The NYPD Brutality Machine

Revolutionary Worker #921, Aug. 31, 1997

The storm of outrage, protest and debate over the police torture of Abner Louima continues to shake New York. All over the city, people are debating each new development in the case. Is the problem "rogue" cops or the police as a whole? Is it Mayor Giuliani's fault, or is the problem even bigger? Is it just Black people being targeted, or could such a nightmare happen to anyone? Will the truth come out this time? A major protest called for August 29 will start at 10 a.m. at the Grand Army Plaza near Prospect Park in Brooklyn. There will be a march over the Brooklyn Bridge to the police headquarters in Manhattan.

On August 9 Abner Louima, an immigrant from Haiti, was set upon by cops outside a Haitian nightclub in Brooklyn. He was handcuffed and thrown into a squad car. On the way to the 70th precinct station, cops beat Louima with their radios and fists. At the police station, the cops pulled Louima's pants down, took him into the bathroom, and sodomized the cuffed man with the wooden handle of a toilet plunger. The cops shoved the plunger, covered with blood and feces, into Louima's mouth.

The cop who wielded the plunger, Justin Volpe, reportedly bragged about the attack to other officers, saying he had to "break a man" that night. The station was full of cops--but none came to Abner Louima's aid.

Attorney Colin Moore told the Amsterdam News: "This is a crime of beastly and unspeakable brutality and is reminiscent of the public humiliation perpetrated by the Nazi Gestapo in Hitler's Germany." Among Haitian immigrants, the police torture of Abner Louima reminds them of a similar scene from a popular Haitian film--"The Man by the Shore"--which depicts the brutality under the U.S.-backed Duvalier regime.

The police torture of Abner Louima rips the mask off Giuliani's "anti-crime" program, which has been lauded as a "model" for police departments all over the country. In reality, this is a program for further unleashing police racism, savagery and brutality. The people who live in poor and oppressed neighborhoods--and the families of the many victims of police murder--know this from their own painful experiences. The torture of Abner Louima exposes the reality that police brutality is an epidemic--and shows that the victims of police brutality have right on their side.

In contrast to so many other cases, the police and government authorities are not able to justify this police atrocity by claiming that the victim was a "criminal," "resisting arrest," etc. Unlike many others who were killed in cold blood and whose voices were silenced, Abner Louima has lived to tell what the police did. Louima is a family man, religious, works two jobs, and even "liked cops" before this happened. There is no question of "resisting arrest," since he was cuffed and in the station house when he was sodomized. If the cops treat someone like Louima so savagely, doesn't it show that police brutality is a problem for everybody? Even a usually pro-police columnist for the Daily News wrote: "If this is true, and I fear it is, be afraid. Be very afraid."

Giuliani and other officials point out that some cops at the 70th precinct are coming forward with information, and that this shows there is no "blue wall of silence" among the police. But in reality, the police tried hard to keep the truth from coming out. When the cops brought Louima to the hospital, they lied to the hospital staff that he had been injured through "homosexual activity." But a Haitian nurse spoke to Louima in Creole and found out what really happened. She called the police department's Internal Affairs Department to report the incident. However, Internal Affars did not even assign a log number to the case. It was not until 50 hours after Louima was tortured that the D.A. was notified and the official investigation began.

This gave the police crucial time to dispose of evidence. The toilet plunger immediately "disappeared." According to news reports, Volpe routinely cut off dreadlocks from Jamaicans he arrested and kept them in his locker. But Volpe's fellow officers reportedly cleaned out his locker before investigators arrived at the precinct.

If this case was like countless others, the attempted cover up might have worked. A Daily News columnist wrote: "[T]he record is blazingly clear that if Abner Louima, who says he was a victim of plunger rape, merely had claimed that he was called `ni*ger' and kicked in the kidneys until he urinated blood, no action would have been taken."

When Giuliani, police officials and others in the power structure realized they could not whitewash Louima's torture, they began to do damage control. They claim that the problem is not the police as a whole but some "bad apples." A New York Times editorial argued that Giuliani's "crime fighting success" should still be praised, while dealing with "bad officers who cause disruption beyond their small numbers."

But the problem clearly is not just a few bad officers. Consider, for example, the so-called "shake-up" of the 70th precinct. The new commander brought in to take charge of the 70th used to be at the Williamsburg precinct in Brooklyn. Last January the cops at that precinct shot 15-year-old Frankie Arzuega in the back and murdered him. The killer cops did not even bother to tell Frankie's parents that he was dead. A few months later, on Mother's Day, some cops in the precinct phoned Frankie's parents with insults.

When Giuliani was running against former Mayor David Dinkins in 1992, he led a rally of 10,000 cops at city hall. Newsday columnist Jimmy Breslin described the rally: "Candidate Rudolph Giuliani bawled out insults at Dinkins. Several police held up toilet plungers and snarled, `flush the ni*ger down the toilet.' One cop held up an immature drawing of Dinkins with a toilet plunger on his head." This ugly scene raises a question: How many others like Abner Louima have been tortured and sodomized by cops?

In December 1994, seven immigrants from the Caribbean and Africa accused a cop of raping them at gunpoint at different times between 1989-93. The Queens District Attorney refused to bring charges against the cop, and the police commissioner called the immigrants a "rat pack."

The Giuliani campaign rally was a sign of what was to come, as he whipped up the beasts in blue for an epidemic of police brutality and murder. According to figures released by the NYPD itself, the New York cops killed 187 people people in the five-year period between January 1992 and December 1996. In other words, on the average the police in New York kill someone every 10 days. The Mollen Commission Report issued in 1995 exposed widespread police corruption and cops who regularly beat and terrorize people. The June 1996 Amnesty International Report, titled "Police brutality and excessive force in the New York City Police Department," compared the NYPD to the armed forces of oppressive regimes around the world.

From his hospital bed, Abner Louima said, "What keeps me going is that even if I don't get anything out of this, that my children can grow up in a new society--a society where no one else was victimized like I was. I believe there are other victims who are either ashamed to come out or did not know how to speak out for themselves."

The deadly epidemic of police brutality must be stopped!

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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