Police Brutality Is Back
Despite the moratorium on negative stories about "New York's finest," it is well to remember that Stephen Vincent Benét wrote "Litany for Dictatorships" for alleged victims like Sheretha Anderson, Kelsey Jones, and Devon and Rayanne Thompsonand all those who still "spit out the bloody stumps of their teeth" in the back seats of police cars, in station houses, and on streets marauded by "the skillfull boys."
All of the alleged victims have leveled the kinds of charges against cops that New Yorkers are familiar with but haven't heard recently because of their preoccupation with consoling the devastated NYPD. Tom Antennen, a spokesman for the department, confirms that the Internal Affairs Bureau conducted initial investigations and referred the casestwo separate incidentsto the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which probes accusations of illegal use of force and discourtesy by police.
After police officers were murdered in the terrorist attacks on the twin towers, the outpouring of solidarity with the departmenteven in black neighborhoods where cops are reviled for brutal conductseemed unbreakable. Gangbangers, blow dealers, skeezers, and stragglers openly bonded with the Five-O. Some drank from the same beer cans as the undercover DTs, and snitched voluntarily on their counterparts in the name of fighting crime. Outcries against racial profilingechoes from protests over the killing of Amadou Diallowere smothered in the glad-handing and warm embraces.
But now it appears that some officers have been exploiting the hero worship of the NYPD by waging vicious attacks on members of the suspect class. Civil rights watchdogs claim that complaints about menacing cops, beatings, and wrongful arrests are mounting. "Our files are bulging with charges of police brutality that occurred after September 11," says J.D. Livingstone, who advised Anderson, Jones, and the Thompsons to file grievances with the CCRB and Internal Affairs. As Benét bewailed, for those who still bear the scars inflicted by the skillfull boys, "We thought we were done with these things, but we were wrong."
"Courtesy, professionalism, and respect"the watchwords of an NYPD initiative to win back the trust of African Americansallegedly were ignored by cops when they responded to a report about noise coming from the basement of a Flatbush home in the early morning hours of October 7.
Indeed, the birthday party that Trinidadian immigrant Rayanne Thompson and her friends had organized at the San Cosa All Fours Club at 347 Lincoln Road had been going nonstop. Around 3 a.m., according to Thompson, an officer assigned to the 71st Precinct station house confronted her in front of the building. He asked Thompson, 30, if she was the owner of the premises. "No, I'm not, but hold on," she says she replied. "Let me get the owner."
"Get the fuck away from the door before I arrest your ass!" the cop allegedly shouted, pushing Thompson out of the way.
"You just assaulted me!" said Thompson, a devout Rasta, who began walking behind the officer. Edwin Dick, who was attending the party, told the cop that the building belonged to him, and raced into the basement to turn off the music. Meanwhile, several other officers had responded.
"Get out!" the officer told the celebrants. "The party is over." Thompson says that as she and others began to leave, she heard a commotion and looked back. She says she saw about five police officers restraining her 45-year-old husband, Devon Thompson, who is also a Rasta, and pushing him against a cupboard. When Thompson asked a female officer why her husband was being arrested, the cop replied, "He touched a cop, and you are not supposed to touch a police officer."
Thompson says she hugged Devon and would not let go. "But four male cops grabbed me, threw me to the floor, and dragged me by my dreadlocks," she charges. "When I looked over to my right I saw the officers slam my husband's head into the cupboard, then they threw him to the floor and started stomping him in his face and head. Two other cops beat him on his back with nightsticks, and they kicked him in his left side several times."
Thompson recalls that when Dick tried to determine what was going on he was jumped by about five cops. "They threw him to the floor and started stomping on his wrist," she says. "I could hear him begging them to stop." While some cops escorted Thompson's husband and Dick out of the building, leaving her on the floor handcuffed, others "smashed up the basement and took the music and drinks." After an hour, Thompson claims, paramedics removed her from the basement. "I came outside and saw helicopters hovering above and the road blocked off with a lot of police cars."
According to Sanford Rubenstein, the attorney who represented Abner Louima, a judge in Criminal Court in Brooklyn dismissed resisting arrest and assault charges against Dick and Devon Thompson on November 15. Rayanne Thompson was not charged. "The behavior of the police in this case is outrageous," contends Rubenstein, who has filed an $8 million notice of claim against the city on behalf of the Thompsons, and $3 million on Dick's behalf. "These were innocent people who were doing nothing wrong." The preamble to the lawsuit alleges "false arrest, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution" by "police officers from the 71st Precinct whose identities have not been discovered." The suit will also claimin addition to "emotional distress and psychological overlay"that Rayanne Thompson suffered injuries to her head, back, left shoulder, chest, left leg, and left hip; that her husband, Devon, suffered injuries to his head, ribs, back, left shoulder, face, and hands; and that Edwin Dick sustained injuries to his shoulders, ribs, right arm, right hand, and back.
To the white cop who had participated in a raid on a Flatbush home across the street from where Sheretha Anderson and her friend Kelsey Jones were standing on the morning of October 30, both 23-year-old women looked like truants cutting classes.
"Aren't you ladies supposed to be in school?" the bike-riding, uniformed cop who Anderson and Jones would come to know as Officer Bello allegedly barked. "How old are you?" they say he asked. "You look like truant students." The women insisted they were not students, gave their ages, and explained that they were on their way to a doctor's office. When the officer turned his attention to another pedestrian, Anderson and Jones continued walking toward a bus stop.
"Didn't I tell you bitches to show me some identification?" Anderson and Jones say Bello shouted on approaching them. Anderson says that she and Jones were surprised by the cop's outburst. "In disbelief, we started cursing, telling him that he was disrespectful," Anderson recalls.
"Now you're resisting arrest," she charges Bello said. "You're going to jail." According to Anderson, Bello "grabbed Kelsey by the arm and twisted it, and threw her" against an iron gate. Anderson says she and Bello got into a tug of war over Jones. "I tried to free Kelsey, but he was being too aggressive with her." Anderson let go of her friend, and whipped out her cell phone. As she headed back to her apartment to notify her stepfather, Bello radioed for backup.
Anderson says when she turned around she saw several police vehicles converging at the scene. While some cops blocked off the street, two others raced toward her. One of them, Anderson claims, ripped the phone from her hand. Then both of the officers shoved her into a phone booth and "started to handcuff me with a lot of hostility.
"I told them to stop being aggressive with me because I am pregnant," Anderson recalls. But the cops allegedly ignored Anderson and forced her into the back seat of a squad car. She began vomiting. "One of the officers told me to vomit out the window and not in the car," she claims. Upon their arrival at the 69th Precinct station house, Anderson and Jones once more were challenged on their claims that they were in their twenties. A check revealed they had no criminal records.
"When Officer Bello realized we didn't have any criminal charges against us, he took the cuffs off, and apologized for the misunderstanding," Anderson says. "But I felt that the damage was already done, and that an apology was unacceptable. My best friend and I were traumatized by the incident. My wounds will heal quicker, but Kelsey has a sprained wrist and she pulled two muscles in her leg. The 69th Precinct will never heal the emotional pain of two young black women who were assaulted in the street by their cops."
Research assistance: Sarah Park
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