- Black men targeted for slaughter: The murder of Sean Bell (FCN, 12-13-2006)
- National fight against police brutality heightens (FCN, 12-12-2006)
- Activists hold police brutality ceremony (FCN, 08-15-2006)
- The challenge of policing police brutality (FCN, 02-09-20004)
- Dying while Black in New York City (FCN, 06-22-2003)
NEW YORK (FinalCall.com) – The murder of Sean Bell on November 25, 2006 is not an abberation, according to community and social activists. In fact, they say when the dots are connected in a socio/political context, it is easy to understand why only people of color are shot down in New York City streets like dogs.
Carl Dix, national spokesman for the Revolutionary Communist Party and co-founder of the October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation explained to The Final Call that he believes that the killing of Sean Bell and the wounding of Mr. Bell’s friends stems from the “very nature of this capitalist system and its culture of White supremacy.”
“People must see the killing of un-armed Blacks as a nationwide epidemic–not just something that happens in New York City. The 92-year-old grandmother Catherine Johnson wasn’t killed by police in New York City; she lived in Atlanta, Ga.,” Mr. Dix stressed.
Taking Mr. Dix’s argument one step further, there was a timely analysis put forth on the World Socialist Web Site back in June 2003: “The essential task of the city’s police is that of defending a social order characterized by a gap between the world’s greatest concentration of millionaires, and the other, a population in which nearly a third lives below the poverty line and 44 percent have no financial assets whatsoever.”
The “Stolen Lives Project,” which announces the names of those killed by police throughout the nation on an annual basis, noted that there have been 130 killings of Blacks and Latinos in NYC since the 1999 slaying of West African immigrant Amadou Diallo. He was shot at 41 times by four White officers assigned to the infamous “Street Crime Unit.” The officers said they thought his wallet was a gun, so they shot him dead in the vestibule in the apartment building where he lived. Now, while the Street Crime Unit’s main objective was guns and drugs, the officers said they had been questioning Mr. Diallo about a series of rapes in his Bronx community.
The officers were acquitted of murder charges by a jury in Albany, NY, and within weeks of the acquittal, another man–Malcolm Ferguson, 25–was shot at point-blank range in the head by an undercover officer who claimed that the young man had scuffled with him on a stairwell. The officer was part of an anti-drug blitz in the Bronx neighborhood just blocks from where Mr. Diallo was killed.
According to Juanita Young, Mr. Ferguson’s mother, he had been arrested for participating in a protest over letting the police walk in the death of Mr. Diallo; also, Mr. Ferguson had filed a civil suit against the city over an earlier arrest in which the police allegedly broke his hand.
Two weeks later, Patrick Dorismond, a 26-year-old security guard who wanted to join the NYPD, died at the hands of another undercover officer. Police claimed that Mr. Dorismond, a Haitian immigrant and father of two young girls, became angry and violent after the undercover officer approached him asking to buy drugs.
“The 130 cases referred to by the October 22nd Coalition represents the floor, not the ceiling, because the NYPD won’t help us with this type of analysis, so the number could be higher,” states Mr. Dix.
The borough of Queens had been the scene of some questionable killings of Blacks and Latinos by the police before that fateful morning when Sean Bell and his two friends were fired at 50 times by undercover police officers. Mr. Bell died at the scene.
The most prominent killing of a Black person in Queens happened in 1973, when officers claimed that 10-year-old Clifford Glover pointed a gun at them, and then ran away. The five-foot, 98-pound child was shot in the back–but no gun was found on him. One officer was indicted by a grand jury for murder, the jury freed him, and the police department fired him.
The following are a rundown of murders committed by New York’s “finest”:
In 1991, Fererico Pereira was choked to death by Queens police officers while handcuffed. Officers were cleared of all charges; in 1996, Steven Excell was shot in the back of the head by an officer who claimed his gun went off accidentally, while he tried to pull the man from under a parked car. Mr. Excell’s alleged offense was that he had beat his wife. The officer was not indicted by a Queens grand jury; also in 1996, Lebert Folkes Jr. was shot in the face and survived. Police mistakenly thought he had stolen a car and described his shooting as an accident, claiming that one officer’s gun went off during a struggle.
