Special prosecutor needed to curb NYPD abuses, community leaders argue

Activists speak at Aug. 6 press conference. Photo: Saeed Shabazz

NEW YORK (FinalCall.com) – Two days after activists and politicians held a press conference to protest “aggressive behavior” by members of the New York City Police Department, a 25-year-old Black man was shot by a police lieutenant while being questioned about an alleged stolen car.

The incident happened during the early morning of Aug. 8 after the lieutenant’s gun went off accidentally, according to media reports.


An Amsterdam News headline the same week read “Cops Kill Again,” highlighting the Aug. 3 killing of a 20-year-old Black man in his Brooklyn apartment. The police officer involved said he felt threatened and fired his 9mm weapon in response.

Police said they suspected the 20-year-old of trying to cash a forged check, and he pulled a knife during questioning.

Councilman Charles Barron and the family are challenging the police department’s version of the story. Activists and community leaders are challenging the conduct of NYPD officers and the top brass response to reports of problems.

“The NYPD is out of control,” screamed activist Vincent “Panama” Alba as he stood before a bank of media microphones Aug. 6 in front of One Police Plaza. “The police continue to brutalize citizens in New York and they continue to be protected by the system.

“Now they want people to turn in any videos they may have taken of police dealings with the Black and Latino communities, they are actually threatening to subpoena anyone they suspect of having taken any videos,” Mr. Alba said.

“We called this press conference to denounce the criminalization of those who lawfully document police activities,” Councilwoman Rosie Mendez, a Democrat who represents Manhattan, told the press.

The press conference was called to demand that city officials discipline officers who harass, intimidate, and physically assault people without just cause. Officers who intentionally make false statements regarding their conduct and sanction a “blue wall of silence” should be especially targeted, they added.

An incident that captured major public attention was an incident involving a rookie police officer, three months on the job, who arrested a member of Critical Mass, a group that advocates for environmental issues with a bike ride once a month. The biker, an Army veteran who works as a grocer, has been charged with attempted assault, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.

The officer, according to news accounts, told his superiors that he observed the biker breaking traffic laws. However, eyewitnesses and a video shown on YouTube showed the officer apparently knocking a cyclist off of a bicycle.

The officer’s badge and gun have been taken away as the department investigates the incident.

On July 17, there was a videotaping in Brooklyn that resulted in the arrest of two young Black men. According to the Caribbean Guyana Institute for Democracy, the young men videotaped police officers tackling a Black male and dragging him to the street. Once the officers realized they’d been videotaped, attention turned to the two young men, who were arrested after refusing to turn over the tape, according to Rickford Burke, president of the institute.

“There is a belief that there are a number of NYPD rogue cops on the streets of our community, who operate like they are paid to police animals. They demonstrate utter disregard for the rights of young Black men,” Mr. Burke said.

“Most of the young people in our community are not gangbangers, they are students,” Councilman Barron said, a Democrat from Brooklyn. Our youth are criminalized by NYPD lies, he said.

“The real violence in our community is poverty and a lack of affordable housing,” Councilman Barron added.

The Brooklyn activist and politician was one of several speakers at the press conference who called for Gov. David Patterson to appoint a permanent statewide prosecutor to handle cases of police brutality and misconduct. “There is a need for citizens with videotapes and camera phones during protests,” civil rights lawyer and activist Norman Siegel said.

“Gov. Patterson must meet with a representative group to discuss the need for the special prosecutor,” Mr. Siegel said.

“There is a built in conflict of interest between the five New York City district attorneys and the NYPD. To achieve accountability we need that special prosecutor,” said Mr. Siegel.

Calls to the governor’s office were not returned by press time.

On Aug. 7, Mr. Siegel filed a one million dollar lawsuit against the city on behalf of a 10-year-old, who was allegedly handcuffed by an officer from Brooklyn’s 79th Precinct. It seems the officer felt the student wasn’t moving fast enough on a school bus.

In the meantime, the New York Civil Liberties Union filed papers Aug. 4 in federal court in Manhattan charging the NYPD withheld information on the race of suspects shot at by police officers.

The NYCLU said the police department started omitting the race of shooting victims by police in 1998. According to court papers, the NYCLU claims that NYPD data on the race of shooting victims in 1996 and 1997 revealed officers fired at Blacks and Latinos 89.5 percent of the time.

“The NYPD’s growing obsession with secrecy is unacceptable and incompatible with open government,” said Donna Lieberman, NYCLU executive director, in a statement.

“Safe streets require mutual trust between the police and the community. The role of racism in police shootings is a source of deep concern and outrage from many New Yorkers,” Ms. Lieberman added.

Mr. Alba told The Final Call the NYPD secrecy and attempts to erode personal freedoms and the freedom of expression has been building since 9-11. “Historically law enforcement has been an occupying army in our community; and since 9-11 we have seen every day a greater encroachment into our neighborhoods by the police,” Mr. Alba said.

But repressive legislation like the Patriot Act is based on a longstanding effort to curb freedom in the society, he said.

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