Interview with RICHIE PEREZ (1944-2004)

INTERVIEW WITH RICHIE PEREZ
Founder, National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights
& The Justice Committee

Edited by Blanca Vazquez


Contents:
1. Personal History
2. Policing in the Rudolph Giuliani Era
3. Anthony Baez: Organizing for Justice
4. The Families
5. Alliances with Street Organizations
6. Cover-Up
7. The Blue Wall of Silence and the Courts
8. Civil Disobedience
9. Rudolph Giuliani and the NYPD
10. Safety
11. Zero Tolerance
12. Arrest Quotas
13. Crime Rates
14. The Social Justice Movement
15. Police Accountability
16. Amadou Diallo
17. Gary (Gidone) Busch
18. Two Societies, Separate and Unequal
19. Racial Profiling
20. The Power Over Life and Death

 

 

1. Personal History
I’m a product of the South Bronx and went to public schools in New
York City. I became politically active during the movement for
community control of the schools. I was a public school teacher at the
time. I was tremendously influenced by Evelina Antonetty and United
Bronx Parents, who mentored me. In the late sixties I joined the Young
Lords, which was a Puerto Rican organization styled after the Black
Panther Party. I worked very closely with the Black Panther Party. I was
a student and youth organizer and I dealt with issues of police brutality,
among many other issues. I taught for fifteen years in different
universities, primarily in Black and Puerto Rican studies. In the early
eighties I became a founding member of the National Congress for
Puerto Rican Rights, a national civil and human rights organization
aimed at ending discrimination against Puerto Ricans. Since that time
I’ve concentrated my work primarily on police brutality and racially!
motivated violence and all the criminal justice issues that affect young
people in general, such as disproportionate incarceration rates and lack
of alternatives to incarceration.

 

Note: For more on Richie Pérez’s life and work in his own
words see A Young Lord Remembers, Parts 1, 2, 3
http://www.tbwt.com/views/specialrpt/special"20report!1_5!17!00.asp
http://www.tbwt.com/views/specialrpt/special"20report!3_5!22!00.asp
http://www.tbwt.com/views/specialrpt/special"20report!4_5!28!00.asp

 

2. Policing in the Rudolph Giuliani Era
Having been involved in organizing in the community and working withfamilies around police abuse, and having myself been a victim of policebrutality a number of times in my life, the Giuliani election in 1994 wasvery significant. Giuliani ran for mayor on a platform opposing a civilian>complaint review board which we had been fighting for decades. We hadjust gotten an independence review board established in New York a few
months before his election. A number of things concerned us. Therabble rousing that he did with the police unions at City Hall, the factthat during that riot police hurled epithets at the then!mayor David Dinkins and black city council members, and the fact that black police officers just stood by while the police basically rioted were all signs that this was a backlash candidacy. This wasn't subtle These were clear overt messages that the clock was going to be turned back and that the civilian review board was under attack. It seemed that the message was that the police were going to get pretty much a free hand.


In Mayor Giuliani’s first week in office #after he was inaugurated in January$ three things happened that were very significant. One was that the Harlem Mosque was invaded by police officers and the Giuliani administration refused to meet with any Harlem leadership. Second was that in the first week a young African American man in Queens was shot to death in a building by police officers; witnesses said he had his hands raised. And then the third was the killing of Anthony Baez by a chokehold. So all of these things came together very quickly, and soon after a number of other things occurred.

 

3. Anthony Baez: Organizing for Justice
A friend of ours who was distantly related to the Baez family called us and told us that Anthony Baez had been killed and that there was going to be a rally around his death at the Bronx Court House. We went as supporters and observers. Iris Baez was there with the members of her family. The details of the case were stilling coming out, it didn’t come out all at once: the fact that he had been killed by Frances Livoti with an illegal chokehold, the fact that Livoti was in a forced monitoring unit and he was supposed to be monitored by a sergeant the night he killed >Anthony Baez. A lot of that information hadn’t come out yet. But we knew a young man had been killed in the Bronx. At the rally I saw Iris, her family and some clergymen who supported her. It became clear to us
that she was very religious and tremendously heartbroken. We went over to her at the end and told her that we were available for assistance in
whatever way she wanted.

A few weeks later, as the family began to overcome the initial trauma
and began to figure out what they had to do, they reached out to us and
we had our initial meeting. It was very clear to us the first time we met
that some of the clergy people were telling her that the police
department investigation would bring justice for them. It was clear to us
that some of the more conservative clergy people and some of the
elected officials in the Bronx had wanted her to stay away from us, that
there was no need to work with an organization who in their eyes was
confrontational. It was a form of red!baiting.


So the family had their suspicions about us. They didn’t know who we
were. They were people who, like many of the families, believed in the
system. When this tragedy hits they’re not political activists. When you
come from a political orientation you have a mindset that these things
are possible, that they’ve occurred historically and they will continue to
occur until there are real systemic changes. But the Baez family, and all
the others that we’ve worked with, are initially all believers in the
system. And then when they lose a loved one and find that the system
that they believed in begins to close its doors on them at every level,
from the police department to the mayor’s office to the D.A.’s and the
elected officials, they find themselves in this David and Goliath situation
where this monstrous complex system has now closed the doors on
them. And the other thing to remember is that all they want to do is to
mourn, they really don’t want to be involved in a battle to break down
these barriers. We understood that and we laid it out to them. All we
could tell them was our experience. We’ve got decades of experience.
We’ve worked on cases. We’ve actually won cases. We’ve gotten people
who were innocent released from prison. We’ve gotten guilty police
officers prosecuted. We always make a point of telling people, including
the Baez family, that we can’t guarantee justice, but we can guarantee
that if they want to fight they don’t have to fight alone. That we’ll share
with them the cumulative experience that our community has gained
over the decades, because that’s part of our role. We’ll share our
expertise as organizers with them but they have to make all the decisions
and they’ve got to determine the pace and the language and the imagery
and all of those things.


I think that Iris and her family relied in the first phases of this on the
people who said they would support her. The Baez family had a very
friendly relationship with the precinct from which Livoti came. After
Anthony was killed that relationship soured and police officers
continued to harass her other sons. Some of the elected officials put
some distance between themselves and her. And some of the clergymen
failed to come through with the kind of mobilizations and church!based
support that they had promised. As the doors began to close, and as
some of the people she thought were going to be allies really weren’t, it
was a natural thing for her to say, “Well, where are my other allies?
Where are the resources that I can rely on as all of these things start to
happen to me?” It became obvious after the initial shock of losing a
loved one that this was going to be long and complicated, that they were
not just up against the police department, that the mayor was already
talking about giving the cops the benefit of the doubt. The media was
starting to spin this. Iris Baez stilled lived in the middle of the precinct
where her son was killed and where her other sons were being harassed.
Given all that, the family reached out and we began to build a
relationship that took a long time to build.

 

4. The Families
One of the things we’ve learned over the years is that we can empathize
with people who lose loved ones, but nobody can really connect like
another family who has gone through it. So what we always try and do is
to connect the families with one another so that they can get strength
from each other and so that the newer families can learn from the older
families. We were working with on the Manuel Mayi case, a racial
murder case in Queens. Mrs. Altagracia Mayi has worked with us for
eleven years. And like every other family she believed in the system, but
as the years went on the system locked her out. The police department
failed to do a vigorous investigation. Because it was white kids killing a
Latino kid in Queens, it didn’t have the same cache as if it were reversed.
We immediately connected the Baez family with the Mayi family and a
few other families that we had been working with previously so that they
could exchange the experience of loss, so that the Baez family could see
that it is possible to struggle, it is possible to turn your loss into focused
anger and still maintain your humanity. Because part of what happens is
that you’re so angry that it really threatens to take away your humanity.
The families began to help each other. Later on Iris joined the group and
we were then able to connect to newer families like Anibal Carrasquillo’s
mother, Yong Xin Huang’s family, Frankie Arzuega’s family, all of these
families who had lost children. Iris became part of the group, and
eventually they joined with Margarita Rosario and Hilton Vega’s
mothers. The question is: how do you transform from someone that
everything is operating on you to someone who affects the world, who
determines what happens? Instead of just being a passive object in your
own life, you start to define how your life is going to be and from a
political perspective that means making choices. For the Baez family
they had to make choices as to who their allies were going to be.

