Posts Tagged ‘New York City’

Two Deaths Separated Only by Decades

Thursday, December 11th, 2014

By Bob Gaydos

Eric Garner, moments before his death.

Eric Garner, moments before his death.

Jimmy Lee Bruce, meet Eric Garner. You’ve got a lot in common. You’re both black men from New York state. Both of you had an encounter with police officers over some comparatively minor matter. Neither of you had any weapon. You both gave the police a hard time and had what is described as a “choke hold” applied to you by an officer. You both died as a result of that use of official force.

Interestingly, those police officers had some things in common as well. They were all white. None of them was trained in the use of the choke hold, which was prohibited by their respective police forces. Also, none of them was indicted on any charges by a grand jury in connection with your deaths.

The only thing separating the two of you is time. A little more than twenty-seven years. …

Jimmy Lee Bruce died in the back of a patrol car near Middletown, N.Y., on Dec. 13, 1986. He was 20 years old. He and a group of friends from Ellenville, N.Y., had gone to a movie theater in a mall outside Middletown. The group became rowdy. There was drinking involved. Off-duty Middletown police officers acting as security guards, escorted the group out of the theater, where a scuffle ensued. An officer applied the choke hold to Bruce and tossed him in the back of a police car, which had brought two on-duty Town of Wallkill police officers to the scene.

The police then drove around for 7 ½ minutes looking for Bruce’s friends. When they returned to the theater, a state trooper, who had also arrived on the scene, shined a flashlight in the back of the patrol car and noticed the young man was not responding to the light. Police rushed him to a nearby hospital, but attempts to revive him failed.

Two months after the incident, an Orange County grand jury began considering whether any of the officers did anything criminally wrong in connection with Bruce’s death. It determined that none of the officers did anything criminally wrong because none of them had received any training in the proper application of what they, more benignly, referred to as the “sleeper hold,” nor in what could result from improper use of the dangerous hold. It was an accident.

Which brings us to Eric Garner, at 43, somewhat older than Bruce and someone known to police in his Staten Island neighborhood as a familiar problem — mostly for selling loose cigarettes on the street and getting mouthy with police who tell him to stop. On July 17 of this year, Garner, the father of six, got mouthy and maybe more with a police officer who told him to stop selling the cigarettes. The officer applied the choke hold. Garner went down. A witness taped the incident on a cell phone and caught Garner, an asthmatic, exclaiming, “I can’t breathe!” A coroner ruled the death a homicide.

A Richmond County grand jury this month determined — despite the video — that there was no criminal wrongdoing on the part of the police officer. This ruling, coming on the heels of a similar case in Ferguson, Mo., and in the wake of a number of deaths of young black males at the hands of white police, has spurred large, public demonstrations across the country and, in fact, around the world. Justice! is the cry.

But what is justice?

For sure, it means eliminating any doubt of conflict of interest in the future by having special prosecutors, not local district attorneys, handle cases involving deaths of unarmed civilians at the hands of local police officers. This would protect police, prosecutors and the public.

But that’s not nearly enough.

Shortly after Garner’s death, William Bratton, New York City police commissioner, told the New York City Council that he was calling for a “fundamental shift in the culture of the department” in the wake of the chokehold killing of Garner. That “shift” will include three days of annual training for every police officer who works patrol on:

  • How to talk to the public
  • How to de-escalate tense situations
  • How to use force.

I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Nearly three decades ago, I wrote an editorial for The Times Herald-Record in Middletown about the grand jury ruling on Jimmy Lee Bruce’s death: “Your son’s death resulted because the police didn’t know what they were doing, not because they intended to kill your son. Case closed. The system worked. Do you buy that …?”

Yet today, the head of the largest police force in the country tells us that men and women going through New York City’s Police Academy are not trained on how to talk to the public. Not taught how to de-escalate tense situations. Aren’t instructed on how to properly use force.

How then are they supposed to do their job? Police work can be  dangerous. Many officers handle it daily with sensitivity and professionalism. But justice, it would seem to me, would begin with preparing all officers to deal with what they are likely to encounter on the streets, not simply giving them firearms training. And certainly not arming them with military-grade weaponry that creates an us-versus-them situation. This can lead some police officers to forget that they, indeed, are also us.

To protect and serve is the mission of police. That must begin with a certain mindset. It astounds me that Bratton still has his job after his admission before the City Council. Not only did he say his officers aren’t trained to deal with tense situations and how to properly use force, he actually asked for 1,000 more officers and $25 million for instructors and overtime to cover posts while patrol officers are receiving three days of annual training. If it were up to me, I’d provide the department with the money and the positions and get rid of the commissioner, who all of a sudden realizes he needs to change the “culture” of his department.

The pressures of policing in Ferguson, New York City and Middletown are different, but the answers are the same. Justice for all must begin with an emphasis on diversity in police recruiting, so that minority populations can feel they at least have a voice in their own protection. The diversity of the crowds demonstrating in response to the Garner case give credence to that. Justice also means providing the training Bratton acknowledges his officers need today — the training the officers in Middletown needed on Dec. 13, 1986.

