NYC Street Crimes Unit: Giuliani's Lawless Police FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Sun, 11 Apr 1999 11:32:39 -0700 (PDT)


How are police treating homeless people in your community?  Fairly?
Any first-hand or eye-witness reports from New York City in particular?
See a related article below on NYC's Street Crimes Unit:

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http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/WPlate/1999-04/10/085l-041099-idx.html
FWD  Washington Post - Saturday, April 10, 1999; Page A21

     GIULIANI'S LAWLESS POLICE

Not since the 1960s tidal wave of protests against the Vietnam War and for
black civil rights has there been such massive civil disobedience in New
York City.

Among the hundreds arrested in front of police headquarters in recent weeks
were blacks, Jews, Hispanics, Asian Americans, Rep. Charles Rangel, former
mayor David Dinkins and, in one day, 170 lawyers, the largest such
contingent since the Vietnam War. Also handcuffed was Chloe Breyer,
daughter of Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.

As is known throughout the country, on Feb. 4, Amadou Diallo, an unarmed
West African immigrant with no criminal record, had 41 shots fired at him
by New York's elite Street Crimes Unit in the Bronx. He was hit by 19 of
the bullets. The four officers involved have been indicted for
second-degree murder and have pleaded not guilty.

The street protests have been directed against Police Commissioner Howard
Safir and most angrily at Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. The killing of Diallo
ignited a festering resentment in black and Hispanic neighborhoods against
pervasively aggressive police tactics championed by the mayor and his
police commissioner.

Since the death of Diallo, a number of white public officials, as well as
the American Jewish Committee and the New York Board of Rabbis, have joined
the accusatory chorus, with Rabbi Robert Levine characterizing New York as
"a racially polarized city in which there are two standards of justice."

Particularly infuriating have been the stopping and searching of New
Yorkers by police looking for illegal guns. In  the past two years, 40,000
stop-and-frisk confrontations have been reported, but only 9,500 of those
stopped have been arrested. A New York Daily News poll of 100 young black
and Hispanic men showed 81 had been stopped and frisked at least once.

More illumination has come   from New York State Attorney General Eliot
Spitzer, who said on New York radio station WNYC: "I've spoken to many
officers who say they do not fill out the required forms for every
stop-and-frisk. They may fill out one in five or one in 10. We may have
several hundred thousands of these police actions without arrest." Most of
these brusque searches of primarily blacks and Latinos are conducted by the
Street Crimes Unit. Some of its members -- as also reported on WNYC -- wore
T-shirts quoting Ernest Hemingway:

"There is no hunting like the hunting of man and those who have hunted
armed men long enough and like it never care for anything else."

Although only 2 percent of the police force, the Street Crimes Unit is
credited with removing more than 40 percent of  all illegal guns in the
city.

The mayor continually cites this statistic in his unyielding defense of the
NYPD. But on March 22, the Daily News documented the fact that nearly half
of the felony gun cases brought by that unit in Manhattan had been thrown
out by the courts because the searches were unconstitutional.

Still, say some police officials, the guns are off the streets, and that --
in police parlance -- is "doing God's work," trumping the Fourth Amendment.

Meanwhile, there is a rising number of cases of alleged police brutality,
and in the last fiscal year, the city paid $28.3 million in settling what
are politely called police misconduct suits -- a sum three times more than
10 years ago. (Giuliani is in his sixth year as mayor.)

Also, a growing number of white middle-class New Yorkers are being roughed
up by police because they ask for their badge numbers or try to find out
why they have been stopped and searched. I have interviewed a number of
them.

The police department in which Giuliani takes such pride is currently being
investigated by the U.S. attorneys for Manhattan and Brooklyn, the Justice
Department, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission and the state's attorney
general.

The mayor says he is not concerned that his job approval rating has gone
down 20 points from a 1998 rating of 74 percent. But even in these Clinton
years, contempt for the Bill of Rights can be costly for a man who would be
a senator or even, one day, the president.

Suddenly, Giuliani and Safir have decided to put the Street Crimes Unit in
uniform rather than keep it in plain clothes, so people being stopped will
not be confused. But there has been no change in the criteria for a
stop-and-frisk that constitutionally requires at least "reasonable
suspicion," not just a hunch based on someone's color.

Simultaneously, Safir also has given a raise to all members of the Street
Crimes Unit. As a cop at police headquarters asked the New York Times: "You
mean all we had to do to get a raise was shoot an unarmed man 41 times?"

END FORWARD

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