Black Blood Is Cheap

The Anti-Police-Brutality Movement Has Been Shot Down in the Highest-Profile Cases

Two months ago, even as African Americans were beginning to express compassion for Giuliani because of his battle with prostate cancer, the mayor was setting them up to be victims of racial profiling. During a City Hall news conference in which he blasted a probe by the U.S. attorney in Manhattan—which found that the NYPD's Street Crime Unit had engaged in racial profiling while conducting random street searches—Giuliani declared that if police were searching for a hypothetical black suspect, as many as two in every five black men questioned could be arrested for some other crime.

In Giuliani's example of a hypothetical search for a black rape suspect, police are searching the Upper West Side for a male the mayor described as a "six-foot-two African American, roughly 35 years old." He added: "What is going to happen in order to find that person is a lot of people are going to be approached. You are going to have to search for people, you are going to have to interview people, you are going to have to ask them questions. When you approach some of them to ask questions, you may be frightened about the fact that maybe they have a gun, maybe they don't have a gun. So you frisk them. Sometimes you do find a gun. In the course of looking for that one rapist, you may arrest 30, 40 people. You may approach 100 people. But who are you going to be focusing on? You are not going to be focusing on a 70-year-old white male—if in fact the report is that the rapist is a 35-year-old African American male. And that happens in large percentages, and that is what drives what's been going on."

Janet Reno certainly must be aware that Giuliani's comments contradict the NYPD's own statistics. In 1998, the Street Crime Unit made 45,000 stop-and-frisk searches—although 35,000 of those stops, or about 78 percent, did not result in arrests. About 90 percent of those stopped were blacks and Latinos, and the conviction rate of those arrested by the Street Crime Unit has not been a factor in Giuliani's slide shows. Even when given the chance to clarify his remarks later, the mayor stood by his numbers, saying that the arrests of black men would not necessarily be for the hypothetical rape, but for a variety of criminal activity, much of which falls under what the mayor calls "quality of life" offenses—for example, drug possession, graffiti, or outstanding warrants.

In addition to considering whether to seize control of the NYPD, Reno, some activists have suggested, should launch a far-reaching probe into the offices of the city's most controversial district attorneys. This investigation would focus on how Bronx D.A. Johnson, Manhattan D.A. Robert Morgenthau, and Brooklyn D.A. Charles Hynes—in the face of overwhelming evidence—conducted flawed investigations that led to the exoneration of police officers in such cases as the maiming of Dante Johnson and the slayings of Amadou Diallo, Malcolm Ferguson, Patrick Dorismond, and Patrick Bailey, who was shot to death by one of the cops who later killed Diallo.

The federal overhaul must begin with Johnson, who wound up losing the Diallo case—the most notorious allegation of police brutality in the city's criminal justice history, activists say. Subsequently, after what he calls "a thorough and exhaustive investigation," Johnson refused to file criminal charges against Officer Louis Rivera, who shot and killed Ferguson on March 1 in the stairwell of a Bronx apartment building. Ferguson, an alleged drug dealer, was gunned down just days after protesting the acquittals in the Diallo shooting. "One does not struggle to elect a black D.A. for cops to feel they can go to that borough and not worry about being prosecuted," says Reverend Al Sharpton, perhaps Johnson's most vocal critic. "We expect a black D.A. not to break rules in our favor but we also expect him not to break rules against us either."

Sharpton accused Johnson of blowing the Diallo case after Johnson allegedly elected to exclude racial profiling and other "obvious factors" as part of his trial strategy. These factors, he contended, might have led to the conviction of the four white officers who killed the West African immigrant. "Bob Johnson is quickly becoming a symbol of black betrayal in this city," declares the civil rights leader. "He should be trying to be even more aggressive to show the community that he is not giving police a pass."

After Johnson, Reno should immediately focus on D.A. Morgenthau's office, one with a deplorable record of prosecuting brutal cops. In July, an announcement by the aging criminal justice czar that undercover cop Anthony Vasquez would not face criminal charges in the killing of Dorismond intensified anger, disgust, and fear in the African American community. On March 16, Vasquez shot the 26-year-old Haitian immigrant in the chest during a scuffle after Dorismond rebuffed Vasquez's request for drugs during an entrapment sweep. Dorismond was a security guard, did not carry a gun, and never dealt drugs. Asked whether the black victim of a police shooting could receive justice from a grand jury, Morgenthau replied that the "racially mixed" panel "took its duties seriously and reached a fair result."

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