Friday, 28 October 2011

Policing OWS [Updated]

The New York Police Department has been getting some bad PR lately, all of it richly deserved. Here’s a roundup:

[from the NY Times]: ‘Eight current and former New York police officers were arrested on Tuesday and charged in federal court with accepting thousands of dollars in cash to drive a caravan of firearms into the state’. The laddies in blue were also accusedof organized cigarette smuggling, and from the sound of the wiretap quotes, pretty much anything else they could rip off and resell. These free-lance capitalist stalwarts in uniform have ties to a notorious neighborhood in Brooklyn that, um, tends to have a low incidence of street crime, wink wink.

In another case, a former police officer recently testified in court that he and his colleagues planted drugs on innocent (black) men to meet their arrest quotas and—believe it nor not—earn overtime. (One can imagine the camaraderie in the canteen: ‘Hey, Tony, let’s go frame a few [deleted] and charge the extra hours so we can make our boat payments.’) Hundreds of drug cases were then thrown out as the evidence was, quite reasonably, judged to be tainted and unreliable. The false-arrest lawsuits are just beginning.

The entire issue of arrest quotas was roundly denied by NYPD higher-ups when it first surfaced; then the Village Voice published a four-part series based on secret tape recordings of precinct meetings in which cops were ordered to meet their (non-existent) quotas. Oops!

Then there’s sexual assault, which is getting a lot of media attention here due to the serial gropers and rapists preying on women. Turns out one of them might be a cop—an active-duty officer got caught exactly one block from my Inwood apartment building using his service weapon to threaten and rape a schoolteacher, and detectives are trying to decide whether he was responsible for other assaults around town.

There’s more! Indictments were just handed down today in a gigantic ticket-fixing case in the Bronx where cops routinely made sure that friends and relatives never had to pay like other poor slobs without family connections to corrupt bureaucrats and their enforcers. Anyone who has to face the permanent agony of parking in this city will be dancing a jig in glee at the sudden appearance of Lady Justice.

Ironically, the big gun-running bust may have originated from a ticket-fixing investigation when the anti-corruption squad started listening in on cops to see who was involved and got an earful of their other activities. But the connection is less accidental than it may seem at first glance, and the discovery hardly serendipitous.

When the ticket-fixing scandal broke a while back, a disturbing number of commentators tended to brush it off as no big deal, Aw well, just a guy doing someone a favor. Patrick Lynch, the loathsome head of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (who cheered the death of unarmed Sean Bell in a hail of police bullets—50 of them, to be exact—a few years ago) immediately criticized the investigation and insisted that ‘this thing’ should and could have been handled differently, i.e., in secret and with kid gloves, the way the cops are used to being treated.

But allowing cops to fiddle with parking tickets is extremely dangerous, and the city should be applauded for not tolerating it—finally. If the police force is allowed to evolve into a Mameluke-type caste of professional muscle beholden only to itself, it’s only a matter of time until a few rogue elements decide to take the next logical step and become a criminal syndicate. Why not? Who’s going to stop you if you’re the one who decides who gets arrested?

Only the naïve will believe that the ambitious gun-smuggling cop gang is the sole dubious operation inside the NYPD, despite all the stern finger-wagging from top officials. Aside from the overtly criminal scams, there is a much larger secret-handshake pact in force in the city, one that includes the real criminal masterminds: the thieves on Wall Street and the fancy cast of socialites who thrive on their loot.

OWS has astutely understood, in its amorphous, non-hierarchical way, that the NYPD’s constant stop-and-frisk practices are part and parcel of this control system. New York cops stopped 700,000 people last year, almost all of them black or Hispanic males. Willie Hazzard [right] has been harassed in this way 17 times while walking down the street, often with his two children. His Brownsville neighborhood in Brooklyn has recorded 14,000 cop stops—equivalent to one per resident. Ninety-nine percent of the time, there’s no arrest. The department insists there’s no racial profiling involved, an assertion some children under age 4 are thought to believe.

All this comes from the famous “Broken Window” crime-prevention theory associated with the Giuliani era, but the result is huge numbers of black and Latino kids busted for pot even though white youths smoke it more. Those arrested are then saddled with a criminal record for the rest of their lives, just the thing to keep them out of the ever-shrinking labor pool. Since we already have the largest prison population per capita in the developed world, the real unemployment rates are really much higher to start with.

Wall Street benefits from the huge pool, created by its system of organized looting, of nobodies deprived of a decent living, and the city’s cops cooperate by harassing minority youth squeezed into the economic margins with no prospects. So let us not be surprised as the city power structure finds new ways to besiege and repress OWS at the bidding of its banker friends. Today’s announcement that the fire department will inspect the encampment’s generators is a good example: pointless attention to formal rules in the service of the guys who wipe their asses with the law each morning before breakfast.

[Update]: I see that Lynch led a group of several hundred NYPD officers to the arraignment of the ticket-fixing colleagues and insisted that they should be let off because ‘taking care of your family’ and of people who ‘support police’ was NOT A CRIME.

So here are a few questions for Mr Lynch:

If it is okay to alter official police department documents to protect family members from parking violations, would it also be proper to do the same to protect them from, say, a breaking-and-entering charge? A rape charge? A hit-and-run charge?
If not, what are the criteria to determine the difference between what is NOT A CRIME (despite being listed as one in our statutes) and what should, in fact, be considered an actual crime?

Who should make that decision? You? Any NYPD officer? The precinct captain? Charlie Rose?

Those citizens of New York who are not related to police officials do not have their instant get-out-of-jail-free card available. You did mention similar benefits for those who ‘support police’? How does one go about obtaining that designation? Is there a membership card? How much are the dues? To whom should they be paid? Can I use a credit card, or do you prefer cash?

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