The Night Shift

Undercover in New York’s 'Compton East'

On the night that Patrick Dorismond was outmatched by a cop’s Kahr 9mm, Omar Christie had the good sense to refuse to say no to drugs.

When an undercover cop approached Christie looking for narcotics, the 18-year-old was only too happy to oblige. The teenager, a resident of Covenant House’s crisis center on West 41st Street, sold the cop what he claimed was crack cocaine. After the transaction, Christie was busted by a backup unit working in tandem with the undercover agent, the same team that would later tangle with Dorismond in front of the Wakamba Cocktail Lounge on Eighth Avenue.

Christie was then loaded into a van, where he would be joined by seven other guys also nabbed for selling crack in the streets around the Port Authority Bus Terminal. At 18, Christie wasn't even the night's youngest collar. Marlo Hughes, 17, was also popped. But the van's real tyro was a 15-year-old boy whose case eventually got kicked over to Family Court, where details of the youth's arrest remain sealed (at least until the mayor decides otherwise).

As Christie sat handcuffed in the van, Officer Anderson Moran was busy fishing for an extra pair of perps. The undercover wanted that night's carpool to Central Booking to number an even 10 passengers—Dorismond, the cop thought, seemed like an ideal candidate for the ninth spot in that lineup. As he waited for the trip downtown, Christie could not have been pleased with his predicament. While he knew that he had sold the undercover something less than the advertised crack, he would still be subjected to an unpleasant trip though Manhattan's criminal courthouse.

As it turned out, the teenager's night could have been far worse, in light of what happened to the guy who rebuffed the NYPD's drug entreaties.

In fact, court records show that Christie, the two other teenagers, and a 30-year-old Brooklyn man all actually sold the undercover cop fake crack. When a field test determined that the quartet peddled skunk drugs, prosecutors could only charge them with a public health violation (the other four arrestees, however, did sell cocaine and were each hit with two felony counts). Christie pleaded guilty to the minor violation and was sentenced to seven days in jail (a week in the stir, of course, is preferable to some of the NYPD's more severe alternative sentences).

With brazen dealers like these swindling New York's Finest (it is the narcotics equivalent of buying a VCR on the street for $20 and later discovering your Sony is actually a cinder block), it is a wonder that Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Police Commissioner Howard Safir are not lobbying state lawmakers to fortify New York's criminal code. At the very least, they would argue, Conspiracy to Distribute Baking Soda must now be considered a felony.

That way, Giuliani and Safir's ongoing Operation Condor drug operation—budgeted at $24 million—would look more robust. Because, according to the NYPD's most recent tally, 84 percent of Condor's busts have been for misdemeanors or less. These numbers seem especially weak since, as the Daily News reported Sunday, Condor cops are questioning whether these low-level busts are succeeding in making city streets safer. The officers point to the revolving door nature of the offenses and the fact that commanders seem preoccupied with a numbers game that places a greater value on quantity than on catching kingpins.

In the wake of the Dorismond killing, police officials justified the Condor activities in midtown by noting that the Eighth Avenue corridor between Madison Square Garden and the Port Authority had become something of a stronghold for the Bloods street gang. Dorismond, of course, wasn't wearing gang colors or throwing down signs when he was shot dead on the streets of what was once called the Garment District, but which now is apparently considered Compton East.

In fact, who would have known that the Starbucks on 35th and Eighth—with its frappuccinos, lemon bundt cake, and imported Ethiopian yergacheffe—was situated on the perimeter of the Terrordome? Luckily, the coffee merchant's omnipresent green, white, and black logo is unlikely to cause gang tensions—containing none of that incendiary blue or red that tends to rankle Bloods or Crips.

On Saturday afternoon, while protesters were facing off with riot cops in Brooklyn, the streets near the Wakamba bar were quiet. There was nary a bandanna in sight, and nobody could be heard blasting N.W.A. from their low riders. Few passersby even stopped to look at the makeshift sidewalk shrine constructed in Dorismond's memory.

Down at police headquarters, Safir was back at his desk after returning from a family vacation to who-knows-where. All mayoral spokesperson Sunny Mindel would say was that the commissioner had earned the respite since "Howard works 24-7." Mindel's use of the popular street lingo for around the clock, of course, is further proof of the Giuliani administration's deep connection to the city's streets.

 
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