on late Saturday afternoon.
The Poughkeepsie, NY native says that he was riding in a car with three other young Black men returning from a photo shoot. As they drove down Flushing and Throop in the famed Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood, they observed that NYPD officers were pulling cars over at random for “safety checks”, a questionable practice that has landed officers in hot water over accusations of racial profiling many times in the past.
“This isn’t Nazi, Germany”, said Ali. “They were just stopping people for no reason.” A prolific Tweeter, he quickly began documenting the evening’s events for his 37k followers. He described witnessing a young, “hipster looking” White male with a dog in his car get stopped and arrested shortly thereafter. The police then made their way to his vehicle.
“They had us in the car for like half an hour,” Ali said. “They ran (the driver’s) license, he had a ticket he hadn’t paid and his license was suspended. Hey, it happens, I had a suspended license in New York before. It’s just a misdemeanor.”
The 27-year-old says that the officers then ordered the driver out of the car, which troubled the group (“The last guy who got out his car got arrested”) and when the young man questioned why, an officer opened his door.
“The cop yanks him out of the car and they just jump on him.”
According to Ali, the man was then pepper sprayed by one officer, restrained by two others and beaten with a baton by a fourth—despite the fact that he was not resisting arrest. “Two other cops had him pinned on the ground. They get him on the ground, there’s a guy on his back, one with a knee on his neck…there was no reason to do that…It was unnecessary violence. They enjoyed beating him. They liked it.”
Ali said that there was so much pepper spray used that it began to fill the car, which led him to get out to escape the fumes. He says he was ordered to “Get the f*ck back in the car”, to which he replied “You gotta be out of your damn mind.” Ali claims that the cop then shoved him toward the curb.
Meanwhile, onlookers were booing the officers (Ali claims there were at least six on the scene: five White males and one Asian male) and screaming, “Videotape this!” Ali then pulled out his iPhone and captured footage of them picking the driver up by his handcuffed wrists (which seemed unnecessary as there were enough officers present to pick him off the ground in a less potentially harmful manner). He uploaded the video to his Tumblr almost immediately.
Ali and the other passengers were able to leave, but the driver was arrested and was likely held overnight. “I’m sure he’s in pain right now. He was beaten and pepper sprayed and now he’s sitting in a jail cell,” said Ali, who added that he’d spoke to the young man’s parents and that they would be attempting to have him released as soon as possible.
The TV star encouraged his Twitter followers to RT the link to his Tumblr page in hopes that it would compel NYPD officials to thoroughly investigate the incident. He also added that he’s no stranger to violence at the hands of the police, tweeting “This crap happens all the time. Cops beat me up in Poughkeepsie when I was like 19.”
Regardless of the reason for the random stop, Ali maintains that the driver and the rest of their party weren’t guilty of anything but being “four Black men driving very lawfully in a BMW” and that there was no provocation that led to the alleged assault. “We were minding our own business, they didn’t have to go that far.”
He says that he didn’t feel helpless watching the assault, just enraged: “I wasn’t afraid. I was angry and I knew I couldn’t do anything because I would go to jail.”
Pointing to the arrest of the White motorist just minutes before, Ali says race was likely a factor in the incident. “The way that they interacted with the White guy was gentleman-like. They arrested him in a nice, polite way. They talked to him. They frisked him. They arrested him. The guy I was with asked them one question and they jumped on like a bunch of pitbulls.”
Ali is frustrated by what he describes as a lack of humanity on the part of the officers: “I just don’t understand how people are so inhumane to each other. Its like they don’t look at other humans like they’re people. When you hit a person, it hurts that person. Why don’t they get that?”
“It was just too much. He didn’t pay a parking ticket and that turned into being pepper sprayed and brutalized. It just doesn’t make sense.”
Jamilah Lemieux is the News and Lifestyle Editor for EBONY.com. Follow her on Twitter: @jamilahlemieux