Stop the Violence
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Charles Barron was prepared to be angry -- in fact, he says he had a whole bunch of angry statements ready for when the jury came back with a judgment of criminally negligent homicide or manslaughter.What he wasn't prepared for, however, was the jury's verdict on Friday exonerating the four police officers who gunned down Amadou Diallo in the Bronx early last year."I am burnt! I am outraged," he seethes. "Outraged to say the least. This jury must have been from another planet. They couldn't have been viewing what we were viewing in that court."Barron is a community organizer from New York City who, for the last year and a half, has been working with the family of a black man who suffered a fate strikingly similar to Diallo's. On Halloween night 1997, 22-year-old Patrick Bailey, an aspiring stockbroker and son of Jamaican immigrants living in Brooklyn, was shot by none other than Street Crime Unit Officer Kenneth Boss, one of the four recently acquitted in the Diallo trial. Police officers alleged that Bailey had been menacing people outside of his home with a sawed-off shotgun that night, and when the SCU arrived on the scene, they claimed, Bailey aimed the gun at them before running into a building. SCU officers followed him inside, and Boss fired two shots that hit Bailey in the thigh and hip, severing a major artery. Bailey waited 40 minutes for an ambulance to arrive on the scene and bled to death at the hospital.Bailey's parents insist that their son was not armed and even say they can produce eyewitnesses to attest to it; prosecutors allegedly refused to interview them. An unloaded, inoperable shotgun was found at the scene, but Barron argues that even if Bailey had so much as pointed it, as the officers said he did, he probably would have been shot dead long before he could have run back into the building. After an investigation by Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, Boss was cleared of any wrongdoing in Bailey's death. The Bailey family has filed a $155 million civil-rights suit in U.S. District Court against the New York City police and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.Barron escorted Bailey's relatives to Albany when Boss took the stand in the Diallo trial. When Evadine Bailey, Patrick's mother, heard that Boss was free to walk again, Barron said she was "distraught, outraged and angered.""Here is a killer cop that got away with murder twice," Barron said. "They hoped for the sake of the Amadou Diallo family that they would finally see him off the street.... She [Evadine Bailey] tried to warn them in 1997 to take this killer cop and get him off the street before he kills again. On behalf of the Bailey family, I know that they are angered and were looking forward to having him put away, at least on this second offense."Barron says that the Bailey and Diallo cases are not isolated incidents in New York City -- and reports from the New York Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch back up his claim. In fact, Amnesty International's 1996 report, "Police Brutality and Excessive Force in the New York City Police Department," details more than 20 cases between 1990 and 1994 in which police shot suspects under questionable circumstances. The report indicates that of 35 cases studied by Amnesty International, "a disproportionate number of people shot in non-threatening or questionable circumstances in New York City are racial minorities" -- 16 were Latino, 15 black, one Asian, one white and two unknown -- but between 1977 and 1995, only one New York City police officer was convicted of homicide for an on-duty shooting.It's disparities like these, Barron says, that have minority communities -- in New York City especially, but also across the nation -- up in arms about police brutality and inequity in the criminal-justice system."Someone needs to protect us from our paid protectors," he says. "And I'll tell you something else that's more frightening than the police -- I'm afraid that my folk are not gonna take this much longer. This could become a very dangerous place because it's like a powder keg out there.... I'm not usually one who's a predictor of doom and self-fulfilling prophecy, but I don't think it takes a rocket scientist to predict that this will happen again. And when it does, what do we tell our people to do? Be cool? Let's go march and go to the DA's office?"According to Barron and Sen. Larry Seabrook (D-L-Bronx), it may fall on the state Legislature to begin policing the police. Barron says he has a four-tiered plan that he'd like to see implemented in New York, including a state review board independent of DA's offices and police departments; a security agency made up of retired black and Latino police officers to patrol the streets and monitor both police and civilian activities; an end to private grand jury testimonies in police brutality cases; and a change in the language that permits the use of "deadly force" by police officers."When a candy bar becomes reasonable use for deadly force and keys become reasonable and looking both ways before you go into your house becomes reasonable, then we know we need to change the language," he explains.Sen. Seabrook says that the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus of the New York State Legislature has "a number of things" it will propose. First on the list, Seabrook says, is the elimination of the "48-hour rule," which gives officers two full days before they are required to make a statement to supervisors about an incident. If the 48-hour rule had not been in effect for the Diallo case, Seabrook says, the four officers on trial "would never have been able to concoct a story" before talking to top brass.Seabrook also contends that state law should call for a special prosecutor when a police officer takes a life; all too often, he says, district attorneys and police officers share a cozy relationship. Although Seabrook did not directly criticize Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson for his handling of the Diallo case (some critics called the Diallo prosecution "weak" and speculate that the DA's office may have thrown the case), he did indicate that "the district attorney's offices, along with the police departments, work hand-in-hand in most cases -- police bring the district attorneys their clients."The Black and Puerto Rican Caucus may propose mandatory drug and alcohol testing immediately following the kind of shootings that took the lives of Diallo and Bailey. "If a person is operating a train in the city of New York, and there is a crash, they automatically have to have drug and alcohol testing -- why not with the police?" Seabrook wonders.Finally, he said, the caucus will call for an end to racial profiling, a practice the NYPD's SCU officers used routinely in their patrols of minority neighborhoods.Barron says the practice encourages "open season" on blacks and Latinos, a notion he contends is reinforced by the verdict in the Diallo case."Impunity for the police. There is no value to black or Latino life," he states simply, and takes a jab at Justice Jospeh C. Teresi, who reportedly made a friendly visit to the defense after the announcement of the verdict. "The DA will protect you with a softball prosecution. The judge will protect you ... and the judge might even come over to your house to party with you, like this judge did after the verdict."Seabrook agrees: "I went to that trial every day, stayed from morning until it was over," he concludes. "When I heard that verdict, I was numb. I could not believe that they didn't charge them with anything. It sends a message throughout this city, this state and this nation that black life doesn't count. It frightens you because that could just as easily been me."