NEW YORK – Outrage built Monday over a video showing police officers violently yanking a toddler from his mother’s arms at a Brooklyn public benefits office, with officials expressing horror and criticizing police for not de-escalating the situation, and clients of the facility complaining it is indicative of how the city treats social-services recipients.
A witness said a security officer confronted the woman, Jazmine Headley, who had sat on the floor of the crowded office for two hours because of a lack of chairs. Police were called when she refused to leave. The woman ended up lying face-up on the floor during a tug of war over the child.
“The baby was screaming for his life,” Nyashia Ferguson, who posted video on Facebook under the name Monae Sinclair, told The New York Times. “The lady was begging for them to get off of her. I was scared.”
Other clients shouted at the officers. At one point, an officer can be seen on the video pulling her stun gun and pointing it at people in the angry crowd.
Headley was charged with obstructing governmental administration, resisting arrest, endangering the welfare of a child and trespassing. As of Monday afternoon, she was still in jail because there was a warrant for her arrest in New Jersey, prosecutors said. Bail was not requested, and prosecutors were reaching out to New Jersey officials to “expedite her release.”
WATCH: Charges have been dropped against Brooklyn mother, Jazmine Headley, who was seen in a viral video desperately trying to protect her one-year-old son
The New York Police Department is investigating. The Brooklyn public defender’s office called on prosecutors to dismiss the charges.
It isn’t unusual for people seeking help to be treated badly by the very agencies they’re turning to, Lisa Schreibersdorf, executive director of Brooklyn Defender Services, said at a news conference.
“Poor people are often treated very less than, in many, many city-run agencies,” she said. “It is not uncommon for people who are in offices like this … to find themselves arrested because of an incident that wasn’t really criminal.”
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, a Democrat and former police officer, likened the officers involved in Headley’s arrest to “Border Patrol police snatching away” a baby. He called the arrest “a blemish on our entire city.”
“The mother didn’t endanger the welfare of the child. The actions of the department endangered the welfare of the child,” Adams said at the news conference. “If it’s wrong in Mexico, then it’s wrong in New York City.”
But the officers were “put in an impossible situation,” said Patrick Lynch, the head of the police union, in a statement. And, he said, “the event would have unfolded much differently if those at the scene had simply complied with the officers’ lawful orders.”
The Brooklyn district attorney’s office said it was independently investigating and “reviewing all available videos and interviewing witnesses with the intention of reaching a swift decision” on whether to move forward with the charges against Headley.
The NYPD, which called Friday’s confrontation “troubling,” said security guards had “brought the woman to the floor” before officers arrested her as she resisted. But Ferguson disputed that, saying a police officer had forced the woman to the floor.
“This is unacceptable, appalling and heart breaking,” City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, a Democrat, said on Twitter. “I’d like to understand what transpired and how these officers or the NYPD justifies this. It’s hard to watch this video.”
A court document said the toddler was just under 18 months old. A family member was taking care of the child, authorities said.
“Being poor is not a crime,” said Democrat Letitia James, the city’s public advocate and the state’s attorney general-elect, in a statement. “No mother should have to experience the trauma and humiliation we all witnessed in this video.”
Assistance recipients are treated as burdens and looked down on, said Karen Blondel, 56, a former client at the Brooklyn office, said.
“It’s absolutely inhumane,” she said, adding that workers should not be judgmental. “It’s about who’s eligible.”
Jeremy Friedman, 32, a massage therapist who has received food stamps, said it’s important to examine the NYPD’s actions and also those of the Human Resources Administration, where he said he was “treated like I’m not even human.”
Jennifer Roman, 33, said she works but has used public benefits for 13 years. She went to the Brooklyn office for the first time Monday after moving to the neighbourhood from the Bronx.
There’s a systemwide problem of disrespect, Roman said, and she was not surprised by what the video showed.
There’s a perception, she said, that “since we need help, we’re no good, we’re scum.”