 

5. Alliances with Street Organizations
At that time we were working on a gang truce between the Latin Kings
and the Ñetas, and the truce was holding. It was significant for the
Latino community because it meant a reduction of violence in the
community. Part of the gang truce was to involve young people in
political action, voter registration, demonstrations and political
education. One of the issues that resonated with gang members was
police brutality because they’re young people. It resonates with all young
people because they are the target of the police stop!and!search policies
and the mass arrests. So the issue of police brutality resonated with all
young people, including young people that were in gangs, because they’re
the ones who are stopped and frisked. They’re the ones who are illegally
arrested and harassed, whose rights are violated in the main. And they
became very active in the movement to get justice in the killing of
Anthony Baez, as did some young construction workers from Positive
Work Force from East Harlem, as did a lot of youth groups around the
city. It was almost as if it was a convergence of a lot of factors and I
think who Iris was, was one of the factors. Iris was the member of our
family who was religious, who was not political, but who had a steel
personality. She had that internal strength and commitment and clarity
and unfortunately people had to see this at a time of tremendous grief,
but her strength and her humanity came through even with all the grief.
And people felt that “Wow, if this could happen to this woman who is
such a good woman and had such a good family it could happen to any of
us.” And the fact that the Baez family believed in the system made it
even more touching for people because it also said, “See, if you believe in
the system it doesn’t guarantee that you get justice.” Now the family has
to grow because they’re in a situation where they’re confronting new
challenges that no one should really have to confront. But they’re forced
to do it if they’re going to get justice for Anthony. And one of the issues
is, who their allies are going to be? Who are they going to be seen with?
Who are they going to be pictured with? They were under a lot of
pressure to renounce the support they were getting from the gangs.
Some of the right!wing newspapers in New York trumpeted that gang
members were supporting this movement. And at one point a police
officer from the precinct from the 46th precinct was shot. And
immediately, without any evidence, newspapers began to speculate
without any evidence that it was gang members that were part of the
justice movement that had done this in retaliation for Anthony’s murder.
It turned out months later that it was an initiation by a drug gang. It had
nothing to do with the movement for justice. But for the first few days it
was all over the newspapers and the reporters were saying to Iris, “Will
you get these kids out of your movement, these gang members, will you
throw them out of the movement so that they won’t march with you?”
And she met with all of the families, because all of the other families
were confronted by the same thing. People in the neighborhood were
saying, “Why are you taking support from these kids?” That wasn’t the
only support they had. They had support from clergy. They had support
from professors. They had support from all kinds of people. But it was
an attempt to break the movement because the strength of the
movement was in the mix of the people that it brought together. Not in
the uniformity of the people, but in the diversity of the people. After the
families got together they called a press conference in front of Iris’s
house. They called the leadership of the Latin Kings and the Ñetas to
stand with them and they said, “We welcome these young people.” Iris
said, “I lost one son and I gained a hundred,” and that was so touching.
That was a real turning point because it also spoke to the possibility of
transformation and redemption for the people who had been in a gang
world. For many of them it was one of the first times that they had been
embraced in such a public way. It also meant that the Baez family was
being seen as the focal point of the families around justice, that the Baez
family was going to continue to welcome all of the supporters that came
around them and was not going to succumb to these forms of divide and
conquer. It was a really significant moment. I still remember it because
it touched people so deeply.

 

6. Cover-Up
There were a number of things about this case, in addition to Iris’s
personality and her family, that made it a very significant story. Number
one: Livoti was a PBA delegate. He was also being monitored by the
department, which is highly unusual. That meant that he was a danger
and that the police department recognized it. The night Livoti choked
Anthony Baez to death the sergeant was in the car with him and didn’t
intervene as the whole incident built up and Anthony was choked. It
showed that the forced monitoring program was not effective. The 46th
precinct had been identified by the Mollen Commission, which had been
set up by former mayor Dinkins to investigate police corruption and
brutality, as a “problem precinct,” meaning officers testified about
routine brutality and cover!ups in the precinct. It was clear that the
Mollen Commission recommendations about that precinct were being
ignored.


The fact that one of the top police officials, Louis Anemone, said after
this incident that Francis Livoti was the kind a cop the city needed
indicated that the entire police department was closing ranks to support
Livoti. The fact that Livoti’s dozens of CCRB complaints against him,
many of them for excessive force, were being ignored talked about the
institutional nature of the cover!up and that bad police officers were
being protected by the system. Not just by the other police officers who
lied at the trial, but they were protected by their superiors like the
sergeant who was on the scene. Like the officials in the precinct. Like
the top brass in the police department who closed ranks. What the case
exemplified was the inability of the NYPD to police itself. Livoti was a
living example of that. Later on we would see that other officers, like
those who tortured Abner Louima and the ones who shot Amadou
Diallo, had similar histories. It was well!known that Livoti had
protection at the highest level of the police department. At one point
Livoti actually physically assaulted a sergeant, and wasn’t thrown off the
force and wasn’t disciplined. That never happens unless you’ve got real
connections in the police department. It also told us that good police
officers who want to do their job are operating at a disadvantage because
the buddy system and the protection system inside the police
department sends a message to them. If a guy like Livoti !! who everyone
in that precinct knew was a hotdog, a cowboy !! can just go about his
business without anyone intervening and everyone knows it, then that
sends a message to all the cops about what the culture is, about what is
okay and what is not okay.

 

7. The Blue Wall of Silence and the Courts
I think when we look at the Livoti situation we need to see how he got
protection not only from the police department, but how he got
protection in courts as well. A number of police officers lied in court to
protect him. They said that after Anthony Baez was choked by Livoti
that Anthony got up and walked, meaning that Livoti didn’t kill
Anthony. If you remember at first they said Anthony died of asthma,
and that was what these officers were trying to say. One police officer,
Daisy Boria, a woman, testified that Anthony never got up again after he
was choked. She challenged the blue wall of silence. She contradicted her
partner. The judge said there was a nest of perjury in this case. None of
those perjurers have ever been prosecuted. Daisy Boria received death
threats. She couldn’t open her locker; they used to have the bomb squad
open her locker. The captain of the precinct told her she would have to
leave the precinct because he couldn’t protect her. Now how is it you
can’t protect a police officer in a police precinct? If the captain can’t
protect the police officer, who runs the precinct? Or is the captain
colluding with the ones who are threatening Daisy Boria? Eventually
Daisy Boria sued the police department and left the police force. The
people who tormented Daisy Boria never faced anything. That’s all part
of the blue wall. So it’s not just the cops, it’s the system that protects
liars, and does not protect a good cop who wants to tell the truth. And
we saw it in the court. We saw it later on in the precincts. Now what
message does that give to cops? The message it gives them is, “Keep your
mouth closed and go with the flow or you’re going to catch hell.”
The typographical error is another example. The typing is being done in
the D.A.’s office. Does anyone check it? When we heard about it we
said, “Of course, they did it on purpose.” There were rumors that Livoti
had friends that worked in the D.A.’s office, but even if he didn’t, the
D.A. is responsible. How could such a thing have occurred? After it
occurs, the Bronx D.A. says to the Baez family that that he’s going to
appeal the typographical error. An appeal could take as much as two
years. Now two years means that you put your life on hold for two more
years. The movement’s momentum dissipates and you don’t know what
the outcome of the appeal is going to be. The Baez family said, “We
have lawyers who told us that’s not his only option. His other option is
to re!indict, go to a grand jury and re!indict and this time make sure
there are no typographical errors.” That was the reason we did the sit!in
in the Bronx D.A.’s office, to call public attention to the fact that he
didn’t have to wait two years for an appeal. He could re!indict
immediately, and that that’s what the family wanted him to do. We
brought press with us to the sit!in, we were prepared to go to jail. We
forced him to come out of his office to deal with the press and tell Iris
Baez and her family why he was making the decision that he had made,
and then he reversed the decision and re!indicted Livoti. We think that
that was part of the cover!up, and that he’s responsible, and the
lackluster prosecution that was eventually done up in Albany in the
Diallo case also goes to the Bronx D.A.’s office. It becomes very difficult
to tell people to believe in the system when at every step along the way
parts of the system protect the person who killed your son, and Iris has
said this herself.


