Cellphone footage capturing the dispute at a Human Resources Administration office went viral this month after it was posted to Facebook. The mother at the center of the story, 23-year-old Jazmine Headley, spoke out about the incident in an interview published Sunday by The New York Times.
“It’s the story of many other people, it’s not just my story,” Headley said. “My story is the only one that made it to the surface.”
Headley went to the Boerum Hill social services office on Dec. 7 with her son, Damone, to inquire why she hadn’t received a much-needed child care financial assistance payment. After waiting for several hours, Headley decided to sit on the floor with her son because there wasn’t anywhere else available, she told the Times. HRA security guards ordered Headley to get up, but she refused.
“I just remember being talked to very viciously,” Headley told the Times. “It was more or less: ‘You’re going to do what I say, and that’s it.’”
The security guards eventually called the New York Police Department. Officers who said they told the mother that they did not want to arrest her and that she needed to leave. Police told the Times that Headley, holding her son, turned to leave when a security guard grabbed her arm and they fell to the floor.
“In my head, I told myself they’re not going to let me leave,” Headley said. “I was so afraid.”
What happened next has been condemned as both “disturbing” and “troubling” by lawmakers and police officials. Video shows NYPD officers wrestling Damone away from Headley as she cries out for help.
“They’re hurting my son! They’re hurting my son!” Headley yells in the video, as police attempt to restrain her. “I’m begging you, please.”
Onlookers cry out in horror as the officers pull Headley’s son away. One officer wields a yellow stun gun, prompting an onlooker to yell out, “She has a fucking baby in her hands!”
Police charged Headley with several misdemeanor offenses, including resisting arrest and acting in a manner injurious to a child. Prosecutors later dropped the charges.
Headley was held on Rikers Island until Dec. 11 on a warrant from an unrelated credit card fraud case in New Jersey. Damone was placed in the care of a family member during that period.
HRA suspended two security guards for 30 days. The security guards who were suspended have said they were injured in the confrontation. One of them alleged Headley bit her in the arm, causing it to swell.
The police department defended the actions of the two officers in the video.
Other recipients of public assistance said the video sheds light on their struggle to overcome financial strain and the burden of bureaucracy just to make ends meet.
“They’re always rude,” Nyashia Ferguson, who recorded the viral video, told the Times. HRA office security guards “think that people that are poor don’t have nothing, so you can treat them any kind of way.”
New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson (D) echoed those comments.
“In two minutes and 26 seconds of video, we saw how our system criminalizes poverty, disproportionately punishes petty behavior and irresponsibly separates parents from children without considering the lasting damage that will occur to these parents and children,” he tweeted.
Head over to The New York Times to read Headley’s full interview.