By PAUL SIEGEL
NEW YORK-Police here went on a rampage against a crowd of mourners, estimated by WBAI-Pacifica and the New York Daily News at more than 10,000, at the March 25 funeral of Patrick Dorismond.
Dorismond, a 26-year-old security guard and the son of a well loved Haitian singer, had been killed by a plain-clothes New York policeman on March 16. The shooting occurred during an altercation rising from Dorismond’s having being accosted with a request for marijuana in the narcotics squad’s random search for drug-dealers.
Dorismond was the fourth unarmed Black man to be killed by the NYPD in 13 months.
Dorismond’s slaying aroused great indignation in the New York Haitian community and in Haiti itself. New York Haitians suffer constant indignities at the hands of the police. They remember the police torture of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima as well as more recent incidents-most notably the killing of Amadou Diallo, an immigrant from Guinea, in a fusillade of 41 bullets last year.
Many of them also know that Mayor Giuliani was a federal prosecutor in the Reagan administration. In that office, Giuliani stated that Haitians were not entitled to political asylum since, in his opinion, the murderous Duvalier dictatorship was not oppressive.
The Haitian community was, moreover, incensed by Giuliani’s vilification of Dorismond, which included the revelation of a police charge against him when he was 13 that a judge had ordered dropped and sealed. Giuliani defended his violation of the court order, arguing that, according to his interpretation of the law, dead men have no privacy rights. After his department killed this young man, the mayor sought to kill his reputation.
Nevertheless, the mourners marched peacefully for 2.5 miles from the funeral parlor to the church where Dorismond’s last rites were to be administered.
Cops escorted the hearse although legal observers had pleaded with them not to do so. Some marchers shouted at the police, “Get out of our funeral. You murder us and then try to run our funerals,” but march organizers urged them to desist.
It was at the church that the police provoked the mourners beyond endurance. As in the Million Youth March, steel barricades had been set up that were designed to hem in the enormous crowds and prevent them from moving about.
People who had marched for a couple of hours found that they could not get to the church. Others outside of the march were told that they would have to go to the starting point of the march, two miles away, to enter the area.
The police were entirely insensitive to the grief and pain of the mourners, herding them as if they were cattle. The president of the Legal Aid Society told WBAI-Pacifica that they seemed to be consciously provocative.
When the crowd knocked down the barricades to get to the church, scuffles broke out between the cops and the crowd. At this point, riot police and police on horseback, whom march organizers had urged not to be called in because they knew of their aggressive behavior, sure to inflame the crowd, came on the scene from a side street, where they had been waiting in readiness. The crowd was also incensed by the sight of police helicopters and of police videotaping the scene from rooftops.
As the violence escalated, bottles were hurled from adjacent buildings at the cops, who were engaged in mayhem. The New York Times reporter stated, “Critics in the crowd accused officers, including some supervisors, of beating people randomly with their batons and fists.” He himself witnessed “an officer” with “his hands around the throat” of a “woman being arrested” and the use of pepper spray and what appeared to be tear gas.
WBAI reporter injured by police
Mimi Rosenberg, an attorney and a reporter for WBAI Pacifica, saw a 16-year-old pregnant woman being attacked by the cops, an 80-year-old man seized from the stoop of a building, and a 14 or 15-year-old girl being beaten as she lay on the ground.
She also saw her WBAI colleague, Errol Maitland, being arrested, beaten, stomped on, held in a choke-hold, and kneed, as he went about his business of reporting on the scene.
In a tape played on WBAI, Maitland himself reported on his own arrest as it was taking place. Even as he was being grabbed, he told of how a superior officer was urging his men to attack him, with the officer’s voice being heard in the background, “Fuck him up! Fuck him up!”
Maitland is now in intensive care in the cardiac unit of Kings County Hospital at the strong insistence of his lawyer. He is under police guard, and WBAI personnel were told that only members of his immediate family were permitted to see him.
In an interview with Newsday, apparently after WBAI was refused permission to see him, Maitland, an African American, said from his hospital bed that he had been saved from further onslaught by a female Black cop, who had intervened on his behalf. Dr. Maxine Orris told Newsday that Maitland was badly hurt and showed evidence of ischemia, an injury to the heart, which, she said, could well have been caused by the police assault.
Maitland is one of at least 27 persons who were arrested. Police are said to be inspecting their videos, as they did following the Million Youth March, to find others they can arrest. As in the Million Youth March, most of the police attacks came as the crowd was dispersing.
Public reaction to recent events involving the police and to Giuliani’s obsessive tirades against critics of the police has been such that Republican strategists, insisting on anonymity, told The New York Times that they fear he is jeopardizing his own campaign for U.S. Senate and the Republican political position generally. They would like the rabid mayor to tell his aides, “stop me before I shoot my mouth off again,” but he seems constitutionally incapable of this.
Indeed, a poll taken for the Daily News by a professional polling firm a few days before the Dorismond funeral showed 72 percent believe that the NYPD “has gotten out of hand” and 67 percent believe that Giuliani was not justified in his vilification of Dorismond and his release of Dorismond’s sealed juvenile record.
District attorneys told The New York Times that they find it more difficult to prosecute cases because jurors are now skeptical of police testimony. Even an anonymous cop complained to the Daily News about departmental pressures: “If we don’t make the arrest numbers, we get our heads blown off by the bosses at the end of the month.”
Politicians exploit situation
Democratic politicians are seeking to take advantage of the situation. The African American state comptroller, Carl McCall, a Democrat, has called for Gov. Pataki, a Republican, to appoint a commission to investigate the NYPD. Hillary Clinton, who is running for U.S. Senate against Giuliani, has rebuked him for lack of judicial restraint.
She herself, however, is far from a crusader for social justice, being very careful not to come on too strongly against police brutality. On the one occasion that she overstepped her self-imposed limits by referring to the killers of Diallo as murderers, she apologized, explaining that she, unlike Giuliani, is capable of admitting mistakes.
Al Sharpton, who has organized and led demonstrations against police abuses, has called for the federal Justice Department to conduct an investigation of the NYPD.
There have been, however, frequent investigations by different commissions in the past of police brutality and corruption in various cities, including a federal investigation of the police in Philadelphia in 1995. Always the result has been the same-shocking revelations, promises of reform, and a continuation of the old practices by a police force whose power is unimpaired.
Nor would the federal government’s acting as a monitor of the NYPD, for which Sharpton has also called, be anything more than a means for temporarily making the department more circumspect without changing the basic situation.
The truth, as Mumia Abu-Jamal has said, is that “the police, tools of white state capitalist power,” act as an army of occupation in ghettos and barrios throughout the country, and as such cannot help but be “a force for creating chaos in the community, not peace.” This is more true than ever, with the militarization of the police receiving federal funds
What is needed is the replacement of the police occupation of the Black community by a community-controlled force coming from the inhabitants of the community. This is what must be struggled for.
In the meantime, organizations are being built. Ray La Forrest of the Haiti Coalition for Justice has announced that his organization is forging links with other grassroots community groups. A demonstration is planned to be held 41 days after the Diallo verdict to keep fresh the memory of the 41 bullets of the killer cops.