I think the paperwork error in the Livoti indictment was done by people
who work there and that the Bronx DA wasn’t on top of the case. I don’t
think he ordered it. I think it was done by other people who were there,
but he didn’t make sure it was correct and nobody ever got punished. Let
me tell you, that’s a very serious error. It’s not just a typing error in the
sense that someone typed a “t” instead of a “d.” This was a substitution,
they put in the wrong charge. Instead of putting one degree of murder
they put another degree of murder. It’s a totally different word. It’s
almost impossible for me to believe, and I think for the rest of the city
to believe, that it was an accident. That had to be intentional. Someone
did it on purpose. The D.A. wasn’t on top of the case. He didn’t take
care of it. He runs a slipshod office. That’s what people felt. I mean at
each step along the way the perjurers are not responsible, the person
who did the typographical error is not responsible, the sergeant who is
supposed to be monitoring Livoti is not responsible, nobody’s
responsible for anything. At the same time we’re being told how
responsible we have to be for the kids in our community, but the whole
system is not responsible for the implementation of justice and law.
That’s wrong. People see the hypocrisy. If I made a typographical error
like that I’d lose my job. I mean that’s a serious mistake, but nobody lost
their job, nobody was reprimanded. What the D.A.’s office did was to
close ranks and say, “Okay, we have to appeal.” And the Baez family said,
“No, we’re not waiting for an appeal. We want you to re!indict.” The
D.A.’s supposed to work with the Baez family too, he’s supposed to work
with the victim. He didn’t call them and say, “Let’s look at our options
here.” He made a choice. He never consulted them. The choice was the
worst possible choice for the Baez family. It was the best choice for
Livoti and the police department, so what conclusion should we reach?

 

8. Civil Disobedience
The radicalization of Iris Baez was not of her own choice. She was
radicalized by the way the system responded to her. The system locked
her out. It refused to speak to her. Her requests were always reasonable.
The criminal justice system and the political system that sits on top of it
didn’t hear her request. They didn’t treat her like a human being and
they shut her out. When we did the sit!in at the Bronx DA’s office, Iris
Baez came with this huge leather bound Bible, and in the course of the
sit!in she was pounding on the Bible. And I say that because this was a
religious woman. She was relying on her faith, but also her God told her,
“You have act. It’s not just enough to pray to me, you have to act to
make things happen.” And she was acting, but she was acting in good
faith. She didn’t operate off of preconceived notions. As she went
through the twists and turns of the case in the criminal justice system
she started to see ugliness and evil and undemocratic authoritarianism
and inhumanity. It was in the course of trying to find out how could this
happen to her son and her family that she started to see all of it and it
radicalized her. The fight for justice radicalized her. She wasn’t a radical,
and in turn she realized that she now had an obligation to every other
family to share with them what she had gone through.


Our strategy for the sit!in in the Bronx D.A.’s office was to shame the
Bronx D.A. into re!indicting Livoti. We pulled together a team of
people; there were about 12 of us. We brought a couple of friendly
reporters with us to the sit!in and we told them, “We’re going to do civil
disobedience. We’re willing to go to jail to pressure the D.A. to re!indict
Livoti. We want reporters to be there. We want you to question him
and we want you to watch them arrest us.” Before we did this we had a
meeting with the Baez family. People were pretty despondent after the
typographical error because it seemed to us like the system had closed
ranks and was pulling some dirty tricks. We looked at all the options
that we had. One option was to let them do the appeal, which could take
up to two years. During those two years the movement would dissipate.
Anthony’s name would move to the bottom of the list. The momentum
that they had built would be gone. Everyone rejected that option and
then we said, “Well, the other thing is to force the D.A. to re!indict.”
How do we force him? Public embarrassment, public pressure. What’s
the greatest form of public pressure? Make him arrest Anthony Baez’s
mother. It’d be easy to arrest us, the radicals, the community activists.
It’s not going to carry the same the weight. The press isn’t even going to
be that interested. The story is Anthony Baez’s mother, his sister, other
mothers and other families members willing to go to jail to demand this.
The D.A. had already messed up by not talking to them about the
options after the so!called “typographical error.” And so we presented
this to them. We had to operate within a window of time of a couple of
weeks because he was going to make a decision. We thought that the
greatest impact would be that we were prepared to go to jail, but that it
would have less impact if we did it without the Baez family, that the
greatest impact would be if they were willing to do it. And after
discussion they agreed and we kind of trained everybody for civil
disobedience and we took the action.


Iris and her family were very highly motivated. In civil disobedience
training a lot of times you have to get people to understand that no
matter what happens this is about non!violence, but Iris is non!violent.
It’s is not a tactic for her; it’s her way of life. More of the training was
about exactly how we’re going to do it, where to meet in the morning,
how to come up in the elevator, what we should anticipate after we’re
arrested, what to bring with you, what not to bring with you, jail house
solidarity, how none of us would go home until everybody was out of jail
no matter how they staggered the release. We had some legal
preparation to understand what charges we would have. We wanted
trespassing charges; we didn’t want any other charges because we wanted
to be out in a day or two. That was really the preparation and everything
went exactly the way we had anticipated. We came up in the elevator,
we brought the reporters in with us, we marched right past the
receptionist. We didn’t push our way through, we sat down right
between the doors and the elevator and started chanting. We had a
written statement which we read and gave to the D.A.’s representatives
and to the press. One of the reporters was from an all day news radio
station and they were broadcasting live from the sit!in. The media part
of it worked out well. We had supporters outside and we had legal
people outside. We demanded that the Bronx D.A. come out and meet
with the families. After a couple of hours they threatened they would
arrest us and we said “bring it on” because that’s why we were there. A
few hours went by and then Bronx D.A. Robert Johnson came out.
There was a back and forth between him and Iris and Margarita Rosario
that was filmed and broadcast by the camera crew that we brought with
us. Then he went back in. He was angry. We continued the sit!in. But
they decided they weren’t going to arrest us. They didn’t want
photographs of Iris Baez in handcuffs. Public opinion was inflamed
against the Bronx D.A.’s office after the so!called typographical error
and he didn’t want to add to that by arresting the mother. We went in at
about nine in the morning, and at nine o’clock at night they told us,
“We’re not arresting you. If you leave we’re not going to allow you to
come back in, but we’re not arresting you. If you want to stay all night,
you can stay all night.” They locked up everything and they left us in the
building. The police were downstairs. If we had wanted to leave we could
have. By about nine o’clock at night we hadn’t been to the bathroom and
no bathrooms were available. The story had already been reported in the
media and the media had gone home. We decided that our point had
been made and we left.


I think the problem is the symbiotic relationship between the D.A.’s and
the police. They live off each other. D.A.’s can’t succeed without the
cooperation of the police, and they definitely are afraid of bucking the
PBA, to which Livoti was a delegate. He had juice there, and he had
juice inside the police department up to the highest levels, and I think
that speaks for itself.


Some people said at the end of this that the Baez family got justice, that
the system works. What we said is, “No, the system doesn’t work.” Yes,
the people got justice, but the system failed consistently at every point.
The fact that this family was able to gather allies and mount a four!year
movement to put one cop in jail is a testimony to the family. And it’s a
testimony to the community. It’s not a testimony to the police
department. They were forced, in the end. Actually, I shouldn’t even say
they were forced because they didn’t do it, the federal government came
in and tried Livoti on civil rights violations. The police department never
dealt with that situation. They were forced to confront it and the lesson
for us is: how many other families have experienced things like this? It
took a four!year effort which for this family was day and night. Iris went
all over the country to speak. She went all over the city. Her sons, her
husband, everyone was out there talking and organizing. We built a
movement around the case because, aside from the human factor, the
case embodied our criticism of the NYPD and the political cover!ups
that help the police department. But that was an extraordinary effort
and if it takes an extraordinary effort like that !! tens of thousands of
people marching, petitions, voter registration drives, TV shows, an
extraordinary effort where everyone put there lives on hold to deal with
this at great personal cost to themselves emotionally and financially !!
then it means that justice is not routine. We need justice to be routine.
That’s what it is supposed to be. It shouldn’t be an extraordinary effort.
So we look at this and say, on the one hand, “Congratulations to all of
those who participated in that.” On the other hand we say, “What about
the families that are not able to put this extraordinary effort together?
How do they get justice?” What it means to us is that the system is still
rigged against individual families and individual victims, and until justice
is routine then we really don’t have justice. What we have is the people
forcing the system to court and winning. I’m talking about tens of
thousands of people in demonstrations for four years, and some of those
were at six o’clock in the morning in the freezing weather, in the rain
and in the snow, marching in the street. We built a tremendous
movement of support for them because this case for us embodied every
thing that we had been saying about the inability of the police
department to police itself, and that people in politics like the mayor at
that time were willing to support the police department no matter what.
The cover!up was systemic, it was built into these institutions, and it
went beyond the police department right up into City Hall. In the end
that effort won. We were able to force a federal indictment after the
case failed locally. But an extraordinary effort like that means that justice
is not routine. That’s not fair. How many families can mount the kind of
campaign and pull together the personal resources and the community
resources to make something like this happen? Livoti going to jail didn’t
mean the system had changed. That didn’t mean that inside the police
department things had changed. It means that every other family still
has to the same. It means that an extraordinary effort must be expended
every single time this happens. And we tell the families that until we
have systemic institutional change, every family has do this. And we’ll do
it with you, but understand what the cost of it is going to be.

