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When the Tough Get Going

This is the second of two articles.

By Errol T. Louis

In August 1982, superior officers of the New York Police Department gathered at the Police Academy to hear the words of George L. Kelling, director of the Kennedy School of Government's criminal justice program. Kelling was in New York to talk about an article from the March 1982 edition of the Atlantic Monthly that he co-authored with James Q. Wilson, Shattuck Professor of Government.

The article, "Broken Windows," urges policemen to spend more time maintaining order than simply making arrests. Such, "order-maintenance." Kelling and Wilson say, requires the use of tactics other than arrests to drive gangs, vagrants, and other "undesirables" from a neighborhood. Thus, they add, the streets seem more orderly, and therefore more safe.

But Kelling and Wilson's message is disturbing. Encouraging officers to break up groups of tough-looking teens whether they've broken any law or not leaves a lot of discretion in the hands of the cops--who may end up violating the rights of individuals judged by some unofficial standards to be "undesirable." Wilson and Kelling address this question.

We might agree that certain behavior makes one person more undesirable than another, but how do we ensure that age or skin color or national origin or harmless mannerisms will not also become the basis for distinguishing the undesirable from the desirable? How do we ensure, in short, that the police do not become the agents of neighborhood bigotry?

We can offer no wholly satisfactory answer to this important question. We are not confident that there is a satisfactory answer, except to hope that by their selection, training, and supervision, the police will be inculcated with a clear sense of the outer limit of their discretionary authority.

Not very reassuring. In fact, Wilson and Kelling propose that officers return to the good old pre-Warren Court days, when chasing out the "undesirables" meant using the old nightstick to keep the neighborhood under control. In big cities, where riots have erupted after incidents of police brutality, suggesting that active harrassment of "undesirables" might improve a neighborhood would further erode relations between police and citizens. And there's always the nagging question of due process, to which even "undesirables" are entitled.

Appearing before the audience of New York policemen (one of whom brought his son to hear the lecture). Kelling summed up the advice he and Wilson had for policemen in one phrase: kick ass. So much for inculcating "a clear sense of the outer limit" of police authority.

This didn't go over too well with the audience of captains, inspectors, and chiefs. They remained stonily silent as Kelling explained that he and Wilson had deliberately chosen a provocative phrase to stimulate discussion. I remember wondering if this was why people study for years, get PhD's and become instructors at Harvard--so they can tell cops to have their patrolmen go "kick ass."

One officer asked if "kicking ass" was a wise thing to do, in light of all the troubles the department had faced a decade ago, the charges of brutality and so on. Kelling responded that the police were now more professional, more interested in doing a good job.

In the time since Kelling's speech, unfortunately, some New York policemen have followed his and Wilson's advice and indeed "kicked ass"--as is evident from the emergence of a congressional subcommittee now investigating police brutality in New York.

The following is a list of incidents of police brutality nationwide, culled from papers such as The Guardian, the Amsterdam News, and the Village Voice, all of which cover brutality cases thoroughly and more consistently than the big-circulation dailies. The Crimson published a list of brutality cases last January; this is a new list which gets longer every week. All the alleged victims in the following cases were Black, unlike the policemen involved.

Kicking Ass in Boston

*In 1975, police officers killed James Bowden Jr., an unarmed man with no criminal record who was returning from a nightly visit to his mother's apartment. The cops said they thought Bowden was driving a car reported earlier that day in connection with an armed holdup in Cambridge (they were wrong). The officers blocked Bowden from pulling away from the curb near his mother's housing project, approached the car and put three bullets in his head.

From there, the account gets confused. A new book, Deadly Force, and a recent Boston Phoenix article written by a reporter who was riding in the police car when the killing took place, both detail several apparent attempts to cover up the officers' wrongdoing. For instance, claims that Bowden fired at the officers and then threw the gun don't square with a pistol being found much later 200 feet from the scene, an impossible throw.

*A few weeks ago, 19-year-old Elijah Pate was shot dead by policemen who say he was trying to run them over in a stolen car. Two autopsies show that the officers lied about the incident. The bullets that his Pate struck areas of his body that couldn't have been exposed if, as the Boston police claim, they shot while he was trying to get away in the car.

Kicking Ass in California

*Patrick Andrew Mason, a 5-year-old, was shot dead in his home by a Stanton, Cal., officer--who was called by neighbors to check on the child's safety. The child was being left alone in the house for long periods of time (his mother worked evenings). An officer, who says he thought the call was a setup for an ambush, kicked in the door and shot the boy, who was holding a toy pistol. The officer got probation.

*Since 1975, the Los Angeles Police Department has killed 16 people using its famous chokehold. A suit asking that the deadly grip only be used under guidelines went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled 5 to 4 last May that the plaintiff. Adolph Lyons, who was nearly killed by the chokehold, had no right even asking for injunctions against the grip's use.

