Well, here’s something to brighten your morning. Sort of. Gothamist reports today that a Bushwick bartender, Mandy Jo Reiner, was awarded $27,000 in her lawsuit against the NYPD, the result of an arrest by Officer Dennis Westbrook back in July. It just gets really, really weird from here. It will make you despise the NYPD more than you already (maybe, probably) do. Like this: Westbrook, an Iraq vet, posted a picture of him kissing the decapitated head of a dog on his Facebook from his tour in 2011.
Hey, why is that relevant to Reiner’s case? Well, one imagines the NYPD is going to do all it can to protect one of its own in any kind of sticky legal matter, but in this case, it looks like the cops got caught with thumbs up their asses. It was a totally bogus arrest. In July, Reiner was arrested in the middle of the night while bartending at Heavy Woods on suspicion that she was covering for her boyfriend who may have vandalized a wall across the street. When Reiner started to have a panic attack from her claustrophobia (for which she is prescribed medication) in the back of the cop van, she was denied her request to get some fresh air.
So, to undercut Reiner’s character, her attorney had to show that Westbrook, outside of his police capacities, was fucked up. It’s almost comical how damning the evidence he found was, and literally how he found it. “[A] cursory Google search revealed that Westbrook” posted a photo of him kissing the abovementioned head of the dog on his Facebook profile in 2011. It’s since been deleted, but if you want to look at it, follow this link. (You’ve been warned; it is extremely disheartening, disgusting, and terrifying). Apparently, the poor dog had been torn apart in an attack on a building in which Westbrook was involved.
So that’s what got Reiner the $27,000 in damages, and she fucking deserves it. But, I do want to say that these, um, “bureaucratic oversights” point to a larger problem yet to be diagnosed in the systems that regulate and sanction violence, or the means to violence. I mean, doesn’t that sound like Westbrook was improperly evaluated, or something? Who didn’t catch the hints that Westbrook, post-Iraq, shouldn’t be allowed to be an NYPD officer? And on the national scale, there’s the Navy Yard shooting. Alexis shouldn’t have been allowed to have a gun, but did because no mental health professional that Alexis reached out to gave him the time of day. Our own Henry Stewart gave us some incisive insights about how improvements to our mental healthcare system can help us prevent incidents like this from happening again. But I think it could also help us better understand the role violence plays in our culture.
It’s cruelly ironic that the very symptoms of, say, depression and post-trauma exactly describe what politicians are doing—or not doing—with legislation: denial and avoidance. Additionally, our cultural attitude toward mental healthcare isn’t dissimilar from how we treat a fever: take some pills. But mental health isn’t just a field that can be completely understood on neuro-biological grounds. I’m not one to defend the actions of the NYPD lately, but they’re still real people with real emotions that get caught in their own unhealthy cycles. It’s unclear whether Westbrook will continue to serve or not, but I hope the NYPD, at the least, suspends and forces him to go see a therapist or a psychologist. He shouldn’t be a cop.