 

9. Rudolph Giuliani and the NYPD
We have to understand Anthony Baez’s killing in the context of what
was going on inside the police department and with the mayor. The
police department had instituted a new policy. Remember this was a get!
18
tough mayor. He was going to clean up the town. There was a new
sheriff in town, and the police department instituted “zero tolerance.”
Their policy was, You stop and frisk everyone, and you’ll find
something.” We’ve had a number of lawsuits that have challenged that,
but the reality was that in the first two years of the Giuliani
administration, tens of thousands of people were stopped and frisked
illegally. No forms were filled out. The zero tolerance campaign and the
cleaning up the streets campaign was really a war against young people of
color. All of a sudden we had the criminalization of activities that were
never criminal before. People riding bicycles on the sidewalk could be
stopped. People just walking around could be stopped. Although the
U.S. doesn’t have a national ID card, if you were stopped by the police
and you couldn’t prove who you were they might take you in. We saw
the number of arrests rising. In the first year of the Giuliani
administration the number of juvenile arrests rose by 98,000. And what
this reflects is increased contact between the police department and
young people of color. Inevitably there were going to be cases, because
we see police brutality as a spectrum of stop!and!frisk, beatings and
killings, but the killings were the far end of the spectrum. The iceberg
was the tens of thousands of people whose rights were being violated to
the point where young people in the black and Latino communities
understood this as part of their lives. They internalized that this is how
life was. The police officers themselves started getting the message that,
“Anything goes and that the system will protect us. You can do stops!
and!frisks. You can throw people on the ground.” We have cases of
members of our organization whose kids were thrown on the ground at
gun point and then let go and told to, “Get the fuck out of here before
we shoot you. See if you can outrun a bullet.” That kind of brutality, and
just constant police pressure on young people, was what was going on.
This was part of the Giuliani plan to clean up New York City. It was the
underbelly of the Giuliani success story. It’s always a marginalized group
that feels the pressure first, and then those tactics began to spread to the
rest of the city. You had people who were being arrested for allowing
their dogs to drink from the fountain in Central Park. Then white
middle!class people began getting arrested and put through the system
because now everyone was being put through the system. There were no
desk appearance tickets. People began to realize that the danger to civil
rights and human rights is never confined to one group. It always
extends to the larger society. You say, “Yeah, we need to suppress them”
and it eventually comes knocking on your door. They learned that in
Germany, and every other country where democracy has been
undermined has had the same experience. We had it here.
Anthony Baez’s killing has to be seen in the context of this get tough,
zero tolerance, anything goes, the!police!will!be!supported!no!matter!
what attitude. We used to confront Mayor Giuliani at Town Hall
meetings and challenge those policies, because they did not make the
city safer for us. What they meant was that families now not only had to
worry about their kids getting caught in a crossfire of gangs or drugs,
they had to worry about police officers with arrest quotas they had to
fill. Cops felt free to stop my son, anyone else’s kids and demand
identification. And if they didn’t have identification, or if they didn’t
show the respect and deference the police officer wanted, they were
going to take them in. And the numbers showed that was exactly what
was happening. Kids were languishing in jail because they couldn’t make
bail. So the term “criminalization of a generation” is not an exaggeration.
The criminalization of young people of color, the same young people
who have no place in the economy because the economy has been
restructured. They’re part of a school system that has deteriorated and
are being subjected to this tremendous pressure by the police in every
one of our communities under the guise of making us safer, And now we
have to worry about police officers who view our kids as criminals. We
view them with love !! they’re our children, they’re our brothers and
sisters % but they view them all as perpetrators or potential perpetrators.

 

10. Safety
We want to be safe. Our communities are the ones that face the highest
crime rates, so we want to be safe. But the hallmark of democracy in
every society is that in trying to deal with social problems it
simultaneously has to pay attention to what makes it a democracy, which
is civil and human rights. And so we can’t have the stopping!and!frisking
of everyone because that’s against the law. There’s a reason we have that
law. You can’t just round up everyone and then see if you can find a
knife on somebody. Because in any community you go to, if you round
up every one in the community you’re going to find a couple of knives,
but everyone else is going to have their rights violated. So the issue of
safety is one that’s important to us. The issue of the safety for police
officers is important to us, too. But you don’t make police officers more
safe by enraging the entire community because of indiscriminant police
sweeps. I’ve seen them and I’ve been in them, where entire areas are
cordoned off and everyone inside that area has to prove why they’re
there. And if you can’t prove why you’re there, if you don’t have
identification and you can’t prove why you’re there, you’re taken in. A
friend of mine left his house in the Bronx to get a container of milk one
night in his slippers, and didn’t take identification. The area was
cordoned off and he was caught up in a drug sweep. He was taken into
custody because he couldn’t prove why he was there, even though he
said, “Take me up the block, my wife will tell you I live up the block.”
But he couldn’t prove it so he was taken into custody. Does that make
him more bitter? Does that make him less likely to cooperate with the
police? Yes, it does. So that’s a self!defeating way of making us
supposedly safe because it turns everyone in the community into a
potential criminal in the eyes of the police department. That’s not the
way to make the community safe, nor is it the way to make police
officers safe. The challenge for political leadership and for the police
department is to deal with crime and at the same time to maintain what
makes America a democracy, those rights that make this country
different. People used to say that under Mussolini the trains always ran
on time. There was no street crime in Nazi Germany. Those things are
true but is that the price people are willing to pay? I would venture not.
When crime starts to peak in suburban communities, they don’t put the
entire community into a state of siege, because those residents have
more political clout than poor residents in inner city communities. They
look for ways to target, to be precise, to increase the effectiveness of
policing and the use of science and forensics and a number of other
things. They don’t turn the entire community into a target area.

 

11. Zero Tolerance
“Zero Tolerance” policing was taken to a higher level under Giuliani
because he openly said he was going to follow the broken windows
theory, which is a criminology theory that says you crack down on small
crimes and it helps you deal with big crimes. That’s a reductionist,
simplified way of saying it. But what it meant was that they were adding
a lot more crimes so that drinking an open can of beer in the street is
now a crime. I would venture that a lot of people who will see this film
have had an open can of beer in the street. How that law is enforced
matters; it’s enforced disproportionately in certain places. If you’re
sitting in front of your house in the suburbs drinking a can of beer, or in
your backyard, no one arrests you, but in urban centers there are no
backyards, so if you’re sitting on your stoop you can be arrested. So we
have people being arrested for a beer. You have people being arrested for
loud radios, you have people being arrested for number of other things
that before the Giuliani era were not crimes. Now they’re crimes, and
more and more things are being added to the list of what is a crime.

 

That’s going to make this country a different place, and soon all of the
residents of the nation are going to have to ask, “Is this the only way to
do this? Are we safer or are we now becoming a different place?” Those
are real questions. Our opinion of that is that we are moving towards a
more authoritarian country with less checks and balances on the police
department and that that is dangerous. Given America’s racial history,
those racial and ethnic groups that had been most marginalized are going
to be the ones that these new things are tested on. And that once they
are tested there they become part of the general culture of the nation
and that we will see a steady erosion of our rights. And the consequences
of that are an expanded prison system and young people who have
records. If you ask people in this country, “Should our prisons be filled
with non!violent criminals?” the majority of people say, “No.” The drug
war is filling the prisons with non violent criminals; two!thirds of those
in prison are non!violent. There should be alternatives to that. There are
alternatives that should be looked at and we’re not doing that. The
problem is a complex one, but the policing strategy is a simplistic one.
It’s “Round them up, lock them up.” And there are real limitations to
the rights of people. Giuliani used to argue this all the time, that there
were limits to freedom of speech, freedom of the press. That’s why he
was in court all time. He lost every single one of those court cases
around freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of
assembly. He constantly looked to restrict those freedoms that are
guaranteed in the constitution. The problem was that it takes a long
time to go to court and in the meantime the freedom has been
restricted.

