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Cop Abuse in America

by LINN WASHINGTON, Jr.

Before the first few second of January 1, 2008 elapsed, Philadelphia police shot and killed an unarmed man sitting at a New Year’s Eve party, engaged in no criminal activity.

This fatal shooting marked the second straight year that Philadelphia police shot an unarmed person under questionable circumstance in the first seconds of New Year’s Day.

Within the first dozen days of 2008, Philadelphia police shot and killed two more men both on a single day: January 11th.

Two weeks after those two fatal shootings on the same day, use of excessive force again thrust Philadelphia’s finest back into news headlines.

This time news reports centered on allegations of police beatings at a Sweet Sixteen Party. Twenty people lodged brutality complaints against police including a woman who charged baton wielding officers broke her ribs and a man allegedly struck in the head by a police baton requiring staples from the back to the front of his skull to close the wound.

Those January 2008 Philadelphia police incidents of fatal shootings and beatings of non-whites were neither unique nor isolated incidents. Philadelphia police have a historic legacy of brutality.

In July 1998, the respected Human Rights Watch (HRW) organization stated in an extensive report on police brutality in America that Philadelphia police had earned “one of the worst reputations of big city police departments in the United States.”

A few weeks after this on-going orgy of abusive police conduct in Philadelphia alone, Bush Administration officials painted a benign picture of police brutality during testimony in Geneva, Switzerland before the UN’s Committee On Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Countering UN Committee findings of overwhelming evidence of police brutality against racial and ethnic minorities across the US, Bush Administration representatives proclaimed the Administration had increased training of police officers specifically for combating the prejudice leading to violence against citizens.

The Bush Administration representatives asserted that police brutality was unacceptable under any circumstancesverbally sidestepping a concern raised by Committee investigators that authorities in America while lauding laws rarely enforce laws barring brutality.

A few days after those Bush Administration misrepresentations in Geneva, authorities in New York City added more fuel to fires raging over racist double standards in the US justice system.

New York prosecutors dealt a wrist slap deal to a former Philadelphia TV anchorwoman for an [alleged] altercation with a New York City police officer last December.

NYC police charged Alycia Lane with striking an officer during a late night confrontation arising from one of three persons traveling with Lane mouthing off at police for driving too slowly.

Lane [allegedly] intervened, even [allegedly] hurling a homophobic slur at the policewoman she [allegedly] struck –a slur Lane denies making by noting some of her best friends are gay.

In the wake of that NYC arrest, Lane lost her $700,000-a-year anchor slot following what Philly TV station execs said was a series of seriously scandalizing incidents including public exposure of her emailing bikini photos of herself to a married man that his wife intercepted.

NYC authorities downgraded the felony assault charge lodged against Lane to misdemeanor obstruction of government administration and harassment charges –allowing her a six-month legal limbo leading to a total discharge of charges if she stays out of trouble.

One respected New York City lawyer knows the double standard shining bright in the Lane case from personal experience.

A New York City cop physically bashed this lawyer last summer during an assault that left this attorney facing the same charge police slapped on Alycia Lane: obstruction of government administration.

Attorney Michael Tarif Warren says police assaulted him and his wife one evening last June after they asked police to stop beating a young man who was already in handcuffs. Warren’s wife, Evelyn, is also a lawyer.

Police beat and then arrested the Warren’s.

“The assault on that young man reminded me of watching a lion attack on the Discovery Channel,” Warren said during an interview last June.

NYC authorities comfortable with Lane getting a legal slide seem contemptuously intent on stringing-up lawyers Michael and Evelyn Warren.

“We are still facing charges and [Lane] is given a slap on the wrist,” said Warren, a civil rights attorney who specializes in police brutality cases.

“What she did was out of arrogance, motivated by not getting her way,” Warren said during a recent interview.

“Our case is more appalling. We were exercising our First Amendment rights as lawyers who know what the police were doing was illegal and unwarranted.”

Do you think this different legal system treatment has something to do with Lane being white and the Warren’s being black?

Michael Warren faces an obstruction of government administration charge for trying to stop an assault while authorities give Alycia Lane a ‘no-criminal-record’ pass card on the same charge from her assaulting –ah, allegedly assaultingever so slightly –a NYPD officer.

Legal dictionary definitions for discrimination include: unfair treatment because of race; and, a failure to treat all persons equally where no reasonable distinction can be found between those favored and those not favored.

The disappearing case disposition given the pretty broadcast personality by NYC authorities is a “clear illustration of how whites operating from a position of power and influence are treated differently from persons of color,” said Warren recounting cases where his clients charged with lesser offenses than Lane ended up with criminal records.

Michael and Evelyn Warren enjoy widespread, interracial support across NYC in their fight against the unjust assault by police lead by a sergeant with a background of “other beatings” Warren said.

Police released the Warrens from custody shortly after their June 21 arrest when hundreds of their supporters gathered at the police station where they were taken after arrest.

Last October minister members of the Interfaith Commission on Police Accountability voiced outrage over the arrests of the Warren’s during an anti- police-brutality protest on the steps of NYC’s City Hall.

A statement from this Commission blasted NYC Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Kelly inaction on eliminating the police brutality “problem [that produces] indignities, personal injury and in some cases death.”

Inaction by Bloomberg on police brutality is so consistent with authorities nationwide.

During that recent UN Committee testimony US representatives fulminated about Bush Administration feelings that police brutality driven by racial animus was a reprehensible criminal act.

This alleged Bush Administration policy stance that racist police brutality is both reprehensible and considered criminal is ‘news’ to anti-abuse litigators like Michael Warren.

One of Warren’s current cases involves a brutality incident inside a NYC courthouse and –no surprise –Warren’s victim-clients are receiving no assistance from Bush Administration authorities supposedly bent on blunting racist brutality by law enforcers.

This incident involves the courthouse beating of two black men, mentors of two teens, assaulted after aiding one of the teens who simply questioned the lackadaisical lawyering of his attorney who then summoned her courthouse guard husband to handle those questioning her competence.

UN investigators informed the Human Rights Committee that the US needed to intensify efforts to combat police brutality –a recommendation repeatedly made yet one repeatedly rejected by Republican and Democratic US Presidents.

Fatal shootings of unarmed black men by police in Philadelphia and NYC comprised four of the first dozen-plus police death cases presented in a 1951 petition to the United Nations charging the US government with genocide against African-Americans.

Federal authorities denied charges of rampant police brutality when successfully defeating consideration of that 1951 genocide petition and authorities are taking a similar tact to counter contemporary claims to the UN from the American Civil Liberties Union and other brutality monitors.

“Police brutality is an institutional problem,” Michael Warren observed.

“It’s not a lack of training,” Warren said.

“It’s the tolerance by the institution that allows this to go on in perpetuity.”

Linn Washington Jr. is a columnist for The Philadelphia Tribune newspaper.

 

 

 

 

 

Linn Washington, Jr. is a founder of This Can’t Be Happening and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He lives in Philadelphia.

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