In 1983, a young Black graffiti artist named Michael Stewart was found strangled to death while in the custody of 11 Transit Authority police officers. His crime was spraying graffiti on a subway station wall. During the case, the coroner lost the evidence and the grand jury found none of the officers guilty; in 1984, a 69-year-old grandmother, Eleanor Bumpers, was shot to death in her Bronx apartment by a police officer who stated that he fired to protect his partner, who had fallen down in front of the grandmother who police claim was holding a kitchen knife in her hand. Her crime: She owed $98 in back rent and six police officers were sent to evict her. The officer’s manslaughter charges were dismissed; it was again in 1984, when police fired 24 shots at Louis Baez in response to his parent’s summoning them to help subdue their mentally-ill son; in 1994, Anthony Baez (no relation to Louis Baez) was in front of his home playing touch football with neighborhood friends when their football hit police officer Francis Livotti’s un-marked police car. Mr. Livotti choked the boy to death and was sent to jail by federal authorities.
On July 4, 1996, Nathaniel Louis Gates Jr., a 25-year-old Navy veteran of the Gulf War, was shot to death by a police officer on a Bronx subway platform. More then one witness claimed the officer shot him in the back. The officer did three years in prison on manslaughter charges–the last city police officer to do prison time for a line-of-duty killing.
“We must continue to struggle; continue to fight,” argues Nicholas Heyward Sr., the father of Nicholas Heyward Jr., who was 14 years old when he was killed in Brooklyn, in 1994, by a rookie Public Housing police officer claiming that the young man’s toy gun looked real. He was playing “cops and robbers” with his friends in a stairwell. There were no officer indictments in this case.
“Before the cops entered the building, they were informed by the Tenant Patrol, that the boys were in there playing cops and robbers. I am telling people that there is an epidemic of police killings of people of color, not just in this city, but across the country,” Mr. Heyward told The Final Call, echoing Mr. Dix. Mr. Heyward also belongs to the October 22nd Coalition.
“The Diallo case, Abner Louima–who was sodomized in the bathroom of a Brooklyn precinct–and Patrick Dorismond were all highly publicized, but in between those cases, a lot of other folks have died at the hands of the NYPD,” Mr. Heyward stressed.
Some other names to remember from recent years: The death of Anthony Rosario, who received 14 shots in his back while laying down; Jose Miguel Sanchez, killed by police because he dared to ask them what was going on; Ousmane Zongo, a 35-year-old immigrant from Burkina Faso, shot at five times by an officer who claimed Mr. Zongo reached for the officer’s gun; and Alberta Spruill, a 57-year-old clerical worker, died after police wrongfully broke down the door to her apartment looking for drugs.
According to the WSWS.org, one of the noticeable increases in police misconduct around the time of Ms. Spruill’s death was by “police forcing their way into homes and businesses.”
“Those complaints had risen from 446 in 1998 to 768 in 2002,” the article states. Ms. Spruill died in May 2003.
Then there is the shooting of Timothy Stansbury, 19, by a Brooklyn officer who was startled when the young man and his friends opened the door to the roof of their building. As it is common practice for police to conduct vertical patrol on rooftops, it is also common practice for individuals to go from building to building via rooftops, as the group of friends was doing in order to get back to a party.
Minister Kevin Muhammad, head of Muhammad’s Mosque No. 7 in Harlem, has been active in fighting for justice for Mr. Stansbury.
He said the police are trained to deal with the un-expected, such as a door opening and someone being on the other side of said door. “They are trained to identify who is who and what a person could be up to,” Min. Muhammad told The Final Call.
Min. Muhammad also said that the police have a “fear” of Black people; and unfortunately they “hold Blacks in contempt.” He also remembers another time when he saw in the eyes of police officers the contempt he explained earlier when in January 1994, police attacked Muhammad’s Mosque No. 7, which at the time was being held on the top floor of the famous National Black Theater in Harlem.
“There was no doubt in my mind that the police mind-set that afternoon was ‘us versus them’; and if we had not been able to prevail, they would have killed the Believers at the Mosque,” Min. Muhammad said. According to an account published Jan. 15, 1994 in The New York Times, the police were responding to a 911 call of a robbery in progress inside the mosque, and an officer down.
“All of what happened that day was due to the police not knowing how to deal with Black people,” Min. Muhammad stressed.
De Lacy Davis, founder of the Newark-based Black Cops Against Police Brutality, says that it is an over-simplification to state that on a given day a police officer goes to work with the desire to kill someone Black. “What we do is bring our racism and our classism to work everyday,” the retired sergeant stated.
He said that the institutions and the media have already shaped the mind of the officer. “It’s like KRS-One says in his song, ‘officer or overseer,’” Mr. Davis opined. “In the police officer’s mind, the Black man is a criminal…couple that with the political dynamics of the day, and what do you think you will get?” Mr. Davis said.
“The media is pushing a picture of Blacks that is akin to the 1960s, when Blacks stood up to the system. Don’t think for one minute that firing 50 shots at Sean Bell wasn’t a political statement,” Mr. Dix argues. “This is state-sponsored terrorism,” he added.