NYPD Incident at Upstate Stock Raises Questions About PPE, Racism and Intimidation
A video depicting an NYPD officer repeatedly asking a barista at Upstate Stock (2 Berry St.) why he can’t use the bathroom has led to several questions about the incident, including why the officer and his colleague are not, like many officers seen across the city, wearing mandatory face masks inside a business that requires protective measures.
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This is insane! We had 6 police vans parked in front of the store today. They hung out all day coming in and out. I, the owner Bram Robinson, was there from 8am until 2pm and they came in in groups of 10 trying to use our bathroom. We CLEARLY have instructions posted at the entrance that we have a 4 person limit and you HAVE to wear masks….none of them did. I told them numerous times to wait outside and obey the 4 person rule. This police officer came in after I left and and said he said 30 police officers are coming in to use the bathroom and my employee denied tbem. This is what happened…I am so sorry to my Baristas for being intimidated by this asshole. They basically shut down my business today, abused my employees, and I NONE of them wore masked in a private business that has spent months surviving while obeying all social distancing regulations.
Upstate Stock owner Bram Robinson didn’t expect to be selling as much smoked salmon and kale (or donating as much hand sanitizer) as he did this spring, reformulating his store to sell provisions in the era of COVID-19. He also didn’t expect that while selling more than ever, to be losing “piles of money” and have his business at the center of a viral video that’s led to a debate over pandemic and racial concerns.
On Saturday, June 6, two separate videos captured the incident in question. An officer standing behind one speaking to the barista filmed his version of the event, while a bystander recorded another version. She’d been in the store to buy a gift for a friend who was working through COVID, and felt fed up with the police presence in the area. Once she saw a mask-less officer recording the incident on his phone, she decided to record it too and share the video with the employees, to help share their side of the story. Some video viewers are using the officer’s push back to exemplify NYPD’s intimidation tactics, while others see racism in the interaction.
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Please note he has edited this to his narrative and the customer who filmed the previous post has the longer version where my employee finally explains why MANY officers were denied access to our closed bathrooms after I, the owner, left the premises and the officer agrees and says ‘you should have just said that’. I’m incredibly proud of the way they handled it and I am at a loss at why officer @nisancornibert has publicly posted this and what the purpose was to create this confrontation in a private business while not complying with any of the covid procedures that define how we can operate, and have operated, for over 3 months. To clarify again, that when I was there I made an exception, out of empathy, to let two police officers use our completely closed bathroom as it HAS to be cleaned after anyone from outside uses it. I cleaned it right after they used it as I am the extra person Saturday mornings. After I left for the day I told them that no one else can use it, which has been the standard since March. The 30 or so officers outside in vans continued to come and MANY officers were denied (I have silent security footage of them coming in and then walking out once told), all of whom didn’t wear masks AND ignored our clearly posted instructions of 4 person maximum at a time in the store…they literally walked by customers waiting outside obeying our social distancing guidelines. The female white officer he is pointing at in this video is the one I let use the bathroom well before he was denied, and he is purposely not admitting other officers were denied after I left. These two baristas are 20 and 22 and handled themselves amazing well. Please see the previous post for the end of that video where my employee states ‘the owner said no more people can use the bathroom and NONE of you are wearing masks’ which means as per our posted signs, they are 100% not allowed into the business, regardless of their uniform. I cannot imagine how this confrontation ends for people of color who do not carry our inherent privilege and we are aware it allows us to even speak back to officers in situations like this.
Last weekend, Robinson (who is White) was working at Upstate Stock’s Kent Avenue shop when he noticed police vans parked outside around 11 a.m. As a local business owner, he knew these weren’t neighborhood cops, but likely officers sent to monitor protests. He welcomed officers who came into the shop, at first distracted by the uniforms, he “didn’t even realize they weren’t wearing masks,” he says. When a captain and his colleague asked to use the bathroom, Robinson decided to open it up as a courtesy, and sanitize it afterwards. The captain then spent $75 at the store, which Robinson says was “totally cool.”
Upstate Stock has had an “out of order” sign on the bathroom door to prevent patron usage since early March. Only four masked shoppers are allowed in the store at once, and free gloves are required to touch the inventory, rules most NYPD officers repeatedly did not follow while enjoying the air conditioning inside Upstate Stock on Saturday. More officers trickled in, ostensibly after learning about the open bathroom. “They were like school children on a field trip,” Robinson recalls. Customers waiting outside observing social distancing were “offended,” but he decided not to make a big issue of the cluster of mostly mask-less cops in his store.
20-year-old barista Justice appeared for work at noon on Saturday with his 22-year-old boyfriend and co-worker. His boss, Robinson, warned them about unmasked cops taking up space in the store all day. When he left, he told them that no one at all could use the bathroom.
Shortly after, an officer asked Justice to use the restroom, he told her it wasn’t allowed, and she left. Later, another officer asked to use the restroom, and was given the same response. He went outside to join his colleagues, and what happens next is recorded:
In the footage, the officer returns with a colleague recording on an iPhone to ask Justice why he won’t allow him, a black officer, to use the shop’s bathroom, citing that his white colleague used the same bathroom earlier. The barista explains he’s under strict instructions from the manager to not allow anyone in the bathroom. Upstate Stock is near McCarren Park, where public bathrooms are open to all.
After the officer leaves, Justice witnessed him laughing outside with his colleagues. He was angry that the officer then uploaded the video to Instagram, as Justice is a barista at a small coffee shop, not a public officer, and didn’t want to be recorded. “It’s not fair that my face is in their narrative, it’s really frustrating,” he says. “I do a lot to be an activist and uplift other people’s voices.” Justice, who is queer, also felt that the officer was trying to intimidate him with his deeper voice.
Upstate Stock has not posted anything on its Instagram grid, Facebook page or website voicing support of the recent protests, but has dedicated three posts to the June 6th incident.
The incident has been shared with Attorney General Letitia James, who is currently investigating alleged NYPD misconduct, as well as Assemblyman Joe Lentol. Robinson says he’s not sure how far he wants to push this, but noted that he sees the incident as “a police tactic to redirect the narrative.” He’s still unclear why an officer was in his private business without PPE confronting an employee. “It was just bullying,” he says.
We’ve reached out to the NYPD officer depicted in the video for comment. This story is developing and will be updated accordingly.