© Josh Sager – September 2015
Occasionally, I come across an article that is so absurd, unjust, and insane that I do a double take and think that there is no way that the story is accurate (unless it is coming out of Florida, in which case I tend to have lower standards of credulity). I immediately think that it must be a joke, accidental cross-post from The Onion, or be omitting major facts. Unfortunately, my disbelief is rarely justified, and further research into these situations often confirms that our society can be just as crazy and unjust as I fear.
This week, I experienced such a double take when reading about the arrest, institutionalization and involuntary medication of Kamilah Brock by the NYPD. She was forcibly sent to a mental institution by the police for the terrible crime of claiming ownership over own car and pumped full of psychotropic drugs by hospital staff who failed to do even basic due diligence.
Just over a year ago, on the night of September 12th, 2014, Kamilah Brock was driving her car—BMW 325ZCI—down a street in Harlem when she was pulled over by a NYPD officer. The officer claimed that she had broken the law by not keeping both hands on the steering wheel while sitting at a stoplight and arrested her. After several hours waiting at the 30th Precinct, the police released Brock without charging her with a crime or issuing a civil traffic fine, and told her that she could pick up her car the next day.
However, when Brock went to the police station on the morning of September 13th, the police refused to let her pick up her car, handcuffed her, and dragged her into an ambulance. They brought her to Harlem Hospital, forcibly committed her to the psych ward, and had the hospital staff medicate her with powerful psychotropic drugs.
Apparently, the police didn’t believe that Brock actually owned her BMW—disregarding the facts that she had the keys and was named as the owner on the registration documents—and decided that she was delusional.
Over the next eight days, Kamilah Brock was kept in the psych ward, repeatedly drugged, and told that she would only be released if she admitted that the car was not hers, that she wasn’t a banker, and that Obama didn’t follow her on Twitter—three claims that they had deemed to be delusions. Eventually, the hospital staff realized that something was wrong and that their patient was not actually delusional. They released her, then sent her $13,000 bill for the privilege of being illegally incarcerated and drugged.
This situation has so many amazing parts that it is hard to know where to start and what to identify as the most unjust part—as such, I will simply take things chronologically.
First, the police officer who arrested Brock for not having both hands on the steering wheel is illustrating just how hard it is for some Americans to avoid trouble. It is absolutely absurd that an officer would give anybody a ticket for not having both hands on the wheel while at a red light (which isn’t actually against the law), never mind arrest them and impound their car. This is, arguably, the most absurd justification for a stop I have ever heard about and should be outrageous even without the ensuing injustices.
Second, the fact that Brock had to wait in the police station for hours while the police decided what to do is ridiculous. Such a ridiculous justification for a stop should have been met with disbelief and derision by the other officers at the station and led her to be released immediately, with car and an apology.
Third, the actions of the police officers who had Brock committed are absolutely inexcusable and indicative of extreme latent racism. They simply couldn’t believe that a black woman could own a BMW and made the evidence-free judgement that Brock was clearly insane. This snap-judgement led them to violate her rights in the most extreme way and they should be immediately fired.
This kind of thing simply doesn’t happen to white bankers in New York, regardless of what position their hands are at while waiting at a red light. Anybody to argue that this situation is color-blind is simply delusional, albeit not enough to warrant the treatment that was given to Brock.
Fourth, the hospital staff to have received Brock made a series of incredible mistakes that should, at minimum, cost them their jobs and ability to practice medicine. They took custody of a woman with no history of mental illness and kept her drugged for days without ever making even cursory attempts to check if she was delusional—it would have taken about three minutes to check her Twitter followers to see if Obama was her follower and it would be only slightly more difficult to check what type of car she owned.
While these doctors and nurses will claim that the police had given them bad information, this is no excuse for their actions. They are ostensibly trained to evaluate patients for mental fitness and, at minimum, made snap-judgements that led them to extreme an extreme misdiagnosis.
Fifth, Harlem hospital’s billing department made an extremely stupid choice when they sent Brock a $13,000 bill. She didn’t choose to be committed and was the victim of the stupidity of the hospital staff. The costs of her stay should have been written off or, at minimum, delivered to the police.
Currently, Kamilah Brock has a current lawsuit against the NYPD for this situation. While she hasn’t revealed how much money she will claim in damages, I wouldn’t flinch if it was north of $10,000,000. A strong message must be sent that this type of conduct is not acceptable and that this kind of abuse has severe consequences.
Beyond awarding her with an absurd amount of damages, I would also go after the jobs of the police officers who had her committed and the hospital staff who so terribly mismanaged her case—the police have shown their biases and willingness to violate the rights of those who they should serve while the hospital staff have shown themselves to be incompetent.
Ideally, the police officer who had Brock committed should also be forced to shoulder all of the costs from her stay in the psych ward, but this is almost certainly impossible. The 30th Precinct should have the $13,000 taken directly out of their operating budget and used to pay for these costs.