Dozens of concerned citizens gathered outside of Binghamton City Hall in upstate New York on Monday to protest what they say is an officer’s use of excessive force against a Black man during the early morning hours of New Year’s Day.
Video of the arrest, where a Binghamton Police Department officer appears to be kneeling on or near Hamail Waddell’s neck, has been circulating on social media, prompting activists to ask if members of law enforcement have learned anything since George Floyd’s death.
A police report made after the arrest noted that Waddell and several others had been involved in a late-night fight outside Dillinger’s Irish pub. As a result, the young man was charged with resisting arrest.
Local station WIVT reports that witnesses claim Waddell, who is of Asian and African-American descent, was not involved in the fight.
Those witnesses state a group of white men jumped a different man of color, alleging police watched from a distance until the fight escalated. Waddell is said to have been one of the witnesses to the first fight and tried to break it up. Officers stepped in and grabbed Waddell and threw him on the ground, his supporters say.
“We have fights frequently that are instigated by BU students, and they’re protected by law enforcement because the city does that for the university. And we are here today to say not only is that not OK, but their treatment over the weekend of this young man of color, who could be any one of our children, this is going to keep happening unless we continue to raise the alarm,” community activist Rebecca Rathmell said, adding the dustups happen almost on a bi-weekly basis.
Footage shot on a bystander’s cellphone shows the arresting officer with his knee squarely on the young person’s back and neck. The image reminded many people of a similar culture-shifting incident in Minneapolis a couple of years ago, where former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck, WBNG reports.
Salka Valerio, a community stakeholder and activist, said to the press that the community “had this conversation in 2020” about the maneuver to restrain a suspect.
“I don’t understand why in 2023, we’re out there in front of the police station talking about the same kneel that killed George Floyd,” Valerio continued.
Just like in the Floyd case, a civilian leaked video on social media has placed a spotlight on the alleged use of excessive force. In this case, there are multiple videos, with someone on a second video calling for others to pull their phones out and document the incident.
One of the videos is only 11 seconds, but clearly shows the arrest, capturing the man screaming for others to record and, before it ends, uttering, “I can’t breathe.”
“This is going to keep happening unless we continue to raise the alarm,” Rathmell said.
The Binghamton Police have not released a comment regarding the case. Still, the city’s mayor, Jared Kraham, has released his remarks, informing the community of an in-depth investigation underway.
“Binghamton Police are aware of a social media post with photos and video of an arrest that took place at roughly 3:19 a.m. on Jan. 1 on State Street downtown,” said Kraham.
He also mentioned on Monday, Jan. 2, the 24-year-old male in the video filed a complaint with Binghamton Police.
“Like all complaints,” he said. “It will be swiftly and thoroughly investigated to determine facts, including review of body camera footage.”
Valerio also said Waddell has never been in trouble with the law and noted that on the morning of the arrest, he had hundreds of dollars worth of belongings and cash confiscated by the police from his person. The new father had no intention of bringing the new year this way.
Filmmaker Darryl Wharton-Rigby, who shared the soundless version of the video on Twitter, also noted the year was starting on the wrong foot.
“It’s 2023, and it’s already starting. No matter what this man may have done, police should not be putting their knees on people’s necks, especially if they are already handcuffed. This happened in Binghamton, NY on 1/1/23,” he tweeted.
The demonstrators are asking not just for a thorough investigation and for “someone to be held accountable,” but they want the officer “immediately fired.” They also want to see the police body camera footage. Officials have not answered the request for the footage.