On May 14, Evelyn Warren and Michael Tarif Warren, attorneys at law, held a press conference. They stood outside the Brooklyn Federal Courthouse and announced that their case, Warren v. City of New York, had been settled. They had dropped their lawsuit against the city and the NYPD officers who had beaten and arrested them five years before.
Early in the evening of June 21, 2007, the Warrens were driving in Brooklyn when they saw police chasing a young man into a McDonald’s parking lot. The cops tackled the youth, handcuffed him, threw him to the ground, and began kicking him in the head. The Warrens pulled over, got out of their car, and respectfully asked one Sergeant Steven Talvy of the NYPD Street Narcotic Enforcement Unit why he and his officers were battering someone who was obviously helpless.
At the press conference, Tarif Warren, with his usual soft-spoken dignity, described how Sergeant Steven Talvy yelled at them to “get the ‘F’ back in your vehicle, stay the ‘F’ out of our business.” The Warrens got back into their car.
But, said Tarif, “because the police weren’t wearing identification or badges, we started taking down license plate numbers of what we thought were police vehicles. Sergeant Talvy saw us, came over, and began to punch me on the left side of my head, bursting both my lips. When my wife asked why he did that, he punched her in the jaw. Then he yanked me out of the vehicle with such force that he ripped all the buttons off my shirt and ripped the entire left pants leg of my suit. He slammed me up against the vehicle, handcuffed me, and shoved me in a police van, injuring my shoulder and my head. Something that will always be with me is the wild rage I saw in Steven Talvy’s eyes. Evelyn and I knew that if I had made one slight move, we would not be here today.”
Tarif and Evelyn were charged with resisting arrest, obstructing government administration, and disorderly conduct — offenses carrying seriously penalties. But after a year of court dates, prosecutors dismissed the charges, confessing to the judge that they had no evidence.
New York City, while admitting no wrongdoing in the settlement, awarded Evelyn and Tarif $360,000. And so a traumatic event upending the Warrens’ lives is resolved. Life for Evelyn and Tarif can return to normal. Right?
Have I mentioned that the Warrens are African-American? Did I need to? Do you need to ask the race of the youth whose beating they tried to stop?
China Miéville’s book “The City and the City” takes place in two cities occupying the same geographical space. One city is upscale and thriving; the other, in decline. What keeps the cities inviolably separate is the conscious perceptions, sculpted from birth, of their citizens. To travel between cities without a permit is worse than criminal; to be in both at once, unthinkable.
In New York, New York (they had to name it twice), there are also two cities.
On one hand is the city of Normal. Normal residents assume that, though unfairness may exist, their world is basically all right. Normal life allows one to ignore or “unsee” the city of Pogrom.
Pogrom, on the other hand, runs on fear and a paranoiac onslaught of police and the courts against mostly brown and black people. Pogrom operates impersonally, under the cool, reptilian assumption that atrocities are a useful way to manage a dangerous population. Pogrom’s stop-and-frisk practices, its beatings and arrests coexist alongside the hardworking, God-fearing people of Normal, who, given the benefit of the doubt, are simply trying to live their lives.
On June 21, 2007, the Warrens chose to transgress boundaries — they lived in both cities at once, without a permit.
At the press conference, Evelyn and I talked. “To witness Sergeant Talvy beating my husband, who was offering no resistance and doing nothing wrong,” she said, “has taken a mental and emotional toll on me. I’m no longer as open or receptive to people. I don’t nurture my relationships. It’s like I’ve gone into a shell.”
Though relieved the case is officially over, Evelyn described how disheartened she is that the NYPD hasn’t changed; that, after the incident, Sergeant Talvy was even promoted to lieutenant. In fact, Talvy and his officers were in court last week for jury selection, before the case settled.
“It was like they were at a ball game, laughing, kidding around like they had no real concerns. It’ll sound crazy, but the defendants’ table was behind ours, and it was just killing me that if we went to trial, Talvy would be sitting behind me.”
Later, I described this case to a friend. He’d seen a clip of the press conference on TV news; he was clearly upset that these upstanding people were treated unjustly. But when I mentioned two black men, Ramarley Graham and Kenneth Chamberlain — an 18-year-old in the Bronx and a 68-year-old in White Plains — who were recently shot to death in their own homes by police, my friend backed off a little.
“It’s always been this way,” he said, trying to Normalize the situation. “Maybe it’s worse under Kelly and Bloomberg, but things have always been this way.”
Tarif and Evelyn came of age during the era of civil rights and black nationalism. Different as Martin Luther King and Malcolm X were tactically, they shared a conviction in an inherent human goodness. They believed things don’t have to be this way.
That’s why Evelyn talks about “remaining vigilant.” “In spite of what’s happened to us,” she said, “I hope, if we were confronted with the same situation, we’d do the same thing.”
The point is, you usually don’t realize which city you live in until something like this happens to you.
“What they want is to frighten people so no one stops and bears witness,” Evelyn added. “If people have the courage to say, ‘No, what you’re doing is wrong and I’m not going to move on,’ then maybe one day, something will change.”
Then maybe one day, we will all live in the same city.