Fans For Fair Play
Challenging Bruce Ratner’s Brooklyn Atlantic Yards project

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Cop Culture 

A break from Ratnerian politics.

The 50-shot police barrage that claimed the life of Sean Bell.

We didn't say a welcomed break.

The story's a week old. But the outrage will last. [We're remiss for not posting sooner. FFFP's frustrated readers know our posts are sporadic. But that's no excuse for letting this one slide.]

Fifty shots. Who thought it possible to top the 41 shots fired at Amadou Diallo in 1999? Worse in this case is that one cop incredibly empited his clip, reloaded, and kept firing -- 31 times in all. What more needed to be shot at after reloading?

Mayor Bloomberg, Governor Pataki and Governer-elect Spitzer were all correct to label the NYPD's Dodge City fusillade as excessive. Being politic, they said or inferred the shootings were seemingly excessive.

That's what these guys do -- publicly play all sides and hope those most slighted don't raise much of a fuss. Mayors and governors only succeed by reconfiguring the public's radar.

Yes, they said the right things. And yes, it was far better than Mayor Giuliani's spiteful, bunker-mentality response to the killings of Diallo (when Giuliana immediately took the cops side) and Patrick Dorismond (when Giuliani demonized Dorismond by releasing his court-sealed juvenile records and urging reporters not to think of Dorismond as an altar boy).

But Bloomberg, Pataki, Spitzer and others failed to get at the crux of the matter...failed to address the real reason Michael Stewart, Eleanor Bumpurs, Alberta Spruill, Amadou Diallo, Abner Louima, Anthony Baez, Patrick Dorismond, Timothy Stansbury, and now Sean Bell, and countless others have been so violently set upon by the NYPD.

It's the vindictive, aggressive culture that permeates the NYPD...a culture that mayors and governors have never, ever sought to fix. Rather, mayor after mayor, at the urging of the PBA, always fall back on the easy analysis -- the Bad Apple Syndrome -- it's not the entire department, just a few bad apples gone astray.

So it will be this time...

While Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly hold press conferences with as many black leaders as they can round up for the backdrop, the NYPD continues to alienate the Jamaica, Queens community where the Bell shooting took place. Desperate to find a fourth mystery man who, cops claim, had a gun the night of Bell's murder, cops have been storming into peoples homes with guns drawn, screaming at residents, dragging people off in handcuffs, obsessed with finding something, anything, that could vindicate the cops who fired their weapons at three unarmed black men fifty times.

If Bloomberg and Kelly were actually as sorry as they claim at the press conferences and meetings with the victims' families, they'd call off the attack dogs and start treating black communities with the same respect and care they show their own communities.

Cop culture happens to the public all the time:

* The too-often gruff, clipped responses when you ask a cop a question;
* The refusal of many cops to look you in the eye when they're talking to you;
* The barking of instructions far more agressively than the a situation calls for ("Move to sidewalk! I said keep god-damned moving!!");
* Cops talking to us as though we're the densest idiots they're ever met;
* The circle-the-wagons, us-against-them dynamic that's just asking for confrontations between the community and those in the precinct house;
* The Blue Wall of Silence;
* The starkly different modes of policing in black neighborhoods and white neighborhoods. [I'm white, and I know with absolute certainty that I'll never get stopped and searched near my home the way it regularly happens to black men near theirs throughout the city.]

As long as the cop culture in New York treats the precinct house as a Green Zone and the surrounding streets as the rest of Baghdad, this problem will persist. Residency rules still permit white cops to live in mostly white Staten Island while patrolling East New York.

This is not an indictment of any single New York police officer. There are many cops who fight the cop culture, some quietly, some more forcefully. They know that cop culture makes every cop's job harder. They know being a cop means treating their bosses -- the public -- decently.

These are the cops who know that courtesy, professionalism and respect are more than just slogans stickered on the side of police cars.

Those are good efforts. But really, nothing will change until those at the top -- mayor, police commissioner, PBA head and delegates, precinct commanders, and the various chiefs -- publicly condemn today's rigid cop culture and privately work their asses off to eradicate it forever from New York City's walk of life.

Never mind the Bell shooting -- Ray Kelly should be fired for not one but two tenures of doing nothing to cleanse the NYPD of cop culture. Rather than surround himself with black-leaders-as-props for photo-ops, Bloomberg should say "These shootings happened because of poor training, poor leadership, and the endemic stereotypes that pervade this city's cop culture." Spitzer should set the tone for his new administration by pro-actively working to change cop-culture rather than hope the storm subsides before his inauguration.

Bloomberg and the others are good actors. As long as they allow cop culture to fester in the ranks of the NYPD, it will prove that all they've done at the endless photo-ops and family meetings this week was acting.

Too bad it was real life for Sean Bell and every citizen of color in New York City.

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