The Nature of the Beast

The Abner Louima Trial

Revolutionary Worker #1007, May 23, 1999

The mechanisms of capitalism that propel this decadent empire inflict violence and pain with a staggering and reckless abandon. Millions of lives are stifled, shattered and broken by the motion of this system. On the "front lines," protecting the property and social relations of all this, stand the police, who at their worst personify the beastly nature of this system. And here starts the story of Abner Louima.

What Happened to Abner Louima

Five cops are currently on trial in federal court on civil rights charges for the brutal attack and cover-up against Abner Louima. Finally Abner Louima has been able to tell his story of what happened that night.

On Friday, August 8, 1997 Abner Louima had gone to Club Rendez-Vous in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn along with his younger brother Julius, his cousin Jay, and two friends after working his 2 p.m.-11 p.m. shift. (Louima worked as a security guard at a water and sewage treatment plant in eastern Brooklyn.) They'd gone to hear the "The Phantoms" play compas music--a popular Haitian dance music. When the music ended in the early morning hours of August 9 what had been a good night turned into something awful.

As people left the club a fight broke out between two women. Cops were called and between 12 and 15 of them arrived. Things got ugly. According to one man on the scene, Kewing Sanon, a salesman who works with the band, "They [the cops] started fighting like people on the street." Louima had left the club just before 4 a.m. to get his car. When he came back he saw a man bleeding, yelling in Creole that he'd been hit by a cop. Louima said, "I was very angry. I looked at the guy. He had blood on his face. I said, `Even if they want to make an arrest, they shouldn't hit someone because they have their rights."' Louima then said he heard someone tell him to shut up, and he was hit in the back of the head and knocked to the ground. He was then picked up and knocked down again, handcuffed and thrown into a cop car. As he was being arrested people in the crowd started yelling "Abus! Abus! Abus!", Creole for abuse. At the trial, Louima's cousin Jay testified that "I felt hurt because [Louima] was with me and he did not do anything for police to do that."

He was put in a car with two cops from the 70th Precinct, Thomas Wiese and Charles Schwarz. Two other cops, Justin Volpe and Thomas Bruder, followed them. After driving a few blocks the four cops pulled Louima from the car. Louima testified, "They open both side doors and one of the officers walked to me and he told me no one ever raises a hand on him and gets away with it." The cop Volpe then told Louima, "Stupid n***r, I am going to teach you a lesson how to respect cops." They beat him while his hands were handcuffed behind his back. Then they threw him back into Wiese and Schwarz's car to continue the drive to the precinct. A couple blocks later the car stopped, and again Louima was taken out and beaten.

Around 4:30 a.m. Louima was brought into the 70th precinct. At the front desk one of the cops loosened his belt and pulled his pants down, they forced him into the precinct's bathroom. Louima testified what happened: "I heard somebody coming from behind me and I turned my head, and there was another officer, Volpe. He closed the door and I saw him grab something by the garbage can. He told me he's going to do something to me. If I yell or make any noise, he'll kill me.

He continued:

Q: Where were you in the bathroom?

A: My face was most--more close to the toilet.... Then [Officer Volpe] kick me on my groin.

Q: What happened when he kicked you?

A: I yell. He put his foot in my mouth... Both men started hitting me, punching me.... The driver pull me off by the handcuff and Officer Volpe put an object in my rectum and pull it out and he put in my mouth and told me that's my shit.

Louima, still handcuffed, was then put in a cell, his pants still down, covered in blood and feces.

At 6:25 a.m. an ambulance arrived at the precinct, but it wasn't until an hour and a half later, 7:58 a.m., that the ambulance took him to the hospital. Then these cops went into damage control. Louima testified how before putting him in the ambulance, Volpe took a polaroid picture of him and attempted to make him look less ravaged. "He rip the vest I was wearing and threw it into the garbage can and say `Wait.' He put one part of it on one side of my body to make me look good, and he took a picture of me." Volpe then cupped his chin, "and told me if I ever talk to anyone about what happened to me, he kill me and everybody in my family. He know where they live and he's not joking."

