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Are Louima, Diallo, and now Patrick Dorismond, the final straws that break the camel's back? Related Gully Stories:

How to Clean Up the NYPD
A 6-point plan.

NYPD: The Picture is Bleak
An interview with Norman Siegel of the NYCLU advocating federal intervention.

Cops' Murderous Fear
The fear defense in the Diallo shooting.

NYPD Cops: Drilling Deep After All These Years

by Ana Simo

volpeMARCH 28, 2000. It is almost a hundred years since New York City cops asked a dentist to drill deep enough into a detainee's rear molar to strike a nerve. Some of their descendants, in or out of blue, have now taken to sticking plungers up detainees' rectums and shooting passers-by who unknowingly rebuff their obnoxious sting operations.

Scandals every twenty years. Since the force was organized in 1844, corruption and brutality scandals have erupted every twenty years or so, with Swiss-clock regularity, triggering expensive investigations, thick reports, and little action.

Every generation of cops and New Yorkers has had its own blue-ribbon panel. In 1894 it was the Lexow Committee, in 1972, the Knapp Commission immortalized in Al Pacino's Serpico, in 1994, the Mollen Commission. Even Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who thinks there's nothing wrong with the NYPD, felt obligated to add to the list after Abner Louima was tortured in a Brooklyn precinct, by creating his own, coyly named Task Force on Police/Community Relations in 1998.

Add to this the thousand TV shows, movies, cartoons, and tabloid pages glorifying or dissecting the blue pathology, and you have the most talked about rogue cops on the planet.

Short New York attention span. The crushing weight and regularity of the evidence may explain why, historically, most New Yorkers have had such short attention spans for the subject. Cop corruption and brutality rank up there with rats and garbage as one of those intractable New York City problems people prefer not to think about unless they step on it, or it steps on them. Mental survival in the town that never sleeps seems to require that attention to the abhorrent and unsolvable be only intermittent.

Unlike rats and garbage, which are kept within certain limits so that the city may be spared the bubonic plague, cop brutality is now bursting at the seams. Still largely contained by race, it is now leaping across social classes, as proven by the recent cop assault, in gentrified Union Square, of four young black and Asian Ivy League graduates who had just left a meeting of their upstart Internet company.

Payoff, shutup. The Louimas, Diallos, and Dorismonds are the notorious tip of the blue iceberg. Underneath, there are thousands of police abuses, reported and unreported. Each year, the City pays millions of dollars to shut up people whose rights have been violated by cops. In 1998, the payoff was $27.3 million.

New York City has even attracted the attention of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, two organizations best known for tracking death squads in Central American republics and ethnic cleansers in the Balkans. In a detailed 1996 report derided by Giuliani, Amnesty International concluded that police brutality and use of unjustifiable force was a widespread problem, with a pattern of similar abuses occurring over many years.

safirIs the camel's back breaking? Are Louima, Diallo, and now Dorismond, the final straws that break the camel's back? Giuliani, cracking jokes in Albany after ardently defending the NYPD, and Police Commissioner Howard Safir, vacationing in California, while the city seethes, think not. They are betting on the civic camel's long suffering, short-span nature. After all, just keeping your head out of the water in the big city takes all your energy and, if you're white, unless you're visibly queer, rogue cops may as well be living on another planet.

Abner Louima, tortured with a plunger in a Brooklyn precinct in 1998, is a Haitian immigrant. Amadou Diallo, shot 41 times in his own Bronx vestibule in 1999 was a young Guinean immigrant who worked as a peddler. Patrick Dorismond, the fourth unarmed black man killed by New York City cops in 13 months, was a 26-year-old Haitian-American security guard. Dorismond was shot to death on March 16 after he angrily rebuffed an undercover cop who asked him if he knew where to buy drugs.

This time, however, the funeral of a cop victim, Dorismond, triggered a bona fide riot complete with bottles and metal barriers thrown at the cops. Rioting gets peoples attention real quick.

The day after, three out of four New Yorkers felt that the use of deadly force by the NYPD had gotten out of hand and 61% supported federal monitoring for the force, according to a Sunday News/NY1 poll. Nearly half (47%) wanted Safir out, compared to 33% who would keep him in. The poll numbers matched the anger on the streets.

Gazing fondly into each other's eyes. It is too soon to know if all of this will translate into wide and effective civic action. Civil liberties leaders are asking for federal oversight of the NYPD. However, there are already signs that it's business as usual for some in the political class. Forty-eight hours after the riotous Dorismond funeral, City Council Speaker Peter Vallone (D-Queens), who wants to be Mayor so badly that he is now waffling on school vouchers, called the first of seven "dialogues" between the community and the cops.

giulianiIn a half empty auditorium—a graphic expression of the community's contempt—Bronx police brass pleaded that cops and community look into each others eyes, and a couple of black and brown City Council members had a chance to spurt indignant sound bites for the 10 o'clock news, while the anchor intoned that healing might take a little while given what had transpired lately. Up in Albany, Giuliani must have been laughing.

Related links:

For the 1996 Amnesty International Report
Police Brutality and Excessive Force in the New York City Police Department.

For the 1999 Human Rights Watch Report
Shielded from Justice: Police Brutality and Accountability in the U.S.New York.

For Complete Coverage New York City

In Depth

NYPD Brut
nypd patch Police violence and brutality in NYC. Includes an overview of NYPD problems, and possible solutions.

Color and Cash
race and classThe Gully's complete coverage of race and class, two intertwined pillars of American society.

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