Issue 241 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published May 2000 Copyright © Socialist Review

Letter from the US

Shoot to kill New York style

Police murders continue in New York but resistance is growing, says Sharon Smith

When 300 police in riot gear appear at a funeral and try to barricade the mourners leaving the church, aren't they provoking a riot? That was the scenario on 25 March in Brooklyn, at the funeral of Patrick Dorismond, a 26 year old unarmed Haitian immigrant gunned down by undercover cops ten days earlier.

By all accounts, Dorismond was guilty of nothing more than flagging down a cab outside a bar in the early hours of 16 March. In fact, when he was approached by a man asking to sell some drugs, Dorismond not only refused but became angry --outright lawful behaviour, all told. But what Dorismond did not know was that the man was actually an undercover cop trying to set him up in a drug sting operation, and that a second undercover cop was standing by, ready to shoot him at the slightest sign of a scuffle. Dorismond made the mistake of trying to shove the drug-peddling undercover cop aside. Within seconds, Dorismond was 'rolling on the ground, gasping for air, with blood coming out of his mouth', according to an eyewitness to the shooting.

Patrick Dorismond was killed, in other words, for refusing to buy drugs from a pair of trigger-happy plainclothes cops. Dorismond, the son of the famous Haitain singer André Dorismond and the father of two young children, is the fourth unarmed black man to die at the hands of New York City police in the last 18 months. He died a mere four weeks after the acquittal of the four white cops who killed Guinean immigrant Amadou Diallo--shooting him 41 times at point blank range as he attempted to unlock his own front door in a Bronx neighborhood.

Anthony Vasquez, the plainclothes cop who shot Dorismond, was disciplined for drawing his weapon during a bar fight when he was off duty just three years ago. Yet Mayor Rudolph Giuliani managed to ignore this cop's record of violence as he defended the killing. Instead the mayor set out to smear Dorismond's reputation, by illegally publicising his juvenile police record--which included charges of robbery, but convictions for nothing more serious than disorderly conduct. Nevertheless, on this basis, Giuliani labelled him as having a violent history which he said was not in keeping with that of an 'altar boy'.

If an angry crowd numbering 5,000 attended Dorismond's funeral on 25 March, they had good reason to be angry. If they carried signs decrying police brutality and demanding 'Justice for Patrick Dorismond', the police have only themselves to blame. If the protesters carried empty coffins with the faces of the dozens of others killed by New York police in recent years, it is because so many innocent black and Latino people have been killed, with so little retribution for the police who killed them.

And if they screamed for Giuliani's resignation, Giuliani can thank himself for consistently defending the police, no matter how racist and brutal, which only encourages them to be more so. The sight of 300 police in riot gear, who barricaded anguished mourners and angry protesters behind steel barricades as the funeral procession behind Dorismond's casket moved slowly up Flatbush Avenue, finally enraged the crowd outside the church.

The New York Times described the 'wild scenes and sounds of chaos' that ensued: 'barricades tumbling under surging crowds, American flags burning, the clashing chords of car horns, and the clash of glass thrown from a height, all beneath the airborne staccato of police helicopters.' Neighbourhood residents threw bottles at police from windows and fire escapes as cops hid behind police barriers.

In the end, 23 cops and four civilians were injured, and 27 people were arrested. Giuiliani, of course, rushed out a statement condemning the protesters, saying, 'Unfortunately, when you allow demagogues to take over for political and divisive purposes, the American flag gets shredded and burned, steel barricades are hurled and bottles are thrown, injuring police officers and civilians.' But the cops were lucky they got off so easily, given their record of cold-blooded murder.

Haitian immigrants have especially good reason to be angry at the system. Some 3,000 Haitians in the US currently face the prospect of leaving their US-born children if they are deported by the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (INS). If they return to Haiti, they will still face the death squads that continue to roam the country, and they will be forced to eke out their existence in the poorest society in the western hemisphere, where open sewage threatens public health on a daily basis.

Esta Pierre is one such Haitian. She fled Haiti in 1993 after her boyfriend was dragged from their house in Port-au-Prince by agents of the Haitian dictatorship. He has never reappeared. She built a new life in Florida, scrubbing floors for a living, and now has two children, aged six and two years. The INS has denied her amnesty, which means she must now choose between bringing her two small children back to Haiti to face certain poverty and political terror or leaving them behind to grow up in the US without her. That is a choice no parent should have to make.

Thousands more immigrants are being forced to make this choice under the 1996 Immigration Act, which requires, retroactively, the deportation of all immigrants who have been convicted of 'aggravated felonies' even decades earlier. Such aggravated felonies include, among other things, the crime of pulling another woman's hair--which is the crime for which immigrant Mary Anne Gehris is now facing deportation. Thousands of immigrants who have lived most of their lives in the US are now facing deportation under this draconian law.

So, if the American flag got shredded and burned at Patrick Dorismond's funeral, it is because the Haitian and other immigrants who assembled to mourn Dorismond know from their own bitter experience that the US government claims to welcome immigrants but in reality discriminates against them, from denying needed welfare and other social services to singling them out for police brutality. As Cathy Dumont, a Haitian immigrant who attended the funeral protest, told reporters, 'Mrs Dorismond took her son out of a military regime and brought him here because she thought it would be safer, but Giuliani and the way he's empowered the police have proved her wrong.'

Dorismund was killed for refusing to buy drugs from trigger happy plain clothes cops

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