By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
What makes a nation a police state? A street officer's limitless power of arrest.
Georgia Brewer, 52, a cancer survivor who had also lost her left eye to an infection, came to New York from her home in Orange County, California, to visit her sick father and to get advice about her breast cancer, now in remission, from doctors at Sloan-Kettering hospital.
On February 26, she got into a taxi and gave an address downtown, where she has been staying with her mother and sister. In legal papers she later filed, Georgia Brewer continues the story:
"When I asked the driver to take me to the East Village, he became verbally combative, and told me he would not enter such a bad neighborhood."
When he began to drive, he cursed at her, and, she notes, "his foul language prompted an argument." She demanded that he stop and said she would refuse to pay the fare, and a few blocks later he pulled over at Lexington Avenue and 67th Street.
It was dark, and she didn't recognize where he had taken her--the 19th Precinct station house.
Georgia Brewer continues: "The taxi driver left the cab and walked to a car that was parked at the curb. There were three men in the car. All of them were dressed in street clothes, and as they approached the cab, they scared me.
"The next thing I knew, I was pulled out of the cab, spun around, handcuffed, and thrown to the ground face first. My knee slammed against the sidewalk, ripping my pants and cutting my knee. My jaw hit the pavement, and I felt terrible pain."
Confused and terrified, she tried to defend herself. She kicked two of the men. At some point, the attackers said they were police officers, but showed no identification.
As she struggled to get up, Brewer says, "someone grabbed me by the hair, pulled my head up, and punched me in the face. I felt as though my head exploded, and then I blacked out."
Dragged into the station, she regained consciousness, started screaming, and was punched several more times in the face as--she claims--one of New York's Finest sat on her back. (See the New York Post, April 30.)
Then Brewer was sent on an involuntary tour of New York City medical facilities. After blacking out at the police precinct, "I woke up in New York Hospital, handcuffed to a bed, in terrible pain. My face was in terrible condition. I felt like the Elephant Man.
"To my amazement, I learned I had been charged with assault. I've never been in trouble."
Welcome to Giuliani time in New York. The charge is second-degree assault, perpetrated on two police officers who she did not know were cops when she kicked at them in fear for her life.
Quite likely, the police were thinking up fallback positions just in case she dared to sue or, much more unlikely, if their actions were examined seriously by their superiors in the department.
How about claiming she was drunk and out of control? But there had been no Breathalyzer test. Well, maybe she was crazy, and they had to beat her up to control her. So they took her to the Bellevue Medical Center psychiatric ward, where she was imprisoned overnight for an examination.
That didn't work. Bellevue did not find her to be crazed and refused to keep her.
At that point, the grand vizier of the police department brought his robotlike presence to the case. On Channel 7's 11 o'clock news, I watched Rudolph Giuliani's police commissioner, Howard Safir, his face grim, say of Georgia Brewer: "This woman committed a serious crime. She assaulted two police officers. She should be prosecuted."
Not a word from the omnipotent mayor who repeats, like a sacred mantra, that only the police can police the police. By the way, Brewer later was questioned by the boys from Internal Affairs without a lawyer present. And they knew she had lawyers. Internal Affairs, therefore, was engaging in an illegal act.
Safir said, like his mentor the mayor, that in cases like Georgia Brewer's, he gives the police the benefit of the doubt. We all allegedly have the presumption of innocence, but handing cops the added privilege of the benefit of the doubt gives them further assurance that they have a license to assault citizens which the rest of us don't have.
Moreover, with a hearing coming up on July 15, Safir has already prejudged the case on television. Will Commissioner Safir be reprimanded for this abuse of due process? Will Rudolph Giuliani take a vow of humility and enter a monastery?
Georgia Brewer still suffers from headaches and nightmares. And, she says--as another victim of New York police brutality has told me--"when I see police officers, I feel afraid and walk away quickly."
Keep in mind that the three men in plainclothes beat this woman unmercifully, as you can see in the photograph on this page. Richard Kenny, one of Brewer's lawyers (along with Kevin Hynes), says: ''What kind of a threat can a five-foot-four-inch woman pose to a band of cops?"