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Police Brutality Must End.

Police brutality is a fact of American life. In major cities across the country, officers are abusing their authority in the most flagrant ways.

New York City and Los Angeles are the epicenters of this crisis.

When the New York City officers who shot and killed Amadou Diallo were acquitted in late February, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani responded to the verdict with the words, "Probably until the day I die, I will always give police officers the benefit of the doubt."

But what about giving other people the same benefit?

Diallo, an African immigrant, was unarmed, but the police said they acted in self-defense when they unloaded forty-one shots at him. Two days after the verdict, Malcolm Ferguson, also unarmed, was killed while struggling with a police officer in the same Bronx neighborhood where Diallo was shot.

Throughout his time as mayor, Giuliani has shown his disdain for civil rights and his eagerness to impose law and order at all costs. When Giuliani took office in 1994, he instituted his "zero tolerance" policy, which led to a huge increase in arrests for such crimes as playing music too loudly, biking on the sidewalk, and public drinking. Some officers got the message that it was OK to rough people up--especially people of color.

"Many of the people allegedly kicked or beaten by police were not criminal suspects but people who had simply questioned police authority or had minor disagreements with officers," Amnesty International said in a 1996 report "Police Brutality and Excessive Force in the New York City Police Department." "Nearly all the victims in the cases of deaths in custody and police shootings reviewed by Amnesty International were from racial minorities--particularly African Americans, Latinos, and Asians."

Diallo's murder and the grotesque abuse of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima in 1997 are only the most notorious examples of the brutality behind the N.Y.P.D. badge. Other incidents have occurred with alarming regularity.

In Los Angeles, infamous for the Rodney King case, a new, smoldering scandal has singed an elite anti-gang unit and threatens to consume the entire police department. The L.A.P.D. had a unit called Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums, or C.R.A.S.H. Formed in the late 1970s, it patrolled the Ramparts section of Los Angeles, a low-income area with a large immigrant population, and a home to gangs.

Ramparts officer Rafael Perez--who was accused of stealing eight pounds of cocaine in police custody--cooperated with authorities. He claimed that his fellow officers frequently framed suspects and hid wrongful shootings.

In 1998, when investigators searched Perez's house, they saw a plaque that was decorated with a playing card imprinted with a red heart that had two bullets through it. "Uh, that plaque that you probably saw at my house.... Do you know what that plaque is even about?" Perez said to the internal police investigators, according to a transcript obtained by the Los Angeles Times. "[A sergeant] gave me that plaque for the Ovando shooting. That's what that is. We give plaques when you get involved in shootings. Uh, if the guy dies, the card is a black No. 2. If he stays alive, it's a red No. 2." (Perez had admitted to shooting, then framing, Javier Ovando, an unarmed man, with another .officer. The victim was paralyzed as a result of the shooting and sentenced to twenty-three years in prison as a result of the frame-up.)

"Is it more prestigious to get one that is black than red?" Detective Mark Thompson asked Perez.

"Yeah. I mean, you know, the black one signifies that a guy died," he answered.

According to the Los Angeles Times, "So-called shooting parties at which officers drank beer and were awarded plaques for wounding or killing people were quasi-official events sometimes .held at the Los Angeles Police Academy and attended by supervisors, according to four officers who worked in the Ramparts Division's anti-gang unit. The officers--all of whom asked not to be identified--said similar plaques were awarded to anti-gang officers in the L.A.P.D.'s 77th Street Division, and to officers in other units."

But police brutality is not confined to New York and Los Angeles. In 1998, Human Rights Watch published a 440-page report "Shielded From Justice: Police Brutality and Accountability in the United States." It examined fourteen U.S. cities (Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, Portland, Providence, San Francisco, and Washington) from 1995 to 1998. It concluded that "police brutality is persistent in all of these cities; that systems to deal with abuse have had similar failings in all the cities; and that, in each city examined, complainants face enormous barriers in seeking administrative punishment or criminal prosecution of officers who have committed human rights violations."

The evidence of excessive force is all around us:

In Houston in July 1998, Pedro Oregon was shot during a drug raid on his home. He was an unarmed Mexican national. The police officers were fired following protests from the Hispanic community.

In Kansas City, Missouri, in November 1998, thirteen-year-old Timothy Wilson, a black child, died from a gun wound after six officers saw him driving recklessly and chased him.

In Hartford, Connecticut, in April 1999, fourteen-year-old Aquan Salmon, an unarmed suspect in a robbery, and also African American, died after being shot in the back by a police officer.

And in early March of this year, Louisville, Kentucky, was reeling from days of community protests and counter-protests by the police department after Mayor David L. Armstrong fired police chief Eugene Sherrard. Chief Sherrard had approved medals of valor for two police officers who used twenty-two bullets to shoot at and kill an unarmed black man suspected of stealing a car. The officers were later cleared in a grand jury inquiry, but their action was denounced by black leaders.

Human Rights Watch makes the following sensible recommendations:

* federal aid to police departments should be contingent on regular reports concerning excessive force "and on improvements in oversight and discipline";

* police and political leaders should create "a policy of zero tolerance for abuse";

* police departments should establish means of identifying officers who are at risk of using excessive force and should remove those who commit abuses;

* civilian review agencies should have adequate power to rein in the police;

* each state should hire a special prosecutor for police cases.

Not all, not most, police officers are brutal. And many cities, from Boston to San Diego, have reduced crime by taking an enlightened approach, one that stresses community policing and good relations with the citizenry. They have had as much success reducing crime as New York City has, without trampling on civil liberties. Departments around the country should be looking to this civilized approach--and discard the N.Y.P.D. and L.A.P.D. models.

Police cannot become a law unto themselves. Those who act illegally must be forced, through criminal prosecution, to pay for their crimes. And we must hold the officials in charge accountable: the police chief, the mayor, the district attorney.

We deserve to be treated as citizens, not as subjects--or suspects.
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Title Annotation:police brutality can be found in many parts of the country, but it is especially prevalent in New York City and in Los Angeles, California
Publication:The Progressive
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Apr 1, 2000
Previous Article:Letters to the Editor.
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