BY ARGIRIS MALAPANIS AND AL DUNCAN
NEW YORK - Five hundred people, overwhelmingly young, protested at City Hall here March 8 demanding the four cops who killed Amadou Diallo, a street vendor from Guinea, on February 4 be arrested and prosecuted. Two days later 1,000 high school students cut classes for a similar protest.
On March 3, more than 5,000 people rallied on Wall Street in front of the New York Stock Exchange in one of the largest demonstrations against the acceleration of police brutality exemplified in the brutal killing of Diallo. A number of protesters pointed out that a month after the police fired 41 bullets at the unarmed immigrant worker, riddling his body with 19 of the shots and killing him instantly, city authorities have made no arrests and have even refused to take the four police officers off duty.
Most protesters in these actions have been Black. The majority at the March 3 rally were workers. "I have been reading about the protests and came out today because I am angry," said Eric Volpe, a rail worker from Hoboken, New Jersey. "This is a good rally but there should be more white faces. They have armies of police out here while they are cutting back libraries."
Cynthia Julies, a nurse administrator, said she took the day off work March 3 to take part in the noontime rally to demand the cops who killed Diallo be prosecuted. "We need to unite because we have no justice," she told Militant reporters. "It's a police attitude. It's not a Black-white thing." Drivers for United Parcel Service and other members of the Teamsters union also came.
These recent protests have been typical of the dozens of demonstrations that have now taken place since February 4. They register a sustained resistance to police violence and the attempts by many among the city's rulers to either justify cop brutality -for making middle-class and other neighborhoods "safer" from the "underclass" - or propose "reforms" to shore up the image of the New York Police Department (NYPD).
The space to organize such actions has been widened by differences among the ruling class on how to handle this latest crisis. Democratic Party politicians, especially those representing the views of middle-class Blacks, such as Alfred Sharpton, have been trying to direct the fire of the protesters against New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani. "Racist Rudy" and "Stop Giuliani" read many of the printed signs at the demonstrations. Sharpton, who ran for New York mayor in the last Democratic Party primaries, is now organizing almost daily sit-ins at police headquarters at One Police Plaza, calling for civil disobedience.
At the same time, polarization has grown. Hundreds of cops have been picketing the offices of the New Yorker magazine demanding an apology from its editors for a front-page cartoon published in its March 8 issue. The cartoon showed a uniformed cop at a carnival shooting gallery aiming at three human targets. A sign on the shooting gallery says "41 shots, 10 cents."
"We are not going away until we get an apology," said James Savage, the acting president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, speaking from a flatbed truck during the March 4 cop picket of the New Yorker offices. The hundreds of police officers, virtually all white, held printed signs with the names of cops "killed in the line of duty."
Thomas Ognibene, the leader of the Republican minority on the city council, has taken the lead in defending the mayor's course. In a February 25 news conference, Ognibene said, "People were trying to lay the death of Mr. Diallo right at the doorstep of the Mayor, and that is unfair.... [T]here is a great deal more safety in those communities as a result of Rudy Giuliani."
What Ognibene and other capitalist politicians don't talk about, however, is that the supposed drop in "crime rates" has been reached not by changing social conditions but by locking up a record number of U.S. residents. Nearly 1 in 150 people in this country are in jail.
Many demonstrators have pointed to the Diallo killing as a sign of an escalation of police brutality. The March 8 protest, for example, was called by Women for Justice. Parents against Police Brutality also took part. Among them were family members of Anthony Baez, who was killed by a choke hold in 1994 by ex-police officer Francis Livotti, who was convicted and got a seven-and-a-half-year jail term for Baez's death. Still fresh in the minds of many working people is the brutalization of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima in 1997 and the 1996 shooting of Hessey Phelan, an Irish immigrant, by city cops.
Some of the recent protests have focused on new repressive measures by the city administration. These include the March 10 announcement by the police that New York cops will start using hollow-point bullets within a week. Hollow-tip bullets flatten on impact, causing wider wounds and inflicting more severe internal damage. Other measures include a new policy of seizing cars of people arrested on drunken driving charges.
Anger has also mounted against the use of the cops' "street crime unit," which has become notorious for violations of democratic rights. According to the New York Times, the cops on the unit patrol the city at night "in search of crimes about to occur" and its members boast publicly that they "own the night." Kenneth Boss, a member of this unit, was one of the four involved in the Diallo killing and is now under investigation for another shooting.
Meanwhile, city authorities have indicated that a quick decision on whether to indict the cops who killed Diallo is unlikely. A Bronx judge has extended the term of the grand jury hearing evidence on the case until March 29. In the meantime, the federal government has stepped in to defuse the controversy. The federal Civil Rights Commission voted March 5 to investigate the city's police practices.
The liberal big-business press has been campaigning for face-lifts in the NYPD to deal with the crisis. "New York police lags in diversity; overwhelmingly white force despite decade of growth," was the headline of a front-page article in the March 8 New York Times, implying that the solution to the rulers' problems is to hire more Black and Latino cops onto the force.
Other liberals call for ridding the police of "bad apples." In the March 1 newsletter of the Commission of Racial Justice of the United Church of Christ, Bernice Powell Jackson said, "Any other city, faced by two high profile cases of police brutality like the cases of Abner Louima and Amadou Diallo, would be in high gear... working to actively weed out the `bad apples.' "
"There are no good and bad cops," said a statement released by the New York Socialist Workers Party March 11. "Giuliani and the Democratic majority of the city council are using the cops and all repressive institutions of the capitalist state as they attempt to cram down the throats of working people accepting cutbacks in welfare, more stringent requirements for access to public shelter for those without a roof over their heads, and real unemployment that is a staggering 50 percent among youth who are Black - all during an upswing in the business cycle. Working people don't need a `reformed' police department or more Black cops. We need to join the street mobilizations and demand: jail the guilty cops now!"
Mary Ann Schmidt and Ruth Robinett contributed to this article.
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