Revolutionary Worker #1146, April 14, 2002, posted at http://rwor.orgIt was a shocking reversal of justice that hit people hard. At the end of February an appeals court threw out charges against three cops convicted in connection with the 1997 brutal assault on Haitian immigrant Abner Louima. In a case that had become a symbol of raw police brutality, the decision was a slap in the face to the people. And it came with a barrage of ugly pro-police propaganda.
In the aftermath of 9-11, the system has created a climate where reality is turned upside down, where the people are supposed to forget all the corruption and crimes of the NYPD, where those who routinely brutalize are painted as "saviors" and "heroes," even victims. Now we are supposed to forget the awful crimes these cops committed against Abner Louima; and believe this was an isolated incident that, as one newspaper article put it, "smeared the brave, disciplined and professional performances of the vast majority of the NYPD." But all this is a lie.
Abner Louima lived through a most brutal and humiliating police assault and courageously told his story. It was a story that raised intense anger among the people. Now, the rulers want to reverse right and wrong and erase the people's bitter memory. But the people must never forget... and never forgive what happened to Abner Louima the night of August 9, 1997.
*****Friday night has vanished into the early hours of Saturday. The crowd that packed the club Rendezvous in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, New York had been dancing to the Phantoms, a band popular among Haitian people in this Caribbean neighborhood.
The hour is approaching 4 a.m. and the band has finished. People are working their way towards the doors into the warmth of late summer. On the street outside a fight breaks out between two women. A crowd gathers to see what is happening. As some move to break up the fight, the situation becomes chaotic. The police show up...
But wait, before we continue, let's recall some important background.
New York City in August 1997 was a place that had witnessed escalating levels of police brutality. Under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, the police had been set loose in an especially vicious way.
Anthony Baez, strangled to death after a cop got pissed off because a football hit his car. Hilton Vega and Anthony Rosario, shot repeatedly as they lay face down on the floor by cops standing over them. Aswon Watson, murdered in a hail of gunfire penetrating his car as he sat with his hands raised in the air. Aníbal Carrasquillo shot in the back because he was "peering into a car window." There were many others, and many more would follow. What was about to unfold in Flatbush was riding that wave of naked blue brutality. And it would take things even further, searing an image of raw inhumanity in many people's minds.
Abner Louima was at the Club Rendezvous that night. Louima, a Haitian immigrant, grew up in Port-au-Prince, and had an engineering degree from Ecole National des Arts Metiers. In Brooklyn, however, he was working as a security guard-an all too typical story of an immigrant struggling to make a life. A night at Club Rendezvous was a way of shaking off a week of work and relaxing.
The cops who hit the street that night could care less about any of this. Among them were Justin Volpe, Charles Schwarz, Thomas Wiese, Thomas Bruder, Mark Schofield and Eric Turetzky. The cops, according to witnesses, came into the scene and started wailing.
"They started fighting like people on the street," said Kerwing Sanon, a salesman who worked with the Phantoms. "One guy took off his belt and handed it to another guy, and then I saw an exchange of punches between this cop and some civilians," said Phantom's manager Lionel Lamarre.
Someone hit Officer Volpe on the head and he was mad, looking for revenge. Abner Louima was knocked to the ground and beaten. Schwarz and Wiese then put the cuffs on him and threw him into their car. Inside they taunted him, telling him he should "go back to his country."
On the way to the precinct the cops stopped three times to pull Louima out of the car for more beatings. Volpe met Wiese and Schwarz at the third stop. Volpe said to Louima, "Stupid n****r, I am going to teach you a lesson on how to respect cops." Then he mercilessly beat Louima some more.
At 4:35 a.m. Louima was brought into the 70th Precinct.
The utter humiliation of what happened next is painful to recount. But Abner Louima dared tell his story-knowing this would threaten his life and the life of his family.
At the front desk Schwarz emptied Louima's pockets and took off his belt. Schwartz then pulled Louima's pants and underwear down to his knees and led him to the back of the precinct, toward a bathroom.
Meanwhile Justin Volpe had arrived and saw Louima at the front desk. Volpe went into a nearby questioning room and grabbed a wooden broomstick and broke it over his knee. He left the bottom of the broom handle in the room. He put the other behind a garbage can in the bathroom. He then borrowed a pair of gloves from Mark Schofield. Volpe's actions suggest he'd done this kind of thing before. In fact Officer Wiese-in an attempt to clear himself-would later tell investigators that Volpe told him after the attack, "That's the second guy I made shit his pants."
Louima was then led down the hall by Schwarz and taken into the bathroom. Volpe was inside waiting. He told Louima, "I'm going to do something to you. If you yell or make any noise. I'll kill you."