The outrage expressed by demonstrators over the grand jury decision in the Garner case is magnified for me by having known the story of Jimmy Lee Bruce. Have we learned nothing in all that time? Should Jimmy Lee Bruce have reacted differently when confronted by police? Hindsight would suggest yes. The same goes for Eric Garner. But being rowdy in a movie theater, selling loose cigarettes and being confrontational with police are not capital crimes.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

 

There’s No Quick Fix, Mr. Weiner

Thursday, July 25th, 2013
Anthony Weiner ... still sexting

Anthony Weiner … still sexting

By Bob Gaydos

Anthony Weiner, please go away.

Take your smart phone or your laptop and sex text to your heart’s desire, if that’s what you want. We don’t need to hear or see any more of you than we have already experienced and New York City definitely does not need you as its next mayor. While you’re at it, maybe get a little help for that sexting thing.

On the off chance, dear reader, that you haven’t heard about Weiner’s latest escapade — maybe you don’t live in the New York City area or watch late night TV talk shows that thrive on ridiculing the ridiculous — the guy who quit Congress because he was caught sending pictures of his penis to a woman who was not his wife has done it again. This, after saying he was sorry. Wouldn’t do it again. Would not put his family through the humiliation and embarrassment again. Would get it under control.

That “control” thing doesn’t seem to be working. In fact, the whole sexual texting with other women went on right after he resigned from Congress and said he was going to “take care of it.” He was lying through his apology.

There is so much wrong with this scenario, it’s hard to know where start, but saying he should drop out of the race for mayor of New York is a good one. That he entered the Democratic primary for mayor just two years after quitting Congress (he said he had dealt with the problem) suggests an arrogance and denial, which is reinforced by the fact that he kept up the behavior even as he was “apologizing” for it. And that behavior bespeaks a kind of recklessness that most people would not find appealing in a mayor.

As long as I’m attaching adjectives to Weiner’s behavior, let me add more: juvenile, irresponsible, untrustworthy, deceptive, self-indulgent, uncaring, exhibitionist, delusional, selfish, egotistical, evasive, compulsive and misogynistic.

And yet, even as he was saying I’m really, really sorry this time, honest, believe me, there were some supposedly enlightened, “progressive,” liberal-leaning web sites (Salon, AlterNet, The Progress Party) who were defending Weiner, saying it was “just sex,” a private matter between the serial sexter and his wife, no reason he shouldn’t stay in the mayoral race. Besides, he supports gay marriage, one site pointed out.

Nonsense. First of all, any Democrat in New York City who runs for office supports gay marriage. It’s irrelevant in this case. Secondly, when sexual infidelity is involved, it’s never “just sex.” It’s also lying and cheating and sneaking and a profound breach of a fundamental trust between two people. Personally, I don’t like those character traits in people in public office.

Weiner’s defenders would have you believe he was just a “bad husband,” but not necessarily a bad candidate. Really? In a year in which progressive web sites are trumpeting women’s issues and the need for women to claim sovereignty over their bodies and their lives, they are also being told that all the things that would make them reject a man as a potential life partner shouldn’t matter if he is running for public office?

Weiner’s callous, prideful, even boasting approach to women who are not his wife should not count against him, it is suggested, because he is, after all, a smart, liberal Democrat. His utter disregard for women as anything but sex objects and his continued betrayal of his wife should not matter, one assumes, because we agree with him on some political issues. As if his attitudes — and the lying, don’t forget the lying — would not carry over to his conduct in office. And as if these same defenders wouldn’t be setting his hair on fire if he were a conservative Republican.

A schmuck is a schmuck, people. The fact that Weiner continued the behavior even as he was apologizing for it bespeaks either a total disregard for the rules of decent behavior, a lack of awareness of them or a feeling that they don’t apply to him. None inspires confidence.

Weiner’s wife came forward to defend him and say they are working things out (again). Whatever reasons she has for this (and I‘m hard-pressed to find a good one) does not change the equation.

As for Weiner, some might wonder, if he’s so smart, why does he keep doing dumb things? Others might say that intelligence has nothing to do with Weiner’s behavior, just as it has nothing to do with compulsive, repetitive, self-destructive behavior exhibited by many other people. Let’s review the adjectives I used to describe Weiner: juvenile, arrogant, reckless, irresponsible, untrustworthy, deceptive, self-indulgent, uncaring, exhibitionist, delusional, selfish, egotistical, evasive, compulsive and misogynistic.

There are rooms full of people around the country attending 12-step programs to help them deal with one type of harmful behavior or another which they cannot control. Maybe Weiner should take a break from the Internet, forget about running for mayor and take a step in another direction. Work things out in private with his wife and himself. And don’t bother saying “I’m sorry,” until he can prove it by his actions.

And for those web site managers who think Weiner’s serial sexting is none of our business, when he keeps his privates private, he can think about running for public office.

bob@@zestoforange.com