Albany, New York

The Killing of Jessie Davis and the Training of a Judge

Revolutionary Worker #1039, January 23, 2000

On December 16, a panel of judges moved the murder trial of four New York City cops out of New York City. These are the four cops who, almost a year earlier, gunned down African immigrant Amadou Diallo with 41 bullets as he stood unarmed in his own Bronx doorway. These state judges moved the trial to Albany--saying the cops could not get a fair trial in New York City.

So eyes have turned toward Albany, as everyone asks the natural question, "Why would five white judges think that Albany is a so much better place for trying police who kill Black people in cold blood?"

The following story, reported by Bob Herbert in his New York Times column (January 6) casts a sharp light on "fairness" in Albany's legal system.

Shot in Bed

Jessie Davis was a 35-year-old Black man who, despite mental illness, succeeding in making an independent life for himself. He was living alone in an apartment in Albany's mainly Black Arbor Hill neighborhood.

On July 8, 1984, someone phoned the cops, saying that there was a disturbance in his apartment. Five white cops barged into Jessie Davis' home.

The cops opened fire on Jessie as he lay in his bed, shooting him several times. Among his wounds were one in his back and one on the top of his head. He died as he was taken to the hospital.

The police shooting was reviewed by a grand jury. The official police story was that this was "justifiable homicide." They claimed that Jessie Davis had been agitated. They claimed he had attacked them, holding a knife in one hand and a fork in the other. They said they had no choice but to kill him on the spot. The grand jury cleared the police of any wrongdoing. No charges were filed against the cops.

The residents of Arbor Hill and Jessie's family were furious over these developments. There had been a long history of police brutality and murder in Albany's Black community--and many people did not believe the official story for a moment.

Then a bombshell hit: The family of Jessie Davis filed civil lawsuits against the police. In 1993, they came upon a photograph that a policeman had taken, at the shooting scene, of Jessie as he lay dying. The photo showed Jessie clutching things in each hand: a key case in one hand and a toy matchbox truck in the other.

Standard Operating Procedure

The police had never been threatened. The whole police story had been a lie--a web of fabrications and perjury to cover cold murder. The photo had never been shown to the grand jury--this key evidence had been suppressed.

The photo was published on the front page of Albany's Times Union--and the truth of this case became known to everyone. What kind of justice did the people and Davis' family then get? They got one of the "money settlements" that the U.S. legal system likes to use, and a lame "apology." The mayor said, "The city is acknowledging that it would have been better if this incident had been handled by mental health professionals in conjunction with the police department."

Where was simple truth and justice? Where were the words "cold-blooded murder and cover-up by the police." Where was the serious punishment for the murderers? The cover-up and protection of the killer police continued--even after they had been fully exposed.


This whole story suggests why Albany County is considered by judges and police to be an excellent place for police to face trial for the murder of Diallo.

One final fact that is especially revealing: When the Davis family filed their civil suit, one of the cops, Charles Peters, was represented by a lawyer named Joseph Teresi. Peters was at the scene but not charged with shooting Jessie Davis. That same lawyer, James Teresi, is now the judge who has been assigned to hear the Diallo case!

The plan to move the Diallo case to Albany is a plan to protect the police who murdered Diallo. It is just like the way the Rodney King case was moved to a pro-police suburb of Simi Valley in 1992--so that the cops would be acquitted.

Shortly after the Diallo case was moved to Albany, RCP spokesperson Carl Dix said: "We need to learn the valuable lesson they're teaching us on how their system operates with this case. They always tell us we should trust in the laws, rules and procedures of the system. The reality is that 95 percent of the time, these laws, rules and procedures operate in a way that messes over the people. When that one-time-out-of-twenty comes up, when it looks like the people can get justice by playing by these rules, they turn around and change the rules--like they did in this case. It's a question of power. As long as the capitalist rulers wield power over us, the people will never get real justice. We gotta fight to get justice in this case, and that means seeing these cops go to jail with some real time. But as we carry on the fight for justice in this case--and all the cases of police brutality and murder--we need to be real clear that this system can never give us complete justice. It's set up to oppress and exploit us, and, like a leopard, it can never change those spots. We need to fight this battle for justice as part of getting ready and in position for what we need to win real justice--rising up in revolution, getting rid of this system once and for all, and going on to build a whole new world on the ashes of this messed-up one."

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