Cop Pleads Guilty in Louima Torture Case

Confession Extracted by the People

Revolutionary Worker #1009, June 6, 1999

Justin Volpe, one of the cops responsible for the beastly attack on Abner Louima, has been forced to confess to the crimes he committed against this Haitian immigrant.

On May 25, Volpe pled guilty to federal civil rights charges of beating and raping Abner Louima with a broom handle, in the bathroom of the 70th precinct in Brooklyn where he and another cop had taken Louima after his arrest in August 1997. Volpe admitted his crime out of fear of spending the rest of his life in prison, deciding to plead guilty and hope the judge would not sentence him to the maximum--a bigger possibility had the jury found him guilty. Volpe was immediately put in jail. He faces from 20 years to life in prison without parole when he is sentenced later this summer. The remaining four cops on trial have yet to admit their crimes and the trial is continuing. Whether justice will be done in their cases is yet to be seen.

Cracking the Blue Wall to Protect the System

Volpe's confession came in the middle of a trial that has seen the rare event of cops testifying against other cops. In an effort to restore faith in their system, the ruling class has put a lot of effort into getting some of the cops in the 70th precinct that night to testify against those on trial, thus challenging the "blue wall of silence" (the code cops use to cover up their crimes). Four cops took the stand to single out Volpe. They gave stark evidence of Volpe borrowing gloves and returning them bloody, swinging the stick he attacked Louima with, and bragging that, "I broke a man down." Now the power structure is trying to make the cops who testified out as some kind of heroes. Mayor Giuliani made the ridiculous claim that because these cops testified, "It destroys the myth of the blue wall of silence." But the fact is all of these cops came forward well after the attack happened, at a time when it was clear that the system would have to arrest some cops to try and calm the mounting anger of the people. If they hadn't agreed they may all have faced serious charges themselves.

Two other cops are charged with lying to keep from being called as witnesses against the cops on trial. And these cops are typical NYPD brutalizers. The first to testify, Eric Turetzki, was forced to admit that while on the scene in front of the club that night he told a woman to move, when according to him she said, "You can't arrest me, I'm pregnant," and he said, "I'll kick you in the stomach." Another cop, Sergeant Wernick, had to admit to punching a civilian and lying to cover up for his partner in another incident.

In the course of the trial there's been a lot of talk about how "honest cops" are "repulsed" by what Volpe did. An article in the N.Y. Times quoted one cop as saying: "This is such a reprehensible, sadistic thing. This is not about protecting another cop." But it is revealing that in some of the most damaging testimony for Volpe, Sergeant Wernick testified that Volpe approached him bragging about what he'd done, telling him, "I took a man down tonight." The question has to be asked: Why would Volpe think other cops would be impressed by what he did? A look at the thousands of harassments, insults, beatings and arrests, to say nothing of the outright murders carried out by the NYPD and other police departments in this country, gives some clue. That these cops took things to such extremes with Abner Louima has to be measured against the extremes of shooting people in the back, shooting people holding house-keys, or in the case of Amadou Diallo, shooting an unarmed man 41 times. As much as the politicians and police officials call this an "aberration," the reality is these cops have been given a green light to do their worst, especially against people from the oppressed nationalities. It is only the active resistance of the people that stands in the way of things descending to even worse levels. And it is the struggle of the people that has now compelled one pig to confess his crimes.

With this confession the rulers are trying to say that the system works and that the courts can be counted on to deliver justice. This not true. Here is the truth: A Haitian man, out for a night of dancing and relaxing, was arrested for no reason, beaten, beaten again, dragged handcuffed into the precinct bathroom and raped with a broken broom handle. He was then thrown into a cell with his insides torn up and held for hours before being taken to a hospital. Volpe admitted on the stand, "I then threatened to kill him if he told anybody."

This was done in a precinct full of cops, none of whom even reported it, let alone tried to stop it. And all this was done because the police thought he wasn't respecting their authority--mistakenly thinking he had taken a swing at one of the cops. What happened to Abner Louima speaks volumes about the cruel nature of this system, and the role of those on the "front lines" sent out to keep people "in their place." Had Abner Louima died in the 70th precinct, Justin Volpe would be just another cop on duty during a "death in custody." Had Abner Louima not had the bravery to tell--in the face of a very real death threat--what happened to him, had not his family and nurse Magalie Laurent fought to get word of the incident out, and had not tens of thousands of people taken to the streets, there would have been no cops arrested, no trial, no justice. If the actions of the people had not focussed the eyes of the world on this case, it would have been buried behind the blue wall of silence. All this underscores the need to remain vigilant and continue to demand justice--six more cops, four in the current trial and two others to be tried later, still have not had to answer for their crimes.

Some things don't happen often. The moon rarely blocks out the sun. Mountains are formed, but only after thousands of years of shifting of the earth's crust. And the armed enforcers of this system rarely, if ever, admit to their acts of cowardly and murderous brutality. The first two examples are subject to massive natural forces, well outside the control of humankind. The latter can be effected only by the force of the people. This is what has happened in the case of the beating and rape of Abner Louima. The confession and jailing of NYPD brutalizer Justin Volpe was a hard-fought thing, the people must fight on.

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.)