Subject: [SocialistWorker.org] Scandals in blue
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Comment: Don Lash
======== SCANDALS IN BLUE ====================================================
Don Lash reports on a series of scandals hitting the New York Police
Department--and explains why these aren't simply the work or a few corrupt
November 2, 2011
GUN-RUNNING. Racial profiling. Planting drugs. Ticket-fixing for friends and
family. These are just a few of the scandals that have rocked the New York
Police Department recently, culminating in the arrest of several officers.
The city's media establishment is simultaneously trumpeting the
headline-grabbing allegations and collectively wringing its hands over the
potential for the scandals to undermine public confidence in the NYPD.
The allegations are many. On October 17, NYPD Officer Michael Daragjati was
indicted in federal court for violating the civil rights of a Black man on
Staten Island, stemming from an apparently baseless arrest made in April
2011. The man had complained about how he had been treated during a routine
"stop-and-frisk," which was itself initiated by Daragjati without reasonable
suspicion. The officer's racist motivation was revealed in a wiretapped
conversation during which he bragged about having "fried another nigger."
In another incident, an ongoing trial of an officer for "flaking"--the
practice of planting drugs on innocent suspects in order to up the number of
narcotics arrests to meet quotas--included testimony from a former officer
that the practice, known to narcotics officers as "connecting bodies" to
drugs in the possession of the police, was routine and took place widely.
Later, a woman testified that officers demanded sexual favors from her in
exchange for drugs, and that she felt she had no choice but to comply with
their demands. This scandal, which began with a single detective's admission
in 2007 that he had withheld drugs seized during an arrest, has resulted in
guilty pleas, command transfers and administrative charges throughout the
Brooklyn anti-narcotics enforcement apparatus.
Additionally, on October 25, nine current and former NYPD officers and
corrections officers were arrested for trafficking in stolen goods, untaxed
cigarettes and firearms. While Mayor Michael Bloomberg has highlighted his
policies to supposedly rid the streets of unregistered guns--Bloomberg is the
head of the national Mayors Against Illegal Guns--officers in the department
were prepared to traffic in untraceable weapons.
In another case, on October 21, two former corrections officers pled guilty
to helping operate a savage system in which young defendants on Rikers Island
policed themselves. The officers called the system "the Program," but others
referred to it as "Gladiator School." The brutality of the Program ultimately
resulted in the beating death of an 18-year old at the hands of fellow
detainees. The two officers face sentences of one and two years,
respectively, for "enterprise corruption."
Almost mundane by comparison, 17 officers have been indicted by a Bronx grand
jury for ticket-fixing activities closely connected to the police union, the
Patrolmen's Benevolent Association (PBA). In addition to fixing tickets for
friends and relatives of officers, union officials were allegedly recorded in
wiretapped conversations making casual use of racial slurs.
In retaliation for the investigation, the PBA appears to have disclosed
actions taken by personnel within the DA's office to shield an assistant
district attorney from charges stemming from two drunk driving incidents.
Police have also withheld cooperation from the DA's office on prosecutions,
jeopardizing the DA's ability to obtain convictions.
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AT FIRST blush, the public disclosure of these scandals and the array of
prosecutions and career-ending reassignments might appear encouraging. The
system can be seen as rooting out corruption and abuse, and the "blue wall of
silence" appears to have been cracked by honest testimony from some officers
and admissions from some of the offenders.
Some in the media claim the real danger is "overreacting" to the misconduct
of a "few bad apples"--that investigating and prosecuting such scandals will
undermine effective law enforcement. In an editorial titled "One rotten
apple," the /New York Daily News/ argued against initiating a probe of the
city's stop-and-frisk program as a result of the Daragjati indictment,
claiming that the program has enhanced public safety.
The fact that, by official count, 85 percent of the 700,000 subjects of
stop-and-frisk in 2010 were Black or Latino didn't trouble the /Daily News/
editorial board or its billionaire owner Mort Zuckerman.
Commissioner Ray Kelley and Mayor Bloomberg, for their part, have responded
to each scandal by minimizing the extent to which it represents systemic
failures or abuses, and by issuing platitudes about zero tolerance and the
integrity of most NYPD officers.
