One Year After the Torture
of Abner Louima
NYPD Still Has the Green Light to Brutalize Civiliams
By Carl Dix
Revolutionary Worker #969, August 16, 1998
August 8, 1998--One year ago today police officers beat and raped Abner Louima in the 70th police precinct of New York City (NYC). Other cops helped cover up this perverse crime, and others stood by and let it happen. Many people wonder, what has been done to change the way New York Police Department (NYPD) treats people in the year since that atrocity came to light?
The answer to this question has nationwide ramifications. NYC's "anti-crime" program is being touted as a national model, and police agencies all across the country are sending cops to NYC to get trained in carrying out this program. NYC Mayor Giuliani is even being wined and dined across the country as a potential candidate for president in 2000.
NYC's anti-crime program unleashes the police to come down hard on minor infractions on the theory that someone who drinks a can of beer in public, especially if they are Black or Latino, is likely to also commit more serious crimes. So arresting and jailing people of color and the poor for minor offenses is justified as a way to reduce more serious crime now and in the future, and the middle class is invited to support this repressive program.
In practice, this model of policing gives a green light for heightened and extreme violence by the police against the people. The attack on Abner Louima was no isolated incident. The Stolen Lives Project of the Oct. 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality has documented 187 people killed by the police in NYC between 1992 and 1995, many of them in suspicious circumstances. The exact number of people killed by the police is almost certainly much higher since NYC, like just about every other city, state and federal agency, refuses to make this information public. When these killings occur, the typical response of the authorities is to describe the victim as a criminal who deserved what they got. And this is the model that cops across the country are being trained in!
Human Rights Watch (HRW) underscored this in their 7/7/98 report, "Shielded From Justice: Police Brutality and Accountability in the U.S." This report is the result of research from late 1995 to early 1998 in 14 cities across the U.S., including NYC. Regarding NYC, the HRW report notes, "There is often a racial or ethnic component to police abuse cases..." And, "Police abuse experts have wondered why, if the police leadership is eager to stop minor criminals and crimes, it is failing to demonstrate the same aggressiveness in dealing with officers before they commit more serious offenses?" This is an accurate description of the NYPD policing and overview before the torturing of Anger Louima, AND SINCE!
A sharp point of controversy with respect to police brutality is the so-called 48-hour rule. This shields police suspected of crimes from being questioned for 48 hours. This police lie-ability rule gives brutal, murdering cops 48 hours to get their stories together and to get fellow cops to back up their lies. This was graphically shown in the federal trial of Francis Livoti, the NYC cop who choked Anthony Baez to death in December 1994. The NY Times reported that Daisy Boria, the one cop on the scene the night Baez was killed who was willing to break the "blue wall of silence," said at Livoti's trial she had been invited to join other cops on the scene at an informal meeting in the precinct parking lot. She declined, but her partner who did attend told her the purpose of the meeting was to concoct a story about how a Black passerby had choked Baez, not Livoti. The federal prosecutor said that cops who testified in Livoti's behalf committed perjury. As yet, none have been charged with lying in this case.
A Nationwide Problem
This problem of police being given a green light to brutalize and even kill people is not limited to NYC. The recent report from HRW found that, "Police brutality is one of the most serious, enduring and divisive human rights violations in the U.S. The problem is nationwide, and its nature is institutionalized." Also that, "Police officers engage in unnecessarily rough physical treatment in cities throughout the U.S., while their police superiors, city officials and the Justice Department fail to act decisively to restrain or penalize such acts or even to record the full magnitude of the problem." As the NYC anti-crime program is promoted as a national model for policing, this problem will only intensify.
Have Things Changed?
Have things changed in the NYPD in the last year? Not one bit. In June, Francis Livoti was convicted in federal court of violating the civil rights of Anthony Baez. This conviction was the result of nearly four years of courageous and dogged struggle by the Baez family and thousands of others who were determined to fight to the end for justice for Anthony. And it was for civil rights violations, not murder. And it came almost four years after Livoti took Baez's life, following a state trial in which Livoti was acquitted even though the judge described his supportive police witnesses as "a nest of perjury."
When the NYPD gunned down unarmed William Whitfield on Christmas Eve of '97, Giuliani was quick to call for the killer cop to be given the benefit of the doubt. But when an off-duty cop shot Antoine Reed point blank in the chest on June 14 because Reed was trying to wash the cop's car window, Giuliani said, "Irrespective of the merits or demerits of this particular incident, squeegee operators violate the law when they enter the street. They do create a situation of intimidation, fear and anger." For this mayor, killer cops deserve the benefit of the doubt, but people driven by poverty to squeegee windows to survive are criminals. This speaks volumes about whether NYC's model of policing has undergone any change for the better.
I believe atrocities such as the torture of Abner Louima are only concentrations of the brutality police inflict on communities in NYC and across the country. The cops who carry out this brutality aren't bad apples or rogue elements--they're cops doing the job they're recruited, trained and rewarded for doing. The job of the police isn't to "protect and serve" the people. It's to enforce an economic and social structure that's based on inequality. This system works by the exploitation of the many for the profit of a few. Keeping a system like that in effect requires armed force to keep those on the bottom in their place. To stop police brutality once and for all, I believe the whole dog-eat-dog capitalist system must be uprooted through revolution.
Whether you agree with me or not on the need for revolution, if you agree with me that police brutality is an intensifying problem nationwide, we need to work together to put police brutality in check. An example of what can be done is the Oct. 22nd National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation. This effort has brought together diverse groupings of people in cities across the U.S. to deliver a basic message--that police brutality must stop! It has helped to make the existence of police brutality and of a growing movement to stop this problem something many more people are aware of. It has given a platform to the victims of police brutality to speak out about how their lives have been devastated by those who are supposed to protect them. All of us who see the intensifying epidemic of police brutality as an injustice that must be stopped need to come together to build resistance against it.
Carl Dix is national spokesperson for the RCP,USA.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
Write: Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654
Phone: 773-227-4066 Fax: 773-227-4497
(The RW Online does not currently communicate via email.)