In the matter of The People v. Volpe, et al., better known to tabloid readers as the Louima Torture Trial: Can we first say that the accused Justin Volpe and Charles Schwarz both look like textbook illustrations of the Nation of Islam term “Cave Boy”? Can we second how each seems the sort whose descent from the apes was interrupted before such burdensome human values as compassion, remorse, shame, or an innate inhibition against sadism could kick in? And that furthermore Schwarz is that rarity among peace officers, a man who wouldn’t need a uniform, badge, or gun to look like a menace to polite African American society? If Schwarz lived in a Black neighborhood, he’d be known as that proverbial Big Crazy White Boy Down the Way That You Ain’t Trying To Fuck With. (The Louima cousin who knocked down Volpe during their altercation outside Brooklyn’s Club Rendezvous should be given a medal for uncommon street valor.) Unlike his codefendants, Sergeant Michael Bellomo, Thomas Wiese, and Thomas Bruder, who are trying to remain jocular while breaking into a cold sweat, Schwarz, accused of holding Louima down while Volpe got busy, has a dramatic range that goes from The Iceman Cometh to Frothy, The Abominable Snowman to Land Shark. Giving you that Down-for-Whatever- However-the-Dice-Roll- You-Know-Whatevah- Fuk-It look we thought only gangsta niggas and mafiosi had mastered, Schwarz must know that guys of his and Volpe’s size, disposition, and Pesci-esque ingenuity will never lack for work opportunities in a Darwinian world, even or perhaps especially in prison.
Buttressing Volpe and Schwarz’s chilly-most manner over on the defense side of the room is a phalanx of 13 other suited-up white men. A very tribal gathering when you think about it; quite Alamoistic, too— a kind of last stand for unrepentant, pale-faced, All-American manhood with no sloppy, sopping tokenism to suggest Diversity and Inclusion are words carrying weight in their weltanschauung. The phalanx’s hardy-hardy-har-har mien— you know, that locker room thing— reeks of, “Okay, so the kid stuck a sawed-off toilet plunger up the Haitian’s ass, what? So what are we looking at here, misdemeanor, six months of community service, time off for good behavior, what?” If nothing else, the phalanx’s c’est la vie demeanor perfectly complements the defense line that Louima’s injuries, surgeries, and colostomy bag did not result from Volpe’s mistaking a man in handcuffs for a Roto-Rooter job. Instead, the defense conjectures, the victim is a batty-man who impaled himself on the battering ram of some Long John Holmes clone while taking a walk on the wild side. Among trial evidence will be Louima’s feces, speckled with what defense experts will say is DNA from another person. Should that recombinant shit not prove persuasive, absurdist sources close to the case predict alien abduction/anal probing will be trotted out on Volpe’s behalf next, with Scully and Mulder being subpoenaed to verify this and other even more out-there theories. The defense also claims Volpe and Wiese’s impending marriages to Black women are evidence they couldn’t violate a Black man’s rights. Roll over, Thomas Jefferson, tell Sally Hemings the news.
Though ostensibly this trial is yet another reckoning with racialized police brutality, and yet another chance to connect the dots linking one allegedly sociopathic cop’s hate crimes with systemic racismwhitesupremacy (sic), it is also perhaps a subconscious attempt by the system to rule on what behavior separates the humans from the inhumans among us. A conviction in this case wouldn’t just be a determination of Volpe’s guilt but a judicially inspired act of psychological repression as well— a way for the People to put a lid on their id. To police the will-to-cruelty that Kafka prophetically identified as the lifeblood of 20th-century bureaucracy, the evil and all-powerful Them that karma reveals is also alienated, apathetic Us.
What could get lost in a people’s victory is a recognition of Volpe-types as candidates for psychiatric treatment and racismwhitesupremacy (sic) as a mental health epidemic that routinely inspires badge-wearing virus carriers to acts of unfathomably bizarre and freakish violence— as we find in the cases of Michael Stewart and Eleanor Bumpurs (in both of which, surprise, the cops were found not guilty), Rodney King, and now, allegedly, Louima and Amadou Diallo.
Louima’s recanted claim that officers discharged the phrase “It’s Giuliani Time! It’s not Dinkins time!” while jabbing away at his rectum and innards now seems an unnecessary and foolish flourish, in light of the multi-kulti movement that has grown around the Diallo case and the necessity of Black cop-
accusers being purer than driven snow. But in the less civically aware moment when Louima came forward, somebody felt a need to dramatize, however clumsily, the Cartesian connection between Mayor Giuliani Caesar’s open disgust for all things African and his foot soldiers’ all-too-common practice of operating as if their badges were licenses to ill on the negro populace.
The mixed-race jury in this trial looks like juries everywhere: a random sampling of the republic’s citizenry, whose eyes appear to be kept open by toothpicks while their brains are loaned to the state for a numbing experiment in group decision making. Judge Eugene H. Nickerson is a wizened, patrician, and slightly patronizing figure who coddles his charges like a mother hen and who genuinely seems more interested in their comfort— and maybe a nap— than the multifarious machinations of the prosecution and defense. The Brooklyn D.A.’s team is a serious, affable bunch. Certainly they are more colorful and of color than Volpe, et al.’s tribal phalanx. Among their assembly are two African Americans, a man and a woman. Prosecutor Kenneth Thompson cuts the figure of a real mensch, an earnest, forthright, and straight-backed talent you can’t imagine being invited to play golf or handball with the phalanx in even his worst nightmares. The court audience, a smattering of family and friends and press, also contains a fair share of rightfully disgruntled, middle-aged African American men whose hallway conversation speaks to long histories in the Struggle, both the electoral and the esoteric branches of same. One told of canvassing for Al Vann; another proposed a death sentence for the accused in the Diallo case that would entail their each being shot 41 times, with their bodies somehow kept alive so they could suffer more. In the immortal words of Miles Davis, right off, brother, right off.
To be honest, this reporter missed the grueling days of Louima’s testimony for reasons of no interest here, first arriving for last Thursday’s afternoon session when tapes of a dispatcher’s exchanges with various patrolmen the morning of Louima and Volpe’s alleged encounter were played. Appropriately enough, these recordings sounded for all the world like DJ Spooky was in the house serving up dispatches from the radical fringes of electronica and cryptography. They came replete with long whistling patches of white noise and dead air occasionally disrupted by fast-flying ejaculations of garbled police code. Afterward, Prosecutor Thompson would have the audio flotsam deciphered on the witness stand by the saucy and expert Dispatcher Dawson who took the stand rocking an ebony hat, rose-tinted shades, a gold chain necklace, and a smart and flowing black pantsuit. Considering the informative yet quotidian tedium of these exchanges, and the showy and brief but near-pointless cross-examination of Dawson by each of the defense attorneys— it’s no wonder Judge Nickerson perked up almost salaciously at day’s end when asking lead prosecutor Thompson if there would indeed be nurses’ testimony on Monday. As Louima’s departure ensures this trial will now be short on narrative jouissance and long on clinical exegeses, the judge will apparently have to make do with crude medical data in lieu of more intimate reports of violation from this seamy case’s underbelly.