A Tale of Two Snowballs

I grew up in Chappaqua, New York, which is 20 miles northwest of New Rochelle. Both towns are in Westchester County, but they’re different.

Chappaqua’s population is 81% white, 12% Asian, and 2% black. Its median household income is $100,000. Its poverty rate is less than 4%. New Rochelle’s population is 47% white, 19% black, and 28% Latino/a. Its poverty rate is more than 12%. Its median household income is $67,000.

But here’s how I really know the difference between the two towns.

When I was growing up, my friend Mario, who’s no longer alive, came over to play. It was a snowy day. We decided to throw snowballs at cars. Our position protected by a tall hedge, we packed the snowballs tight and started hurling them onto the street. We did it for a while, till we heard a car screech and stop. And then we ran like hell.

About five or ten minutes later, my dad called out for us. The police were in the driveway. We got a stern talking-to, my parents yelled at us, and that was that.

Last Wednesday, a group of kids (it’s hard to say for sure, but they seem to be black; they’re definitely not white) were having a snowball fight in New Rochelle, somewhere near Lincoln Avenue and Hemingway Avenue. A snowball fight with each other.

A cop showed up, the kids dropped to their knees, and as this video shows, the cop drew his gun, shouting, “Don’t fucking move, guys.” He proceeded to frisk one of them, while keeping his gun on him, and then another.

There’s a report that the cops were responding to a call about a gun, but no one has confirmed it. The person taking the video, a woman, says, “They were having a snowball fight. This group of guys was having a snowball fight and now a cop has a gun on them.”

Update (8:30 pm)

I just found a Daily News report on the incident, which came out after I posted this. According to the News, the cops are claiming they responded to a 911 call about a teenager pointing a gun, in a group of teenagers, at someone else. They also claim that they have a transcript confirming the call, which they may release. As soon as the cops arrived, they claim, the kid with the gun took off. That is the point, they say, where the video begins. They also say there was no snowball fight going on prior to their arrival. I have no idea what the basis of that claim is.



  1. Alan Hertz February 1, 2015 at 1:12 pm | #

    Would that have happened, even in New Rochelle, when you were growing up? I grew up in Hartsdale and White Plains, and it would not have happened there. Times and police practices, alas, have changed!

  2. Stephen Zielinski February 1, 2015 at 1:22 pm | #

    I recall a friend and I riding the B train to Manhattan. School had just let out its students. They packed the train. And the were rowdy in my car. My friend and I exchanged nervous glances. Soon an NYPD patrolman entered the car. The situation he found there scared him shitless, and he immediately returned to the car he came from. A black teenager turned to me and said, “You thought he would save you!”

    This was not the first time I encountered police reticence to confront danger.

    • Thomas Leo Dumm February 1, 2015 at 2:07 pm | #

      Five years ago, my then sixteen year old son decided — without of course letting me know — to hold a party for some of his friends while I was out of town (the first time I had left him on his own overnight). Word went viral and by eleven that evening a neighbor called 911, and the police had to disperse a crowd of about 120 kids, There was alcohol and the smell of grass throughout the house. The police had my son call me (I was a couple hundred miles away). The officer on the phone assured me that everything was ok, that this sometimes happens, and no arrests were made. Given my class privilege — a full prof at Amherst College, living in a very nice residential neighborhood — this was the consequence of the evening, legally. (I grounded my son for three months, as much a punishment for me as for him.)

      Two weeks later, there was a much smaller party at one of my son’s friends in a subsidized housing development is south Amherst. Three arrests were made, including one of the parents of the kid who hosted the party. The only differences in the situation were race and class.

  3. fosforos17 February 1, 2015 at 2:11 pm | #

    You are too hard on the cops. They had heard that the snowballs looked dirty, and having learned from Rosetta/Philae that dirty snowballs are actually chunks of rock they were naturally very concerned. Who can blame them?

    • BillR February 1, 2015 at 2:33 pm | #

      At least they’re not summarily shooting kids in the head:

      Several years ago, I was researching the cause of death of Palestinian children killed by Israeli forces during the first months of the Second Intifadah, the Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation. As I counted up the numbers, I was chilled to discover that the single most frequent cause of death in those beginning months was “gunfire to the head.”


  4. Joel Miller February 1, 2015 at 2:14 pm | #

    The Chappaqua incident happened maybe 35 years ago? The relative prosperity and ethnic makeup of the City of New Rochelle and the Village of Chappaqua probably haven’t changed much except to become more extreme. New Rochelle has become more urbanized and Chappaqua wealthier. What has changed is the militarization of many police agencies throughout the U.S. and the concomitant siege mentality of many officers. The us against “them” mind set, witness the story of the Albuquerque PD most recently written about in the current issue of the New Yorker. What ever happened the friendly beat cop from yesteryear? It would be enlightening if you would share your thinking about the social issues that brought us to this point.

  5. Ronald Pires February 1, 2015 at 2:42 pm | #

    I’ve been saying this for years (people thought I was crazy), but these folks seriously need their weapons taken away. It’s time that they be forced to re-learn how to do their jobs without guns. I mean, what’s next? Spitballs?

    • Vince in MN February 3, 2015 at 6:49 pm | #

      “Finding” drugs and weapons at the scene, followed immediately by shots to the head.

  6. Roquentin February 1, 2015 at 8:06 pm | #

    This Chappelle’s Show bit is hilarious and pretty much sums it up:


  7. decollins1969 February 2, 2015 at 6:58 am | #

    I grew up in Mount Vernon, NY, three blocks from the Pelham border on East Lincoln. This is a both-and situation. Yes, the police are more belligerent and willing to use deadly force now than when I was young enough to throw snowballs at Bee-Line buses (1978-79, when I was nine) to be sure. But even in the 1970s and 1980s, police were much more likely to show up in my neighborhood ready to pull out a nightstick or gun if they received a 911 call alleging a violent incident (certainly if someone said a gun or knife was involved). New Rochelle Police weren’t much different then than they are today. Especially if the neighborhoods in question were Black and Latino ones.

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