 

12. Arrest Quotas
There were additional policies put in place in the police department that
led to abuses. For example, there were quotas for arrests in every
precinct, not just for issuing tickets, there were quotas for arrests. And it
didn’t matter if the arrest was a good arrest or not. When I say “good
arrest” I mean, did it withstand a court test? It didn’t matter. There were
arrest quotas for police officers and for precincts. And with the
institution of what was called the Compstat program, which was a
computer tracking system that told you where crimes were taking place
in a precinct, and where arrests were taking place, police commanders
and precinct commanders were called down to One Police Plaza and
they had to answer questions. They were put on the hot seat, so the
pressure came from the top to make more arrests. It got to the point
where police officers couldn’t make more arrests for real crimes, so they
began to make arrests for things that were minor. They began to dumb
down the policing process, and to massify it, even if the arrests were
thrown out. But if you were making a lot of arrests it looked good when
that computer!tracking chart was put up on the screen. And that was
one of the things that set this into motion. It wasn’t the quality of
arrests, it was the quantity of arrests. Even the majority of gun seizures
by the Street Crimes Unit were thrown out of court. That’s bad. We
want guns thrown off the streets, so do it the right way. We need
professional policing. Don’t blame anything else except the lack of
professionalism. Spend more time on professionalizing police officers
and preparing them and training them. We want guns off the street, but
at the same time we’re not willing to pay the price of living in a police
state.

 

13. Crime Rates
There was a perception that crime was really bad in New York, and that
it went down after Giuliani and Bratton instituted this “get tough”
policy. But there’s a debate that still rages among academics about what
the factors were that led to crime going down, in addition to policing.
There were a number of factors, including the aging out of the groups
that commit most crimes, the fact that crack cocaine was replaced as the
drug of choice, because crack is a violent drug. The fact that community
movements against drugs and violence began to proliferate. The gang
truce movement also led to the decline of crime. There were a lot of
factors at play. A lot of clergy and community people worked hard
against violence in the community, as well as youth themselves who built
Stop the Violence movements, and they need to be given credit. It was
not simply punitive policing. It was also the proactive part that came out
of communities themselves. So those things need to be looked at. There
are arguments made that other cities have reduced crime, such as San
Diego, without instituting the same kind of policies. I know it’s smaller
than New York City, but other cities have reduced crime at a level
greater than New York by instituting different kinds of policies. I would
say that those things are worth studying to see what the best practices
are. To uphold punitive policing and to refuse to scrutinize this “get
tough” New York City example excludes all other factors. Our
movement was part of the anti!crime movement; we fought crime in our
communities. We fought against the proliferation of drugs in the
communities. We fought against the proliferation of guns in the
communities and fought against violence in the communities. We fought
for conflict resolution training for young people. We fought for a lot for
things. Young people themselves turned their backs on that violence.
Not everybody, but large sectors. Those were important factors. To say
that the only factor that plays here is policing by itself is undemocratic.
The Giuliani administration and some of the other politicians who
followed him have made everything into a police issue. Everything needs
a police solution. Immigration problems? Police them, arrest them.
Homeless people? Arrest them. The problem of homelessness is not a
problem of criminality. We need housing for poor people, there’s a
shortage of housing. So arresting everybody that is homeless doesn’t
solve the problem of the shortage of housing. Same thing around jobs
and the economy. The economy was in the toilet. Unemployment rates
in inner city communities were tremendous. Young people couldn’t get
work. Summer youth programs were disappearing. All of the programs
were going out the window, as we’re going to see in the future with these
big budget deficits. So you need to look at those factors, because there’s
no social scientist that doesn’t see a link between the economy and
crime. It’s a fact that when the economy goes down crime goes up. All
kinds of crime. We need to look at it. It’s simplistic to say tougher cops
did it all. And I think the reason people in government do that is
because they find they find the Constitution and the Bill of Rights a
burden and they could live without it. It’s easier to make the trains run
on time and deal with street crime if you’ve got an authoritarian non!
democratic society.

 

14. The Social Justice Movement
We had already been active for years when Anthony Baez was killed in
1994. There had been a movement around a Civilian Complaint Review
Board. We had fought throughout the nineties around different cases,
winning some of them and building mass movements around them all
over the city. At that point, we were still fighting around specific cases
and Iris came into the middle of that. In the succeeding year we added
Yong Xin Huang, Anibal Carrasquillo and a number of other people to
the list of cases. Exactly a year after Anthony Baez was killed, Anthony
Rosario and Hilton Vega were killed in the same precinct. In that year
Frankie Arzuega was killed. Antoine Watson was killed in Brooklyn.
Dozens of other killings occurred, and again I have to say the killings
were the far end of the police brutality spectrum. What was going on
daily was stops!and!frisks and abuses. Part of the reaction of the
communities to the killings was fueled by the daily experience that
people were having of being illegally stopped!and!frisked and having
their rights violated. That was the movement that was forming, and it
crystallized in late 1996 ! 1997 while Iris was still fighting for justice. The
battle around the Anthony Baez case helped that movement, as the
community went through the twists and turns of that case, and there
were many twists and turns. The militancy amongst the families grew.
The movement grew and became more and more visible and many of the
issues that we had raising for years moved from the fringe to the
mainstream. The context of this has to be seen. It was the tens of the
thousands of illegal stops!and!frisks and arrests that created the
groundswell. The killings became the explosions that triggered it all, but
the foundation was the fact that in communities of color tens of
thousands of people were experiencing various forms of police abuse.
And when the killings finally occurred everyone said, “That could’ve
happened to us. Amadou Diallo could have been us and Anthony Baez
could have been us.” So people said, “We’ve got to stop this.” The
killings attracted the greatest attention, but everyone wanted to stop the
whole pattern of abuse, including those many incidents that were not
killings but were violations of human and civil rights.


The number of killings by police officers went up in ‘95 and ‘96. The
number of stops!and!frisks went through the ceiling, but that didn’t
become obvious until after Amadou Diallo was killed. We did a lawsuit
to get the documentation about the Street Crimes Unit and found that
all these anti!crime units across the city were actually roving bands of
cops that were just rousting people left and right. This was not good
policing, it was racial profiling based on the color of a person’s skin, their
accent and the community they lived in. Entire communities were being
designated as drug!prone criminal areas. That was being done to
facilitate police stopping everyone inside that community. Now, that’s
not community policing. One of the strategies we would urge is
community policing. In the case of Amadou Diallo, for example, if you
lived in that community you knew he was Muslim. Everybody knew the
building where the Muslim brothers lived. They prayed there. They
didn’t drink. Everyone in that community knew that. If the cops had
been part of the community they would’ve known it also and they would
not have reacted the way they reacted. So our work around the Baez case
and around the other cases connected to a lot other issues. It connected
to the stop!and!frisk issues. It connected the special units whose job was
to cordon off areas of the community. It connected to the issues of
police accountability.


15. Police Accountability
There was a sergeant sitting in the police car when Anthony Baez was
choked. He came out afterwards to help arrest the rest of the family
members, but he was supposed to be monitoring violence on the part of
Livoti and he didn’t do anything. He didn’t go to jail. He was never
brought up on charges. In the Diallo case you had a Street Crimes Unit,
four guys who hadn’t worked together before who were pretty new, who
had no supervisor with them. They so much didn’t know where they
were that after they killed Amadou Diallo one of them had to go to the
corner to see a street sign so that they could call in their location. Now
who’s responsible for that? This is not good policing, this is not scientific
policing. This is a mess. But somewhere there’s a hierarchy of people
responsible, and ultimately it’s the police commissioner, and the mayor
who appoints that police commissioner. These are policies and practices
that are set in place. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the
Congressional Black Caucus, all of them found that there were policies
and practices in New York City that violated people’s rights, and that’s
important. We’re citizens of the world as well as being residents of the
U.S.A. and so when international human rights organizations look at this
and say, “There’s a pattern, there are policies that led to these abuses,”
it’s important. This is the picture that the world gets of America. And
it’s true. It’s not true throughout, because these policies are first tried on
the most marginalized communities. Eventually they will become law
and culture in America, and then the whole of our society will start living
with the diminution of their rights and an expansion of police power in
the name of us being safe.


During this period we were getting lots and lots of phone calls. There
were so many cases of peoples’ rights being violated by police that
lawyers were having to set up a hierarchy of cases they could deal with.
And because all of the cases were going to cost money #the lawyers were
telling us that a typical case would cost &10,000$ if there weren’t
&10,000 in damages it wasn’t even worth taking the case. I had some
young people who came up here to visit me who were stopped and
frisked and forced to drop their pants at the train station downstairs, in
what the police laughingly said was a search for drugs, which was really
just a humiliation and a lesson to these kids. That case wasn’t worth
prosecuting in monetary terms. It would have cost tens of thousands of
dollars for those kids to follow up on the case. The lawyers had to say
that if there was no physical injury they wouldn’t even deal with the case.
The courts wouldn’t deal with them.


