By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
McKnight began to pray, reminiscent of the way in which the late novelist James Baldwin, questioning "Why God don't protect a man from police brutality," had visions "of being laid out cold and dead."
Says McKnight, "I was saying, 'Please don't take me out this way.' " He blacked out and woke up inside a CAT scan machine at Brookdale Hospital Medical Center. "When I woke up I saw a light, the light that was from the CAT scan," he recalls. "I thought that's how God appears. I didn't see nobody in a white robe with long hair. I just saw the light up ahead."
What McKnight saw caused him to think back about the journey of a sensitive boy discovering manhood in a pressure point called East New York. The youngest of six children, McKnight began stealing cars at age 12. "Just joyriding," recalls the father of three. "I was a short guy driving, barely could see the dashboard."
But many people watched as Allen McKnight turned from a life of petty crime to hardcore criminal. "I have felonies," he volunteers. "I've been involved with weapons and shit." McKnight shies away from discussing how many times he's been to prison, preferring to focus instead on the times he's beaten the system.
"There wasn't no gun ever found on me, but they always said the gun was near me," he says. When cops retrieved a gun in a taxi in which McKnight was a passenger, he denied the weapon belonged to him. "I took it to trial and won," he brags.
McKnight is writing a novel, From Ghetto Life to Prison Life, which is autobiographical in a way. It's about a character named T, "a walking time-bomb," who eventually turns his life around.
"In order to be accepted by his peers, he feels he has to smoke cigarettes, smoke marijuana, commit robberies, and steal," says McKnight. "When he gets arrested, he finds that prison is no different than living in the ghetto because there's rules and things that's abided by in the ghetto it's like a bigger jail, but [one] with a sunroof. So he relives the same struggle inside the jail; now he gotta fight for his sneakers, fight for the phone, then family separation comes between that."
The strong-willed T truly is a reflection of Allen McKnight. Although McKnight's attorney, Casilda Roper-Simpson, intends to sue the NYPD and the city, McKnight wants to make a citizen's arrest of the cops who almost killed him.
But prosecution of Sergeant Tyrie and Officer Hutchinson by local authorities seems to be out of the question. McKnight's alleged attackers have been cleared of any wrongdoing by D.A. Hynes.
"We did not find anything wrong with the shooting," says Kevin G. Davitt, a spokesperson for Hynes, who has been criticized by black activists for showing favoritism to cops.
Roper-Simpson says she will ask Hynes to consider convening a grand jury to investigate the cops. And if the once heralded prosecutor "does not feel like getting his hands dirty," she will petition U.S. Attorney Zachary Carter to launch a civil rights investigation.
"Shootings are always unfortunate, but sometimes they are found to be within guidelines," Davitt says.
Earlier this year, Hynes took the word of two white cops who charged that, after they stopped rapper Ol' Dirty Bastard for driving his 1999 Chevy Tahoe without lights and approached the driver's window, Dirty fired at them and they shot back. No gun was found. Despite Dirty's claims that neither he nor his cousin, rapper Sixty-Second Assassin, were armed, and that cops were out to get him, Hynes presented the case to a grand jury, which ruled that Jones did nothing wrong. Davitt said Hynes had conducted a separate probe of the officers' role in the shooting, but the results were unavailable.
In 1995, Hynes again appeared to send the wrong signal when he bolstered assault charges by two white officers against Tiyates Franklin, an East Flatbush deliveryman falsely accused of a string of holdups. Franklin's story, being recounted here for the first time, never made the NYPD crime blotter, according to his attorney Pamela Hayes.
On a frigid December evening, seven days before Christmas, neighborhood watchdogs on the prowl for a stick-up artist who specialized in ripping off old ladies at the Breuklen Houses in East Flatbush, encountered Franklin.
According to the transcript of a deposition, Franklin said that he was on his way to his sister's apartment when one of the men began "rambling" and bumped into him. "What's up?" the man asked. "What's up with that?"
"What's up with what?" Franklin snarled. He and the man struggled. Franklin broke loose and ran through the housing development to East 108th Street, where his sister lived. Because his sister was not home, Franklin went to another apartment, where he begged the occupant to call the cops.
Franklin felt it was safe to leave the building, but the assailants were waiting outside, and they chased Franklin into a parking lot. One of the men tripped Franklin, beat him in the head, and held him until the police arrived.