Volume 80, Number 16 | September 16 - 22, 2010
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Photo by Clayton Patterson

Ahmed Parvesh in front of Munchies on Essex St.

Munchies man calls out police on ‘phony’ arrest

By Lincoln Anderson

A member of a family-owned business on the Lower East Side is accusing police of a double standard for falsely arresting him when he tried to return a cell phone but refusing to arrest a customer after he swiped one of the shop’s fancy stools.

The son of Bangladeshi immigrants, Parvesh Ahmed, 25, was born, raised and still lives on the Lower East Side. His family’s business, Munchies, a burgers-and-fries place, opened two years ago on Essex St. between Houston and Stanton Sts.

As Ahmed tells it, early one evening toward the end of April, he was doing his usual “daily round,” making deliveries and distributing fliers for the restaurant, when he found a cell phone in a bike lane at Broome and Allen Sts. It was “a normal AT&T phone,” nothing fancy, he noted.

According to Ahmed, he called the cell’s number and told the person that answered that he’d meet them at Orchard and Stanton Sts. to return it, but first had to make a delivery on Ludlow St.

When he arrived at the location, he saw a young woman standing on the corner.

“As soon as I gave her the phone, two undercover cops threw me up against the wall,” he said. When the officers went through his wallet and saw his last name, according to Ahmed, one of them said, “Oh, it’s a f------ Arab.”

He was handcuffed, put in a police car and taken to the Seventh Precinct on Pitt St.

“I told them I own a business, I’m from the neighborhood — and they recognized me, too,” he said. Police accused him of asking for money in return for returning the phone.

“They claim that someone sent a text message, saying, ‘$100 please.’ ” But he said the text was from 7:30 p.m., a half-hour before he found the phone.

Initially, he was charged with grand larceny.

He was taken Downtown to “The Tombs” on Centre St. where he was held until 3 p.m., spending nearly 20 hours in the system.

“I was next to murderers and a rapist,” he recalled. “A guy uptown had shot a guy in the head and killed him.”

While he was being held, the charge was lowered from grand larceny to petty larceny. A judge offered him a punishment of five days of community service — but Ahmed declined, saying he’d only been trying to do a good deed.

Speaking of good deeds, Ahmed said earlier this year he helped police with their investigation after a 30-year-old clubgoer from the Vault, on the corner of Essex and Houston Sts., on March 20 was beaten into a coma by three men in front of Clayton Patterson’s Outlaw Gallery down the block. The victim later died.

Ironically, Ahmed was an auxiliary police officer from 2001 to 2003 at the East Village’s Ninth Precinct, and once dreamed of joining the force.

“I got mobilized during 9/11,” he said. “I was actually transferring body parts from Ground Zero to Murry Bergtraum High School gymnasium in an N.Y.P.D. auxiliary vehicle — when they didn’t have a place to put the bodies. They were in doggie bags. I was down there Sept. 11, 12, 13, 14.”

He’s also been active in the local Bangladeshi community, raising $17,000 for victims of the 2007 tsunami.

In June, Ahmed learned his charge had been dropped again, down to misconduct. There wouldn’t be a record of the incident, he was told, though he would have to pay a $150 fine. But Ahmed isn’t accepting the charge.

Very family oriented, Bangladeshis frown on crime, he noted.

“It’s a dishonor to be arrested — like equivalent to a murder,” he noted.

Bangladeshis first started settling on the Lower East Side in the 1970s. In 1976, one of his relatives was the first Bangladeshi kid to attend P.S. 22, just across the street from Munchies.

“Normally, my style, I would drop it — like, ‘I’m out,’” he said. “But I got so violated over there. I have all the positives going for me — I’m trying to be a young entrepreneur. They treated me like a criminal.

“It’s something I don’t want nobody to experience, especially with this whole mosque thing,” he added of the Ground Zero controversy. “I feel like Muslims nowadays are exactly like blacks were treated in the slavery days.”

Three weeks after the phone incident, a Munchies customer, taking a shining to one of the shop’s stylish stools, stole it and put it in the car of his friend, who drove off with it. Police caught and cuffed the stool stealer, making him call his friend, who returned the seat, after which the officers let them all go free. A female relative of Ahmed’s protested to the police that they should arrest the man who took the chair — but, according to her, one of the officers threatened to arrest her instead. After his phone ordeal, Ahmed said the police refusing to arrest the stool thief was galling.

Meanwhile, he said, he closes up his shop by 3 a.m. — though they could still make money after that hour — because the street outside is so out of control that he and his relatives fear for their safety. He describes the crowd that goes to the Vault, on the corner, and other local nightspots as “bridge and tunnel.”

Indeed, right after concluding an interview on a recent early Sunday morning around 1:30 a.m., Parvesh, a reporter and a photographer walked out of Munchies and immediately witnessed a fight on Essex St. outside the Vault. Several men were punching another man, who dropped to his knees by the curb, then got back on his feet and took off running east on East Houston St. with one of his attackers in hot pursuit. The assailants continued to run and stalk around Houston and Essex Sts., beating up one man they encountered, seemingly randomly, near Norfolk St.; when a photographer tried to take the victim’s photo, he held a hand up in front of his face as he staggered off across Houston St.

At one point, one of the band of roving attackers confronted the photographer, and asked, “Is it all right?” Big and well built, he looked like he could have played tight end for the Jets. The photographer said, yes, and walked away to end the tense stare down with the volatile man. The hopped-up clubgoer eventually got into a taxi with some of his buddies and left.

Reflecting on the open violence, Ahmed said, “It’s only 1:35 a.m. Somebody just got punched in the middle of the street. This is the third one this day,” he added, noting he was also counting someone who had earlier “punched a cab.”

As for the phone incident, Patterson vouched for Ahmed’s character.

“I photographed him growing up,” the documentarian said. “He never hung out with the bad kids. He’s just not a get-over type of person, where everything’s an angle.”

Patterson even tried to get Ahmed into a Penguin clothing ad.

“They were looking for chefs — real people in real jobs, in their 20’s,” he said. “If I thought he was a sleaze ball, I never would have done that.”

The day after his run-in with the police, Ahmed said he saw another cell phone on the ground at Avenue A and First St. He didn’t pick it up.

The Seventh Police Precinct did not return a call for comment regarding Ahmed’s arrest over the phone and the still-unresolved case.

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