By Albert Samaha
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Moses Stewart was manning the crisis center of Al Sharpton's National Action Network when a man rapped on the door of the second-floor office overlooking Madison Avenue. He told Stewart that a white cop had "knocked a brother out" with his police radio; a crowd was surrounding two officers "and he was afraid there might be an ugly situation."
Stewart raced to the scene. "When I got there, the officer that had hit brother Banks was standing over him in a gesture of humiliation, as though he had captured an animal," says Stewart, whose son, Yusuf Hawkins, was shot and killed by a gang of white thugs in 1989. Then Yokemick allegedly did something that confirmed Stewart's worst stereotype of police officers.
"The police began dragging brother Banks, unconscious, to the van," claims Stewart, who says he told the same story to Detective Stanley Mahabeer and Sergeant Nicholas Rivera, the two cops who investigated the alleged attack on Abner Louima in the 70th Precinct station house. "They literally dragged the brother to the van and threw him in as though he was a dead deer who had been hit crossing the street," adds Stewart, who provided the investigators with names of other witnesses. "They just dropped him in there. I don't know whether they really knew that he was never going to regain consciousness."
As the crowd shouted racial epithets at the officers, Stewart says he confronted Yokemick. "I asked him why he had knocked brother Banks out in the manner that he did, and why was he being so rude to the people." Yokemick, he says, told him to stay out of police business. Stewart responded that he was an aide to Sharpton and that it was his job to monitor allegations of police brutality.
"Immediately after identifying myself as working for Reverend Sharpton he took on a very arrogant attitude," Stewart charges. "He didn't like my presence there."
The officers cautiously backed away from Stewart and the crowd, got into the van, and sped off. Neither Stewart nor Thomas heard them radio for medical assistance. Police said Banks was conscious when they took him into custody, but that he suffered three seizures at the 25th Precinct before slipping into a coma on October 30.
Allegations of police brutality once again divided the city. The day Kenneth Banks died, Reverend Sharpton appeared on NY1's Inside City Hall expressing outrage over yet another example of the NYPD's senseless approach to apprehending black suspects. Although there have been complaints about police using radios as weapons, there is no specific policy about the practice. The Civilian Complaint Review Board, which monitors police misconduct allegations, has a separate category for such incidents, called "Radio as Club."
One irate viewer dispatched this angry e-mail to the station the next day:
"I understand Reverend Sharpton's motives when he questions how some officers overstep their bounds. So, I am not against Reverend Sharpton questioning the manner in which the officer chose to apprehend an alleged drug offender. However, Mr. Sharpton needs to ask himself how many black and Hispanic people truly care that this drug dealer was hit in the back of the head and suffered a seizure because he swallowed his own poison? Reverend Sharpton must also recognize black and Hispanic people are tired of seeing these people in our community selling their drugs, endangering the well-being of our children, and making life more uneasy. He should talk more about how we can take back our community from people who don't pay taxes and roam around the neighborhood as if they own it."
Sharpton says his critic is ignorant regarding his history as an anti-drug crusader, pointing out that in the 1980s he recruited celebrities and politicians who roamed drug-infested neighborhoods painting red crucifixes on suspected crack houses. And today his message has been heard in hundreds of public schools, including the one Kenneth Banks attended.
He concedes that black communities should have zero tolerance for drug dealers, but argues that such an attitude will not change what happened to Banks. "We cannot allow the police department to use an alleged drug dealer to set a precedentthe use of police radios as lethal weapons," says the civil rights activist. Since cops allegedly used a toilet plunger to sodomize Abner Louima, Sharpton has been speaking out against "the new weapons of choice.
"We've seen how brutal they can be with anything they put their hands on. If we don't cry out, they will be throwing radios with the intention to kill."
Sharpton says he feels close to Banks because he has a half brother, also named Kenny, who was a drug addict jailed for a drug-related offense. "You put drug dealers like Kenny banks in rehab; you don't kill them," asserts the reverend, who recently ended a two-decade-old feud with former mayor Ed Koch, with whom he is about to launch a "second chance" program for first-time offenders. "If one of the Kennedy boys was caught buying drugs uptown and a cop threw his radio at him, there certainly would have been a different reaction."
Sharpton declared that cops like Yokemick should have been kicked off the force a long time ago. In 1993, Yokemick was accused of excessive force and discourtesy, and lost 10 vacation days. A year later, he was reprimanded for using a police scooter without permission. In 1995, he was docked 15 vacation days for assaulting a Department of Transportation employee.