Commentary: New York’s ‘Blue Wall of Silence’ Totters


The trial that began on May 4 of four New York policemen in connection with the August 1997 brutalization of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima has taken two surprising turns.

Beginning in the second week of the trial, three NYPD policemen actually took the stand to support the prosecution’s charges that one of the defendants, Officer Justin A. Volpe, had sodomized Louima with a wooden stick in the restroom of the 70th Precinct station house in Brooklyn.

The three cops, breaking through the notorious “blue wall of silence,” testified that Volpe had boasted of the crime, and they offered accounts supporting aspects of the charges.

That three cops would take the stand against another cop in a police brutality case is surprising enough; but then came another, unprecedented development:

Evidently realizing that no defense arguments could nullify the cops’ testimony against him, Volpe decided to plead guilty to the charges. On May 26, he read to the judge a prepared statement in which he admitted that he had rammed a broom handle into the rectum and then into the mouth of the handcuffed Louima, along with other crimes.

The judge will now determine Volpe’s sentence; he could face life in prison. The trial of the remaining three defendants continues.

(It is worth noting that Volpe’s attorney, Marvyn M. Kornberg, had indicated his intent to try to convince the jury that Louima’s wounds were the result of consensual sex prior to his arrest. This is an indication of the unscrupulous tactics the NYPD-paid attorneys are prepared to utilize to keep brutal cops from getting the punishment due them.)

These two startling developments-cops testifying against a cop and a cop confessing to brutality-do not indicate that the NYPD has reformed itself.

The shooting of unarmed 16-year-old Dantae Johnson by a cop of the notorious (but supposedly “reformed”) Street Crimes Unit on a Bronx street in the early-morning hours of the day of Volpe’s confession drives home this point.

Dantae was shot when he and a friend tried to run away from the police, who allegedly told them to “freeze.” Said his friend who was fleeing with him: “We didn’t run because we were doing anything wrong. We ran because we were scared.”

Although both Dantae and his friend were arrested, the arrests were later voided. The point is that these killers in blue uniforms cannot be reformed but must be removed from our communities.

Undoubtedly, the three cops who testified against Volpe were emboldened to cross the “blue line of silence” by the protests against police brutality that followed the murder of Amadou Diallo.

These protests involved massive civil disobedience and street demonstrations of tens of thousands, backed by unions, churches, community groups, and prominent public figures.

Such public protests changed the political atmosphere in the city, sending the message that police abuse will not be tolerated.

The protests and organizing must be continued and expanded to keep the pressure on.

Only broad, sustained, and massive public protests-and not reliance on politicians-can bring justice.

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