Louima was pushed to the floor. When Louima shouted out in pain, Volpe kicked him in the groin. Volpe put his foot on Louima's mouth to keep him silent and then lifted him partially off the floor by the handcuffs. Then Volpe rammed the stick into Louima's rectum. When he pulled the stick out he held it in front of Abner Louima's mouth taunting him, then shoved it in Louima's mouth.
Louima was then taken out of the bathroom, his pants still down around his ankles, and Volpe told him, "If you tell anybody about this, I'll find you and kill you and your whole family." Volpe, who later went to the hospital with other cops to be treated for "injuries," was apparently proud of what he'd done. He told another cop, "I broke a man down."
Abner Louima was forced to walk, with his pants down, from the station bathroom where he had been brutally assaulted to the precinct's cell area. This degrading display was in full view of other cops within the precinct station-but none of them did anything to stop this outrage. An entire precinct hushed it up. It was just anther routine evening. Louima was left bleeding in the holding cell, bleeding for four hours. Finally he was taken to Coney Island Hospital, where he remained for two months. He was treated for perforation of his bladder and rectum as well as a cut over his eye. Many hours of surgery and counseling would follow, and he would continue to be plagued with severe headaches, abdominal pain and insomnia.
The story might have never hit the news if Abner Louima had died or if threats and lies had successfully swept the ugly truth under the rug. But Abner Louima managed to tell a nurse, who was Haitian, what had happened to him. And she and Louima's family got the story out.
The cops quickly snapped into action, trying to concoct a story that would put the blame on Louima and clear themselves. Dozens of phone calls were made among them. Their statements to investigators inserted creative details suggesting Louima was injured before ever entering the precinct. This was standard operating procedure for the police. It has worked so many other times to cover up so many other instances of police brutality-especially where the victim is dead and can't talk. But Louima was alive and talking, his injuries a searing indictment.
The FalloutThe shocking nature of what happened to Abner Louima electrified people with intense anger, especially in the Haitian community. There were massive demonstrations among the people, and the situation threatened to erupt into mass rebellion.
Tens of 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 Volpe and Schwarz were arrested. Later Wiese and Bruder and three other cops were charged with covering up what happened.
From the beginning of this case, the mayor's office tried to insist that the extreme brutality of August 9 was "an aberration" and an "isolated incident." But the brutality, humiliation, and sheer terror that Abner Louima went through on that night was no "aberration." When the trials of the cops in the Louima case were going on in 1999, New York City was once again rocked with mass protests after the cops fired 41 bullets and killed Amadou Diallo as he stood in the doorway to his apartment. And there have been countless other cases-in New York and all around the country-of people beaten or murdered in cold blood by the enforcers in blue. What happened to Abner Louima and Amadou Diallo were extreme-but they are extreme examples of the "routine" terror the police carry out against Black and other oppressed people.
Brutality on TrialThe case of the five cops charged in the assault on Abner Louima came to trial in May of 1999. Volpe's lawyer initially attempted to get over with the preposterous lie that Louima's injuries were the result of consensual sex at a gay club. When it was clear midway through that he was going to be convicted, Volpe confessed in an attempt to avoid a life sentence. He was sentenced to 30 years. The other cops on trial let the case go to jury. Schwarz was convicted of civil rights violations, Wiese and Bruder were acquitted. In a second trial, Schwarz was convicted in a federal civil rights case, and he and Wiese and Bruder were convicted on charges that they conspired to obstruct a federal grand jury. The cops' lawyers immediately appealed the convictions. And on February 28, 2002, charges against Wiese and Bruder were thrown out and Schwarz was given a new trial allowing him to go free on bail. Schwarz is now to be retried on federal civil rights charges, as well as perjury charges in a trial set to begin in June.
*****This is the story of Abner Louima. It is a story of almost incomprehensible brutality, of cops lying and colluding, of the courts methodically backing up the police, of politicians and media mouthpieces justifying police crimes and lies. And now, in these days of a "never-ending war on terrorism," it is a story of utter hypocrisy-where police torture is upheld, where those who deliver terror behind a NYPD badge are called heroes, where an unjust reversal in the courts setting these brutalizers free is called "justice."
But the police are brutal enforcers of an oppressive power structure. And no amount of police PR and unjust court decisions can cover this up. The people should never forget and never forgive the story of Abner Louima and how it shows the beastly and unjust nature of the police -and the system they defend.
Deflecting Blame: The Dissenting Report of the Mayor's Task Force on Police/ Community Relations, The New York Civil Liberties Union, March 1998
"System of Terror, Courts of Injustice," Revolutionary Worker, March 10, 2002
Sentencing Opinion and Order, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District, June 27, 2000
Opinion: Memorandum and Order, United States of America against Thomas Bruder, Charles Schwarz and Thomas Wiese, U.S. District Court of the Eastern District, September 5, 2001
"Hero Hoax," Wayne Barrett, Village Voice, 3/19/2001
"The Blue Wall of Baloney," Wayne Barrett, Village Voice, 3/26/2002