Letter to Editor on Patrick Dorismond
March 30, 2000
In the latest installment of his campaign to demonize victims of police violence, Rudolph Giuliani blames mourners for the violence at last Saturday’s funeral for Patrick Dorismond, which the Mayor refused to attend.
His claims, however, are directly contradicted by the accounts of numerous attorneys at the scene who witnessed a pattern of blatant police provocation and riot–presumably at the Mayor’s orders–against those who came to peacefully mourn and protest Mr. Dorismond’s death.
From the moment the funeral procession began early on Saturday morning, we observed that hundreds of riot police were already prominently deployed‑‑against the express wishes of the Dorismond family.NYPD commanders repeatedly refused to withdraw uniformed officers placed amidst the mourners, or to remove metal barriers that created a dangerously narrow bottleneck in front of the church at which services were scheduled.Following a lengthy service, police even blocked mourners from bidding farewell to Mr. Dorismond’s coffin.
Only at that point, after five hours of building grief and resentment, did a few frustrated protesters throw bottles at police.The growing tension could still have been defused had NYPD brass agreed to requests from attorneys and community leaders to let the mourners through.
Instead, in a melee that conjured up images of 1963 Alabama, police charged the penned‑in crowd and arrested twenty‑seven people, some of whom were also beaten by officers.Their victims included an 80‑year‑old‑man and a pregnant 16‑year‑old.Errol Maitland, an African‑American journalist from WBAI radio was beaten to the ground and arrested during his live broadcast.Mr. Maitland, whose son was killed by police several years ago, was handcuffed to his hospital bed for the next two days on charges of disorderly conduct–the equivalent of a traffic ticket.
The other arrestees were held incommunicado for at least 24 hours in jail pens before they were permitted to see attorney Michael Tarif Warren and an emergency volunteer crew of Legal Aid lawyers.They joined thousands of New Yorkers, overwhelmingly people of color, who have been randomly arrested on similarly minor charges during “Operation Condor.”Other mourners were lucky enough to escape with only a beating from police.
Saturday’s events show once again that the NYPD’s problem isn’t bad apples or insufficient training.Rather, it is the same “search‑and‑destroy” mentality, celebrated by the Mayor, that killed Amadou Diallo, Malcolm Ferguson and Patrick Dorismond for being UWB–Unarmed While Black.But inevitably, such routine police terror will continue expanding to claim such “unusual” victims as Gideon Busch, an Orthodox Jew fatally shot by police last year in Brooklyn’s Borough Park.
Who’s next? Just this week, police officers drew weapons on a crowded elementary school playground–as in the murder of Mr. Dorismond, to make a marijuana bust.
New Yorkers of all colors have a common, urgent need to root out police violence at its source.A good start would include immediate abolition of the Street Crime Unit and Operation Condor; dismissal of police commissioner Howard Safir; federal prosecution, oversight and reform of the NYPD; and creation of an independent state agency to prosecute police abuse.
Michael Letwin, Esq.
Association of Legal Aid Attorneys/UAW 2325
568 Broadway, Rm. 702A, New York, NY 10012‑3225