There was a tremendous groundswell. That’s how we knew it was
happening, because people were calling us about their kids. People were
afraid for their kids. They were afraid for themselves. The killings spiked
it, but on a daily basis we were getting calls from young people and from
their families about stops and frisks, being taken into custody, being put
in line!ups. All kinds of illegal abuses were taken place. Being told, “You
look like the guy we’re looking for,” and that could be anything.
We had studied the Mollen Commission report and it told us about
patterns of police abuse that had been discovered right before the
Giuliani administration came into office. We fought police brutality
under Dinkins, we fought it under Koch, we fought it before that. We
fought it under Giuliani, and we’ll fight it after Giuliani. It’s not one
mayor or another, although the ideology and perspective of a mayor in
terms of human rights and civil rights is very important, because that will
inform how far they’re willing to go. So we felt the accumulation and
that’s what we really need to talk about is an accumulation of grievances.
And let’s remember that every commission that was set up after the
rebellions of the 1960’s riots said that the trigger event was police
brutality. Before each of those explosions there was an accumulation of
grievances that had occurred, and then an event sparked it. And we saw
this coming because we saw the movement growing. We saw people’s
anger growing. We saw the issues we had been raising previously !! the
need for independent prosecutors, the need for civilian oversight of the
police department !! these issues began to move to the center of political
discussion in the city. They was no longer marginal issues, because case
after case was proving that we were right. The way that information got
out was because there was a mass movement. It forced media coverage.
It forced politicians to start to deal with some of this. And let’s
remember that we’re dealing with demographic change. The city was
changing. We’re in a city where the majority are people of color. But
that majority doesn’t have political power, and that majority is the target
of these policing strategies. Inevitably that majority is going to start
pushing back and forcing politicians and the media and power brokers to
pay attention. Unfortunately it took the deaths of people to really
highlight it. The media would lose interest in a case in a day unless the
movement was able to sustain itself over a long period of time. Every
time we stopped activity, the cases disappeared. That takes
extraordinary effort, and if you have to do it for every single case that
calls for an extraordinary effort that is almost beyond human capability,
especially when you’re grieving.

 

16. Amadou Diallo
The outcry around the Amadou Diallo case was in some ways the
culmination of many of the things we had been talking about: the
number of shots that were fired; the circumstances, that he was in his
house, he wasn’t breaking into somebody’s house, he was in house. The
issue of racial profiling !! they saw a dark face lurking. This was the
antithesis, the opposite of community policing. These cops didn’t know
the community. They didn’t know where they were. That proved why
you need community policing. The number of shots fired proved why
you need oversight. The fact that they thought they were in danger
because Amadou Diallo had something in his hand, that really scared
people, because what’s your natural inclination? You want to show ID.
So now people started giving classes to kids to tell them not to go in your
pocket when you’re stopped. If they ask you for ID tell them, “I’m now
going to put my hand in my pocket.” I wouldn’t do that. I don’t train
people to live that way. We live in a democracy. We shouldn’t have to
live with that kind of fear. And it’s wrong for young people to have their
expectations lowered to the point where when you see a cop you lower
your eyes, move out of the way, do everything that they say, don’t ask
any questions. God forbid you should ask for a license plate number or a
badge number. I’m not going to do that. And people got scared. People
got scared that a person of color who was in his own building could be
gunned down in that manner. And their fear turned into anger and
outrage because it was the confirmation of things that people had been
seeing and feeling. Then there was the leadership of a movement that
got organized and galvanized for a series of protests, including the mass
arrests at One Police Plaza, to keep the pressure on. That was
unprecedented.


There was an explosion of activity after Amadou Diallo was killed, and
there were hearings in the City Council and in Albany. It was on the
front page of magazines all over the country. It was on the front page of
the world press. And that attention was welcomed, but it was really
bittersweet for all of the families, because every time someone else is
killed your child’s name goes lower down on list. As the number of
people who are killed grows, the one that you loved, the one that you
miss at Christmas time, that name goes lower down on the list. On the
other hand you celebrate that perhaps some family will get justice and
you celebrate that the public is beginning to look at these issues. The
things that you’ve been saying, that your son was denied justice, that
there was a cover!up, now perhaps more people will believe it because
they see that indeed there is cover!up, that there are these things wrong
with how policing is carried out in the city. And, yes, the mayor does
play a big role in this and you hope that this will influence people to view
your situation differently. So it really is bittersweet; in some ways it’s
painful for the families. To their credit, they always embrace new
families even though every new family means that attention to their case
is reduced. I mean it’s a real dilemma, and your heart has to go out to
them because in truth they have become the moral backbone of the
police brutality movement. There’s been a significant change in the
movement because of the presence of families who refuse to be victims
and are actors in their own lives. They’re saying, “We are going to have
justice for our children and we’re never going to stop struggling.” Every
person who has a child or someone they love out there says, “That’s how
I would feel if my loved one was taken from me.” They’re not political
activists, they’re not operating out of an ideological pre!orientation.
They’re operating out of love and loss. So it touches everybody, and once
they’re touched they begin to develop a political perspective about why
this tragedy occurred and how to prevent it from occurring again.
Because every single family says, “I’m not doing this because it will bring
back my child; I’m doing this because I don’t want any other family to
ever have to go through this.”

Among the interesting things that we live with, like these bursts of
activity that occurred around Amadou Diallo, is what it does is to
advance the starting point of the struggle. It doesn’t resolve the struggle,
but it advances it. It makes it easier for power brokers, elected officials
and policy makers to consider issues they didn’t want to consider before
because they are risky, such as the need for oversight of the police
department. What we saw around Amadou Diallo was significant. It was
a flurry, a burst of activity, and we’ve seen those before. We saw it
around the Baez case. We’ve seen it in extraordinary situations. And
what each of those do is that they advance the starting point for the next
piece of the struggle. Many of these mass activities force policy makers
and elected officials out of their caves. When thousands of people are
taking a stand publicly and willing to risk arrest, they’re less afraid to
take a stand on something that’s controversial. It creates a crisis of
confidence, but at the same time it emboldens officials who are afraid of
public opinion to come forward and say, “This is an issue my
constituents are concerned about.” It mainstreams these issues. It
demands an analysis we have been trying to make public for a long time
about the need for institutional change in the police department. It’s
been a major struggle. There has not been institutional change in the
police department. There are still cover!ups. There are still police
beatings, but the starting point has been advanced. We have
accumulated new knowledge, new experience, new forces, new tactics,
new credibility, new mass understanding of the issues. So when you have
a beating in California where a kid is choked on videotape and banged
up against the car, the reason more people are able to identify with that
is because of all of the things that have come before it. So our view is
that this is a long struggle, because policing is at the heart of social
control in America. And social control becomes more important when a
country is in economic crisis and in political crisis. As the economy is
less able to provide meaningful labor for its people, social control
becomes more of an option. And we expect to see more of it rather than
less. With the dangers of terrorist attack we can expect to see more of it.
Our struggle has created another context and a new wealth of
information for people to utilize to analyze what government solutions
are being proposed. But we still haven’t seen institutional change and
that’s why we can’t relax our vigilance. Because while Livoti is in jail, the
killers of Anthony Rosario and Hilton Vega are not in jail, the murderer
of Anibal Carrasquillo who was shot in the back is not in jail. Frankie
Arzuega was shot in the back of the head, and his shooter is not in jail.
The list goes on, and the policies that led to those killings have not been
repudiated. As a matter of fact they’re being replicated around the
country. The problem of police brutality and police corruption remains
an endemic problem in American society.
So because the movement for justice for Amadou Diallo was a worldwide
phenomenon, officers were indicted, but the system still functioned to
protect the officers. The trial was moved out of New York City to a
conservative section of Albany where the officers were acquitted. We
think that the prosecutions of those officers was slipshod. It was not a
vigorous prosecution. There were many things that weren’t raised in that
case that should have been. Part of the reason is that D.A.’s prosecute
cops reluctantly because they rely on police officers to make their cases.
D.A.’s need cops. Article after article has come out saying you need an
independent prosecutor because D.A.’s and cops have a symbiotic
relationship. They need each other. As a matter of fact, D.A.’s who have
prosecuted cops have been punished by police unions. If you remember
way back in the Eleanor Bumpers case '1984(, the police union mounted
a massive protest at the Bronx court house against the D.A. who was
prosecuting the cops who killed that grandmother. There was
tremendous pressure with the Diallo case. It was an international case,
there were headlines everywhere. His body was flown back to Guyana,
his family came here and were very eloquent. They started to organize, as
all the other families have, and they embraced Iris and all the other
families. That makes it very powerful. But the fact that the cops don’t go
to jail, the fact that the system colludes to move the trial to Albany,
those are important facts for us to remember because again to get a trial
takes an extraordinary effort. We get the trial, and then the trial is
moved. So what do people say? They say that the system is rigged. Every
time we make an advance the rules of the games are changed. So now the
cops don’t have to be tried in the city where they work. They can be
tried in an area that has different voting patterns, different racial and
ethnic patterns. People say, “Yes, the system is rigged to perpetuate
itself and the Diallo case is one example of it.”

