Saturday, 26 May 2012

Is a new debacle brewing for the NYPD?

The Etan Patz case holds a special place in the minds and hearts of this city. Patz was the original missing child, the first to appear on milk cartons and a haunting image—an 8-year-old Everykid with a fetching grin who begged to be allowed to walk the two blocks to his bus stop by himself, to be a big boy. The first time his parents relented, back in 1979, he disappeared and was never seen again.

Now, there’s a confessed suspect, and the mayor, the police commissioner and the tabloids were all over each other to be the first with the news. Everyone wanted a piece of the triumph especially after a highly publicized dig in a basement last month came up short, despite a cadaver dog’s indications of human remains.

There’s only one problem: the whole thing stinks. The alleged killer, 51-year-old Pedro Hernández, confessed to strangling the child. But Hernández also confessed to disposing of the body a block away from the crime (Patz was never found) and also just happens to be bipolar and schizophrenic with no history of pedophilia or violence. People confess to crimes they didn’t commit all the time, and the city fathers are looking shamelessly over-eager to declare themselves genius detectives with little hard evidence. One can imagine the impact on the grieving family if this turns out to be another round of highly visible bungling.

The NYPD and the criminal justice system in the city are not having a good spring, which may have further provoked incautious reflexes over the two-decade-old Patz case. The Times just exposed a long-standing practice by Brooklyn prosecutor Charles Hynds of ‘consulting’ with ultra-orthodox rabbis on sensitive child molestation cases when upstanding Jewish men are accused. The devastating two-part article by Ray Rivera and Sharon Otterman described a pattern of vicious harassment of accusers’ families by the insular orthodox and Hasidic communities based on the rabbis’ insistence that aggrieved parents come to them first and avoid civil authorities. (Parents who disobeyed were ruthlessly persecuted.) The pattern is painfully familiar from the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse saga, but the Hasidic leaders’ political clout remains intact due to their capacity to deliver huge blocs of votes with a single nod.

The Hasids’ argument is that a pedophilia accusation can ruin the reputation and life of men falsely accused, which would be a reasonable concern if it were balanced by any worry about the lives of molested children. (One advocate for orthodox children victimized by pedophiles became incensed when he realized how frequent sexual abuse lay at the root of their adjustment problems.) The NYPD and prosecutors aren’t shy with accusations against non-orthodox Jews—witness the case of the alleged ‘Gentleman Groper’, Karl Vanderoude, who was frog-marched across the city’s tabloids two weeks ago, then found to be completely innocent with ironclad alibis. I wonder how much the experience of being shown to the world as an violent perv will affect Vanderoude’s employability in today’s troubled economy—but he had no powerful religious leaders on his side with whom to threaten prosecutors, and the tabloids are free to accuse anyone they like.

All this comes on top of the Department’s ongoing inability to reform itself on a much deeper level of endemic racism, trigger-happy officers (e.g., the Sean Bell assassination, the Ramarley Graham shooting, many other lesser-known cases), official fraud, and the grotesque stop-and-frisk policy that permanently criminalizes young black and Hispanic men. (The city is set to rack up 800,000 of these bogus stops this year, a 25% increase.) In the past year, NYPD officers have been accused of running a criminal gang out of one precinct, planting drugs on innocent detainees (one cop has confessed), and two high-profile rapes, one of which occurred a block away from my apartment. Then there’s the Adrian Schoolcraft accusations, that the city has an ongoing arrest quota system for beat cops while simultaneously downgrading serious crimes to make the statistics look good for Commissioner Ray Kelly and the mayor.

The NYPD was also caught racially profiling Muslims to snoop on their mosques and social organizations and no doubt to drum up skeery terror cases with agents provocateurs a la FBI—not that anyone cares much about that. And finally who can forget the Department’s shoddy performance over Occupy Wall Street, the kettling, the pepper-spraying, the beatings of journalists and general abuse of anyone who dares protest Wall Street greed. (Kelly, let us recall, once was head of security for a major brokerage house, Bear Stearns.)

All in all, the Department is not looking good these days, and the unseemly attempt to crow victory on the Etan Patz case isn’t going to help. Nonetheless, that won’t stop many commentators in this Most Liberal of All Cities from insisting that Ray Kelly should be our next mayor. If that doesn’t work, Democratic poobah, moneybags and Wall Street suck-up (Senator) Charles Schumer has another idea—he proposed last year that Kelly now head the FBI.

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