What's lost in all this is the fact that the exposure of each of these abuses
was largely accidental. In the "flaking" scandal, for example, an officer who
didn't realize that a wire used in a 2007 sting was still broadcasting was
taped saying that he had withheld part of a cache of drugs seized during an
Forced to deal with the recorded admission, Internal Affairs began an
investigation into what had become of the withheld narcotics. What resulted
was the exposure of a supply of drugs maintained to plant on innocent
individuals to bolster arrest totals, reward informants and be exchanged for
Similarly, Daragjati was being investigated by federal authorities for
insurance fraud and extortion related to a business he operated apart from
his police duties, which led to his boast about "frying a nigger" with a
false arrest being captured on tape.
The arrest had been witnessed by other officers, but none had come forward to
prevent the baseless prosecution--and Daragjati's victim had actually pled
guilty to reduced charges to avoid a trial where it would be his word against
the officer's. The other officers only came clean /after/ they learned that
Daragjati had been caught on tape describing his misconduct.
In the Rikers Island scandal, the savage "Lord of the Flies" environment
encouraged by officers to maintain control over inmates was exposed only
because some participants in "the Program" beat a young man to death.
The stolen goods and guns ring was exposed only because one officer
volunteered information about it during a conversation with a federal
informant seeking to have a ticket quashed. The inadvertent nature of the
exposure in all these cases makes it clear that the conduct of these officer
is not a "few bad apples" exposed by vigilant self-policing, but systematic
misconduct on the part of the police.
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ANOTHER ISSUE barely commented on in the media is the fact that the penalties
for these officers have been so light.
Most of the convictions and administrative findings to date in the flaking
scandal have related to a variety of official misconduct violations, such as
failure to properly voucher seized narcotics. Meanwhile, systematic frame-ups
have gone unpunished. Some officers involved have faced only administrative
penalties, and commanders have been transferred.
In the Rikers Island case, corrections officers were not held directly
responsible for the death of the 18-year old killed as a result of the abuse
they orchestrated. The young inmates they recruited to brutalize their peers
faced much stiffer sentences, ranging up to 10 years.
In some of these cases, allegations had previously been made against
officers, who were then cleared by Internal Affairs. At least three civil
suits were filed for false arrest prior to exposure, and at least two were
settled by the city. The NYPD cannot credibly claim to have had no prior
notice of the practices and abuses at issue in the scandals.
The scandals potentially jeopardize the ability of district attorneys to
generate convictions, which is how prosecutors measure their effectiveness.
This is either because police testimony is discredited, or because the PBA
may direct retaliation against a district attorney who shows "too much
enthusiasm" for prosecuting police misconduct.
There is a powerful incentive, in other words, for prosecutors to limit
investigations and ensure lenient treatment for offending officers. As the
Bronx ticket-fixing case shows, another incentive is the fact that the police
may be able to incriminate prosecutors for their own abuses of power.
The national and international attention directed at the NYPD because of one
inspector's unjustified use of pepper spray at an Occupy Wall Street march
has highlighted the lack of police accountability.
After a knee-jerk defense of the inspector's actions by Commissioner Kelly
and his spokesman, the department grudgingly undertook a review, which
resulted in a recommendation that the inspector lose 10 vacation days for
violating departmental guidelines on the use of pepper spray--as if the true
victim was the department, and not the protesters he assaulted.
Moreover, the routine use of racial slurs during conversations taped as part
of the ticket-fixing scandal demonstrates that racist officers feel they risk
no disapproval from other officers by expressing themselves in this manner.
The flaws in the Internal Affairs division and Civilian Complaints Board
processes, the willingness of departmental higher-ups to ignore red flags,
and the dependence of prosecutors on cooperative police are all barriers to
The persistence of One Police Plaza and City Hall in using the "bad apple"
theory to explain each new scandal--and the uncritical acceptance by the
city's media establishment--make it impossible for the cops to reform
Activists and citizens will need to move beyond the specific allegations
against individual officers to demand exposure of the systemic patterns and
institutional practices that are responsible for these cases. Beyond that, we
need to demand the end of aggressive stop-and-frisk policies aimed at young
people of color, other profiling practices and a corrupt internal
investigations apparatus under the department's control.
While the violence and baseless arrests perpetrated against Occupy Wall
Street protesters has been relatively mild in comparison to what has
historically occurred in the city's Black and Latino communities, the fact
that they have occurred under the gaze of the media--both mainstream and
grassroots--has created the opportunity to focus attention on police abuse.
We have just seen the horrendous violence against Occupy protesters in
Oakland--and the potential for attacks on movement protesters elsewhere in
the nation is real. The struggle against police brutality and abuse must
become part of the struggle of the Occupy movement.
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