New Yorkers are lining up to get jabbed by the NYPD. Over the past three weeks, members of the NYPD Medical Division, supplemented by officers trained as nurses and paramedics, have been distributing doses of the coveted Johnson & Johnson vaccine at a temporary vaccination site in East New York, Brooklyn. The distribution center has drawn some criticism — having cops administer shots may not be the best way to combat so-called vaccine hesitancy in a predominantly Black neighborhood — but plenty of people are taking advantage of the center after finding appointments on websites like TurboVax and the city-run Vaccine Finder.
“I didn’t care that it was the NYPD,” said Ian James, a 40-year-old Brownsville resident who emerged from the New York City Police Department Community Center on Pennsylvania Avenue after getting his shot on Monday. “In fact, it made me think it was even more safe.”
But the center is located in the NYPD’s 75th Precinct, which has been mired in controversy recently. Just this month, the precinct’s commanding officer was transferred after community backlash stemming from his handling of a fight between civilians and officers over mask rules. The dustup in the 75th Precinct is the result of the increased scrutiny police across the city have been under since last year’s George Floyd protests, which inspired the defund-the-police movement.
“There were definitely some concerns about trust in terms of the people who want to take the vaccine, and now you’re telling me the police are administering it?” said Reverend Kevin McCall, a civil-rights activist who started the petition to oust the 75th Precinct commander. “Last year, they were giving out masks in the white community and beating up Black and brown folks for not wearing masks. We don’t want an encounter where someone comes to the site to get vaccinated and they see an officer who beat them.”
The NYPD announced the center at a mid-March press conference, at which point the department had already administered 42,000 shots to current and retired NYPD officers and personnel, NYCHA residents, other city employees, and senior citizens. The department said it plans to vaccinate 40,000 more New Yorkers at the center by the end of May.
Public-health experts and advocates have argued that access to health care is a bigger factor for Black Americans than any hesitancy about the vaccine, and while New Yorkers from all over can make an appointment at the NYPD Community Center, the location itself is in the middle one of the least-vaccinated areas of the city. Only about 19 percent of East New York residents have been vaccinated, according to the New York Times, and rates in surrounding neighborhoods are just as low.
“What better place to bring it than right in the heart of East New York, right next door to Brownsville and Bushwick, to communities that really, truly need a place where they can get this vaccine,” said the NYPD’s chief of community affairs, Jeffrey Maddrey, at the press conference.
“I wasn’t worried about the vaccine or the NYPD,” said Jeanine Cambridge, 45, a Brooklyn resident who walked out of the center on Monday. In fact, of the newly vaccinated people streaming out of the center on Monday, only a few seemed apprehensive about having gotten the shot from the NYPD, and even they were more than willing to look past the Thin Blue Line. A 26-year-old Park Slope resident said that she considered changing her appointment when she saw that it was at the NYPD’s center but decided against it because she wanted the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
“They’re the biggest gang in the world,” Dave Rublin, a 34-year-old musician from Bushwick, said of the NYPD. “But I don’t give a shit. I just want to live.”