 

17. Gary (Gidone) Busch
Five months after Amadou Diallo was killed, Gary Busch is shot down in
Borough Park, Brooklyn, in a hail of 19 bullets. Witnesses say that he
was not close to the officers. Again, another tragedy, another mother
forced now to confront the system that has taken her loved one and has
closed ranks against her. This is how we understand this. The police
department has policies that were put in place after Eleanor Bumpers
was killed in the 1980’s. They were policies for dealing with “emotionally
disturbed people,” which is what they classified Gary Busch as. Those
policies weren’t followed in the Busch case. There was no supervisor
there. Again, we say that when you don’t educate police officers about
what the policy is on a daily basis, this is going to happen. They’ve got to
be reminded on a daily basis what the policy is. Supervision is crucial.
The review of shootings is crucial. Cops need to know that when they
shoot they’re going to be on the hot seat. This is a leadership problem in
the police force. When you don’t do all of those necessary things, you’re
going to have Gary Busch.


I think the Gary Busch case is an example of how once you unleash the
force of a police department, once the restraints are off and there is no
oversight, no making sure officers understand policy, it’s going to affect
everyone in the society. I think Gary Busch was a victim of that. We
believe that the problems that were concentrated at first inside the
communities of color are going to seep out and affect white
communities as well. It’s inevitable because police officers are being
unleashed, their power is unchallenged. They’re not self regulating
because they’re being told they don’t have to be because the system will
cover for them if they make a mistake. So they go into all of these
situations with a military point of view. They go in with a sense of, “If I
think I’m in danger I’m taking out my gun.” There’s a saying in the
police department, “It’s better be judged by twelve than to be buried by
six.” And what does that say? We have loved ones that are on the job as
well in the police department. We work with police officers. We know
what the internal life and the culture of the police department is like.
It’s inevitable, if you unleash police officers and you tell them that they
will be supported no matter what, that this is going to spill over into the
larger community. Just as heroin was a problem in the minority
communities, eventually we knew it was going to seep into the larger
society, and indeed it did. And then it became a social problem. Gary
Busch is a victim of that. Had there been supervision, had policy around
emotionally disturbed people been drummed into the heads of
everybody, there would have been no reason for them to mace him when
he was down at the bottom of the steps. He was in a contained area.
That’s the policy on dealing with emotional people. You keep them in a
contained area where they can’t hurt other people. You don’t
antagonize them. You look for non!lethal ways of resolving the situation.
Unfortunately, there isn’t enough emphasis on what the non!lethal ways
of resolving confrontational situations are. Nor are police officers
trained in how to diffuse confrontations. More often than not they
inflame the confrontation by their words, by their actions, by their body
language, by what they actually do.


In 1996 I testified at the Philadelphia City Council. They were
discussing adopting Giuliani’s zero tolerance policies. I think the
significance of the Giuliani!Bratton policing strategy is that it is being
adopted for the entire country and is being exported to other parts of
the world. So it has significance beyond New York. It is a strategy that I
think has not been analyzed properly. It’s not a cookie cutter strategy
that you can just pick up and apply in Mexico or in California or all over
the place, but that’s what’s being done. It’s simplistic. People like
simplistic solutions. “All you have to do is to do it this way. Round up
the squeegee men. Arrest the homeless people. Start terrorizing the kids.
Lower the expectations and lower the mobility of young people so it’s
harder for them to move around and that’s how you control crime.” For
us that’s simplistic because crime continues to go on. The overwhelming
majority, something like 95" of the people who are stopped, have
nothing do to with anything and the result is actually a lowering of the
expectations of communities. You expect to be stopped. People expect
their kids to be stopped. That’s a crime being committed against people.
We’re beginning to internalize the abuse of our rights. I work with
young people who say, “Oh no, it was just a regular stop!and!frisk. I
didn’t know they were looking for a burglar. I thought it was a regular
stop!and!frisk, a regular rousting.” Or, “Five O rolled up on me, they
drove the car on the sidewalk on my way to school.” Kids live with this.
We testified at a congressional hearing in Washington, D.C. A young
man from Youth Force in the Bronx testified that he spends his day
having four or five situations of contact with police. He says that the
kids have to avoid the police in the morning on their way to school. That
if they’re late for school they have to avoid police because they’re outside
school after the bell has rung. After they get out of school the police
frequent the areas where kids congregate and they roust them all the
time. And the kids know it. It becomes part of their life. That’s wrong.
That really is wrong. What that does is lower these young people’s
expectations. They begin to expect this is going to be part of their life. It
doesn’t have to be.

 

18. Two Societies, Separate and Unequal
I know that white people don’t know this because I once did a segment
on “Sixty Minutes” and the question was, “Is there a renaissance in New
York City?” The producers of the show were two young women from
the Midwest. Somebody referred them to me and we eventually filmed
the segment. But during the preparation for it I was telling them many
of the same things I’m discussing with you about stop!and!search, street
sweeps, the reality of life for kids of color and their families. They said
they couldn’t believe it, not in their world. But in 1968, after the riots of
that era, the Kerner Commission said that we live in two separate
societies, one is black and one is white. I would say that we still live in
two separate societies and that it’s not only race that separates the
societies, it’s also class. The economy has led to separate societies as
well. There’s a deepening economic polarization in New York City; we
see it all the time. We see the middle class disappearing and the top and
the bottom sectors of the economy growing. Those police practices
we’re talking about are concentrated in sectors of the city that are
racially and economically segregated. A great majority of white America
will not know those things. One of the reasons racial profiling demands
so much attention is because racial profiling affects people of color no
matter what economic status they have. It means that you’re a target
because of your skin color or your language or your accent. So there is no
escaping that, no matter what. If you’re driving a BMW it’s not because
you’re an economic success, it’s because you’re a drug dealer. White
America doesn’t have to understand it, they don’t have to live with it.


People of color understand it because they live with it all the time. Even
those who are successful, who move out of the ghetto, who move out of
the areas that are designated as drug areas are impacted because
America’s racial history continues. We still live in two separate societies.
I have a friend who’s in real estate and who lives out on Long Island.
He’s got a nice car and he gets stopped all the time. And he’s not a hip!
hop guy. He doesn’t wear sweats and fleeces. This is like a suit and tie
Black entrepreneur and he gets stopped all the time. And it happens
over and over again. He’s lived in the same place for years. Sometimes he
gets stopped by the same cops. I mean it’s ridiculous. So he has
heightened political awareness just for that reason. Economically he
doesn’t see similarities between himself and poor people because he’s
struggled to get out of poverty, but he can’t escape his skin color in
America. It’s a reality, as it was for Amadou Diallo. Grappling with this
and trying to explain this to people is hard. Trying to understand it for
ourselves is hard, because the first thing is that people blame the victim.
So first we have to get past the “blame the victim part” and understand
the societal context that all of this is operating in.