Lyons, said the venerable justices, "is no more entitled to an injunction than any other citizen of Los Angeles."

*In 1980, Johnny Roman, 25, was shot to death while in bed; the autopsy showed he was "in a fetal position with his legs drawn up," when two Richmond, Cal., policemen fired four bullets into him. The cops had come to arrest Roman on charges of harassing his family. The coroner's testimony contradicted the officer's statement that Roman had reached for a shotgun near his bed.

The same two Richmond police officers, part of a group assigned to the Black community and called "the cowboys," also "kicked ass" in 1982, when they killed 21-year-old Michael Guillory--while he was in bed. Three officers, responding to a call from family members complaining about Guillory, came to his home. While two of them were breaking down Guillory's door, the third--Samuel Dudkiewicz, who also killed Roman--shot Guillory through a window to the bedroom. Dudkiewicz claimed that Guillory had "a shiny object," which turned out not to be a weapon of any sort.

A jury awarded the families of the slain men $3 million. Two oficers, the Richmond police chief and one of his deputies were found guilty of violating civil rights and of maintaining a "custom and practice" of brutality (35 witnesses testified at the trial about other cases of brutality). The police chief, Leo Garfield, resigned last year, but Earnest Clements, the deputy chief also found guilty, has replaced him.

Kicking Ass in Alabama

*Bobby Joe Sales, 23, was killed in Montgomery last spring, when one officer shot the unarmed man in the back and another rammed his fallen body with a car. Officer Ralph Conner said he thought Sales was reaching for a gun. Conner's cousin, officer Edward Spivey, allegedly then hit Sales' body with his car. The police chief called the incident a "tragic mistake," and refused to suspend the officers involved.

*Last February, Montgomery plainclothes police who later said they were chasing a suspect invaded the home of a family that had just returned from a funeral. The 26 members of the Taylor family watched two unidentified white men kick down their door. Family members from out of town--Ohio and Michigan--beat up the officers, who have charged 11 of the Taylors with attempted murder. None of the 11 have criminal recordes. One of the cops was shot in the fracas, possibly by a fellow officer (no gun has been found).

One of the officers, Spivey, was later accused in a separate case of ramming his can into an unarmed man who had already been shot (see above). In the Taylor case, Spivey used a lock-blade knife, illegal under state law. He was promoted to investigator after the Taylor case. The trial is still going on.

Kicking Ass in South Carolina

*In August, a 29-year-old Florence, S.C. man named Larry Gurley was killed by four officers who suspected him stealing a lawn mower. The cops say they chased Gurley into a wooded area, wrestled him to the ground and handcuffed him, whereupon he suddenly died.

A coroner's jury, however, ruled the case a homicide after the county coroner found that Gurley had been strangled to death. The four officers have been assigned to administrative duty pending a grand jury investigation.

Kicking Ass in Texas

*The former sheriff of San Jacinto and two of his deputies were recently found guilty of using a "water torture," on prisoners. Six victims testified that they were handcuffed to a table or chair with a towel wrapped tightly around their faces. Water was poured over the towel, nearly drowning the men unless they confessed to alleged crimes.

Kicking Ass in New Orleans

*Gerard Glover was shot and killed by police who were chasing him for speeding on his motorcycle. The police claimed that Glover and Raney Brooks, with whom he was riding double, had fired at the officers during a chase. They recently admitted, however, that the alleged gun used--"found" 300 yards from the scene--was planted by other cops. The officers were suspended from the force.

Kicking Ass in New York

*David Ramsey, 25, was shot dead last year while sitting in his car. The cop, who was in plainclothes and an unmarked police van, says Ramsey tried to back into him. Although New York police regulations prohibit firing at moving vehicles, the officer was cleared by a grand jury.

*Otis Morrison, 31, was creating a disturbance next door to a police precinct in 1982 when four policemen mistook pliers in his hand for a gun and killed him. No one was even disciplined, let along charged with a crime.

*Last March, 19-year-old Larry Dawes was chased by police after running a red light on his moped. Witnesses say the police car rammed the moped into a parked car, after which one of the officers kicked Dawes' dead body. A grand jury recently decided not to hand up indictiments.

*At the September 19 congressional hearing on brutality, the case of Luis Baez came up. His mother called the police to calm down the disturbed young man. The police shot him 21 times.

Kelling and Wilson should be subpoenaed by the congressional subcommittee on police brutality to determine how many times they have encouraged policemen to "kick ass." The personal grief, community anger and decreased respect for the law that follow each killing is the end result of actions set in motion partly by such anti-crime "experts."

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