MEDIA WHITEWASH OF BRATTON IS BAD NEWS
by charles amsellem. illustration c 2003 by charles amsellem all rights reserved.
The media loves William J. Bratton. The LA Times glowingly reports that crime rates dropped "in the double digits" when Bratton was the top cop in the NYPD. (1) The current LAPD chief also earns his media darling status by making himself far more available to journalists than any police officer dares to. Many local business leaders love him too. The 'quality of life' doctrine he champions sweeps the community of those people that local businessmen consider undesirables. This policy is based on the writings of criminologist, George Kelling, especially his essay, 'Broken Windows'(Altantic Monthly, 1982). Kelling postulates that by aggressively arresting people for petty violations such as panhandling and begging, more serious crimes are prevented and the overall quality of life in the community is improved.
But what are the human costs of these policies? The October 22nd Coalition released a joint statement with other organizations that have felt the horrors of police brutality(2). It strongly condemns the chief of police as well as Kelling's theories. Aside from claiming that the drop in crime is cyclic in nature and unrelated to the policy, the statement condemns Kellings ideas for not even mentioning brutality as a concern of the plan. The statement condemns Bratton's policy as an attack on youth, the poor, and people of color. "It is a doctrine of extreme repression and police-ification of every aspect of urban life," the statement reads.
Refering to the NYPD's own statisitics, Bratton's first year as commissioner saw a 34% increase in fatal shootings of civilians; a more than 53% increase in people dying in police custody. There was a staggering 4920 new police brutality complaints that same year; a 37% increase. There was an unbelievable 8,767 the next year.(3) That's an average of almost 24 incidents per day and keep in mind that a large number of people would be unwilling to lodge a complaint. Finally, there was a dramatic increase in the number of arrests; the majority of which were for non-violent misdemeanors.
Stolen Lives attempts to chronicle the human meaning behind those numbers.(4) They describe that Anthony Baez was choked to death for questioning why the police were arresting his brother after a football they were playing with hit a police car. Unarmed seventeen year old Shu'ab Abdul Latif was shot dead in his home on an erroneous drug raid. The case of eighteen year old Antonio Rosario and his cousin, Hilton Vega (age 21) is a good example of how misguided this policy is, and how it goes all the way to the top.(5) When two detectives had both of these boys face down on the floor in their bronx appartment complex, 28 bullets were discharged to end their lives. Even though forensic evidence confirmed eyewitness testimony of these facts, the case was ruled a justifiable homicide one week later. The incident prompted a visit to the hospital by mayor Rudy Giuliani. Not to console the family but to confer with his bodyguard, Patrick Brosnon (one of the shooters). Indeed, Margarita Rosario, the victims' mother and aunt, was unable to get a moment of the now-knighted Sir Rudy's time until she called him in a radio talk show program. He responded condescendingly, reportedly told lies and quickly terminated the 'conversation'. The contradictory findings between the police report and the evidence led the New York Civilian Complaint Review Board to request that the case be reopened. The suffering these inhuman acts creates reverberates into the lives of family and friends. Mourning the loss of dear ones and the premature end of cherished dreams, Rosario has become an activist against police brutality. "I will never stop fighting until I see these two detectives behind bars. I fight not only for my own son but for all our sons," she stated.
So outrageous was Bratton's NYPD that it brought international condemnation.(6) After an investigation of NYPD records, Amnesty International issued a 72 page report describing, "...a serious problem of police brutality and excessive force," in Bratton's NYPD. Adding, "Racial disparities appear to be most marked in cases involving deaths in custody and questionable shootings." Bratton denounced Amnesty's statements as unwarranted(7). Bratton's NYPD also aroused domestic outrage as the city paid out $50 million to settle a class action suit involving no less than 50,000 people who complained of being illegally strip searched. This settlement is the largest in New York history(8).
Is the LAPD a new era for the chief, with lessons learned from the past? Within twenty days of Bratton's leadership, six Angelinos lay dead and others wounded by police gunfire. Included in these numbers are two slain sixteen year old Manual Arts High School kids. According to eyewitnesses late last year, the LAPD lied about Jose Diaz brandishing a gun before they murdered him(9). On February 2, 2003, two LAPD cops shot a young black man to death claiming he was reaching for a gun. After his dead body was removed from the car, no gun was discovered, but the AP news reports the police's claim that a bag was discovered with a substance described as "believed to be rock cocaine"(10) Clearly, cops have an unrestricted hand to brutalize and kill under Bratton's leadership. The Bratton regime may be another Rampart-CRASH waiting to happen.
(1)Winton, Richard and Sauerwein, Kristina; LAPD Tests New Policing Strategy, LA Times, February 2, 2003
(2)October 22 Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, Repression, and the Criminalization of a generation/Friends and Family of Gonzalo Martinez/Faith United Methodist Community Church-Justice Ministries/New Panther Vangaurd Movement/KRST Unity Center of African Spirituality/Youth and Student Network of the October 22nd Coalition; What can we expect from a cop wo considers youth a disease?, A Joint Statement, 2002
(3)The Anthony Baez Foundation, The October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, Repression, and the Criminalization of a Generation /National Lawyers Guild http://stolenlives.org/
(4)Amnesty International; Police brutality and excessive force in the New York CityPolice Department, June 1996 http://www.web.amnesty.org/ai.nsf/index/AMR510361996
(5)Osman, Jon and Stack, Jonathan, directors; Justifiable Homicide, Anthology Film Archives http://www.artistsnetwork.org/news6/news281.html
(7)October 22, Joint Statement, p.4
(8)October 22, Joint Statement, p.6
(9)October 22, Joint Statement, p.4-5
(10)Two LAPD Officers Shoot Driver, The Associated Press, February 2, 2003 http://la.indymedia.org/news/2003/02/27859.php