 

19. Racial Profiling
Racial profiling is when the only factor, or primary factor, that motivates
police intervention is the race of a person. It has to do with the
disproportionate application of laws to certain racial groups. So that’s
where you get sayings like “driving while Black,” “walking while Black.”
It’s when everyone of a certain race, nationality, language or group is
targeted. They’re all potential perpetrators. And because it’s illegal, after
it’s done the cops make up other reasons. They’ll say, “Someone Black
did this crime and that’s why we stopped him.”
39
With Amadou Diallo the way this played out was through the Street
Crimes Unit, which was notorious for racial profiling, which was
reflected in its stop!and!frisk numbers. Even in communities that had
high percentages of whites, they only stopped Blacks and Latinos. It was
reflected in the numbers that Attorney General Elliot Spitzer found in
his investigation. The cops that shot Amadou Diallo drove into a
community that they did not know. They saw a Black face look out of a
doorway. To them that was suspicious. There were a variety of factors.
Four white cops in a community they don’t know, and a Black face.
That’s suspicious. Let’s go check out that Black guy. Because they were
looking for a rapist who was Black, but if you know that community 75"
of the people are dark skinned Latinos and Blacks. So what that means is
that you need more than just skin color to make that person a suspect.
They said that the person peered out of the building. Well, he lived in
that building. He was looking out. Even if they had been able justify the
stop!and!search, they couldn’t justify the shooting. But then they said
that he reached for something. Since I’ve been active in this, the “he
reached for something” argument has been one of the bedrocks of police
cover!ups. “He reached for a shiny object. He made a motion to his
waistband. He took something out of his pocket.” That’s always been
one of the major justifications. Professionalism in policing reduces those
kinds of arguments. The other reason we know that race plays in this is
because these things never happen in white communities. I mean,
they’re happening more, but you don’t hear the frequency of “he reached
for something.”


Part of racial profiling is the assumption that you’re stopping a
perpetrator of some kind of crime, which automatically sets into motion
your adrenaline and your fear and increases the possibility of something
going .These cops always say. “We’re scared.” I have to tell you, we work
with Black and Latino cops as well, and they tell us that if you’re afraid
to be in the street you shouldn’t be a police officer. That’s what your job
is. If you’re going to go out with fear every single day, don’t be a police
officer, because the fear is going to trigger responses you don’t want.
That’s one of the reasons the White nature of a police department is a
danger when you’re policing communities of color, and when you don’t
live in those cities. If you’re not familiar with culture, not familiar with
racial patterns, not familiar with geography, all of those things are going
to be fear!inducing and adrenaline!inducing and if you operate from the
mindset that every Black face is the potential criminal that you’re
looking for, you’ve actually set up a situation that is already on the verge
of a tragedy. What needs to be done if you want to correct that situation
is that you need to be able to look back on it. You need to challenge the
things that feed racial profiling. A lot of it has to do with training, and
officers need to be trained about what racial profiling is. You need an
awareness of the community that you’re working in, and a familiarity and
a comfort with that community. We talked with cops that have been on
the job a long time, cops who have made arrests, cops who have never
used their gun but have been on the job for 25 years. Others who have
used their gun, but they will tell you, “If you’re afraid you can’t be a good
cop.” That’s one of the reasons why you need supervisors to ride with
these cops. You have four Street Crime Unit cops that meet Amadou
Diallo, and not one supervisor, and none of them had been in the Street
Crimes Unit more than a year. They’re inexperienced, in a community
that they don’t know, they’re all white, almost all of them came from all!
white communities. Even those who came from New York came from
the most segregated New York communities. All of those set in motion
potential tragedy, and Amadou Diallo was the person that it happened
to. I think that the public understood that that tragedy could have
happened to anybody. It wasn’t that Amadou Diallo did anything wrong.
It was that he fit the profile of perpetrator, whether or not he was in his
own home, whether he had money or he didn’t have money, whether he
was college!educated or not college!educated. The cops were operating
with a number of triggers in their heads. His skin color was the final
trigger that led to that confrontation, and that was part of the tragedy
because it could have been anybody. So people looked at it and said, This
is what racial profiling is and it’s connected to all of these other factors:
the lack of training, the lack of supervision, the overwhelmingly white
nature of the police department, or rather the fact that police officers
come from segregated white communities with very little interchange
with other people.” All of those factors need to be addressed inside the
police department. There need to be policies and trainings that address
all of that. You can’t have scared people with guns on the street because
you’re going to have tragedies, especially if they’ve been conditioned to
believe that the source of danger is a dark skin. And then they know that
if they make a mistake the department is going to back them up because
all they have to do is convince people that they were afraid for their
lives. Well, four guys with guns, a guy without a gun !! it’s hard to justify
how everybody was so afraid.

 

20. The Power of Life or Death
This is about the militarization of the police force, the adopting of
harsher policing strategies, the lack of responsibility inside the policing
structure and the attack against civilian oversight of the police force. No
one is responsible. One of the reasons it’s so important to have civilian
oversight of the police department is that we give the police the power
of life and death. We, the people of the country, give them life and
death. We have to make sure that that power is not abused, and that it’s
used correctly. We have to have oversight. It’s one of the most
important things. The police department is a paramilitary unit. When
you have a police department that is militarized, that almost functions
like an occupying army, when you have them operating without any
civilian oversight those are the characteristics of dictatorships, of police
state dictatorships. I’m not saying America’s a police state. I’m saying
those are the characteristics and that the danger of that building in this
country is very great.

It’s also crucial for the people to have faith in the police. Civilian
oversight, which the police department fights tooth and nail, is crucial
for that. But I mean real civilian oversight. I don’t mean a phony civilian
review board that’s run by police officers, that has a one%percent record
of substantiating complaints. I mean something with teeth, with
subpoena power, with investigative power. What the Mollen
Commission did was exemplary. It was a government agency. It looked
at these problems. It got police officers to come forward and admit to
corruption. One police officer in the 46th precinct where Anthony Baez
was killed, and Rosario and Vega were killed, was called “the mechanic.”
That was his nickname. They asked him, “Why do they call you the
mechanic?” And he said, “ Because everyone knew that I used to tune
people up.” His sergeant called him “the mechanic,” the precinct
commander knew he was “the mechanic” because he was beating people
up. And when they asked him why, he said, “To show them who was
boss.” When Livoti testified in the federal trial, he said he looked in
Anthony’s eyes and he didn’t lower his eyes and he knew he was going to
have to “break him down.” And when Louima was tortured in the
precinct in Brooklyn, Volpe came out and said “I just broke a man
down.” So a lot of this is about the mentality of the police officers, the
lack of supervision, the lack of accountability, and nobody being held
responsible. These are real dangerous things for a country to allow to
happen.


When we look at the New York policing model, and we look around the
country, one of the things you see is that there were tremendous
problems of brutality across the country and of police corruption. The
Mollen Commission was triggered by scandals in the police department
in New York. You had rings of cops that were selling drugs and selling
guns. They were called “the cocaine cops.” That’s what triggered the
Mollen Commission’s investigation. They found eleven or fifteen
precincts around the city that were problematic. This was being
repeated across the country. And what the Mollen Commission said was,
“Where you find corruption you find brutality, the two go hand in hand.
Brutal cops and corrupt cops are often the same and the tolerance for
corruption is a tolerance for brutality and vice!a!versa.” That the
supervisor that turned a blind eye to corruption was going to turn a blind
eye to brutality. That was important because these were problems across
the country, of both corruption and brutality. Giuliani’s strategy wasn’t
about corruption and it wasn’t about brutality either. It was about the
communities. What it did was shift attention away from the problems
inside the police department to say that the problems were not inside
the police department, the problems are in these communities. We have
to crack down on them. And that’s exactly what was done. And of course
the policing establishment across the country liked that better than
looking at systemic institutionalized problems inside the police
department. They liked that better because it doesn’t call for real
change. Sure, almost every big city has a scandal, so you have the
Rampart scandal in L.A., you have the scandal down in New Orleans,
you have one in Detroit, there was one in Chicago where they were they
were torturing prisoners. They’re willing to give up a few of the more
obvious bad cops. But the institutionalized daily brutality and violation
of rights, that’s never called into question. And if there’s not a big
movement externally even the big cases are swept under the rug. So the
Giuliani strategy points all attention to communities and no attention to
policing. The one piece of attention that it says is we’re going to pay to
policing is that we’re going to use Compstat for computer!tracking and
targeting. Compstat is a good management tool, but that’s all it is, it’s a
management tool. It’s not a tremendous innovation. Anyone who’s done
mapping for the census knows that it was a good innovation. Police
departments need to come out of the dark ages and get up with new
technology. But tracking is only as good as the policing that then follows.
What we should be demanding is the professionalization of policing.
Just like Compstat is a professionalization of data gathering, we should
demand the professionalization of law enforcement. It’s not enough to
say, “The only clue I need is a skin color and I’ll round up every one with
that skin color.” Could we have some have other factors in the profile as
well, like maybe what clothing was being worn? That’s why professional
law enforcement says that racial profiling is bad policing. It’s just bad,
unprofessional policing. Across the country this tough policing strategy
very frequently masks bad policing.

 

© 2004 AndersonGold Films, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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