At the hospital cops tried to cover their crimes by telling people in the hospital that Louima was injured at a gay club--the implication being during rough sex. When members of Abner's family went to the precinct to find out what happened they were told, "Your brother got into a fight. He got a little hurt, so he walked out of the precinct, and we took him to the hospital." Later in the day Louima himself was able to tell one of the nurses, who was also Haitian, what had happened. She in turn told another Haitian nurse, Magalie Laurent, who tried to tell the police Internal Affairs Bureau. She said, "I knew that they hadn't taken my call seriously. And it was proved to me. They could have gone to that precinct and secured the crime scene." It wasn't until the next day, when Abner Louima's family again called, that IAB actually logged in the complaint.

The attack on Abner Louima was beyond terrible. As word got out--and the authorities were able to keep this incident quiet for almost four days--the effect was stunning. Thousands and thousands of people took to the streets. The rulers scurried to contain things. Even the infamous police-brutality mayor, Giuliani, acted outraged--and tried to say this was out of character for the NYPD. Commissions were formed, reforms were announced and cops were arrested. Giuliani made it clear he wanted to get back to business as usual--meaning defending cops and all the crimes they commit. But the reality of what happened to Abner Louima, and what it said about the "routine" treatment of people encountering the NYPD, would not and will not go away.

The Police Defense

There are five cops on trial: Justin Volpe, Thomas Bruder, Charles Schwarz, Michael Bellomo and Thomas Wiese. The cops charged along with Volpe tried to get their cases separated from his, but the government wouldn't allow it. Schwarz claims he wasn't in the bathroom with Louima, Volpe's lawyer says that Louima didn't identify Volpe. Bruder's lawyer says he was only indicted because he happened to be Volpe's partner, and on and on. While these cops scramble to distance themselves from the attack the reality is that in a precinct full of cops, a Black man was beaten, stripped, raped with a broom handle and left bleeding on a cell floor.

The only reason these cops are even in court is because Abner Louima lived to tell what happened. Had he been murdered that night he would be just one more "death in custody."

Volpe's lawyer, Marvin Kornberg, is once again torturing Abner Louima--charging in his opening statement that Louima's injuries were the result of a consensual sex act. This against a man who had four operations to repair the damage done to his bladder and rectum. Kornberg's questions to Louima were the kind of questions rape victims have to field, and raise the image of the rape occurring once more, only this time in public.

The Charges--The Stakes

These cops were initially arrested on state assault and aggravated sexual abuse charges carrying a maximum sentence of 15 to 25 years. However, in February 1998 the U.S. Attorney announced federal civil rights charges against five cops that include: conspiracy to deprive civil rights, obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice and deprivation of civil rights. Volpe and Bellomo are also charged in the attack on another man that night, Patrick Antoine. Volpe and Schwarz could potentially get life in prison if convicted, and the other cops are facing 10 years.

The conspiracy to obstruct justice charge was added later against Bruder, Schwarz and Wiese and is aimed at the "blue wall of silence." The government says these three tried to cover up Schwarz's role in the attack by claiming he was nowhere near the bathroom at the time.

So far one cop has testified against his fellow cops--a rare event given how the police routinely cover up each other's crimes.

What happened to Abner Louima was so outrageous and exposing the authorities need to have people believe their legal system will "handle this." But this is a tightrope for the authorities. No matter how it is presented, the reality of what happened to Louima speaks to the fundamental rottenness of this system. And the inciting nature of what happened--as well as the dangerous prospect of a verdict that doesn't approach justice--are things the authorities have to fear as they pursue this case.

One thing is clear. The level of brutality that these cops inflicted against Abner Louima was extreme, and an extreme example of just how far they will take things. The fact that Amadou Diallo, Kenneth Banks, Yvette Kessler, William Whitfield and countless others have been murdered and victimized since the attack on Abner Louima is hard proof of just what people are up against. This is a monstrous system that survives by reactionary violence. But is also a system that trembles at the prospect of the people rising up.

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