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Siegel tackles stereotypes

October 20, 1998

Every Friday for the past 10 years, Norman Siegel of the New York Civil Liberties Union has taught a class on prejudice and stereotyping at his alma mater, Brooklyn's New Utrecht High. Last Friday, he brought a visitor: Greg Longworth, an attorney for the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.

At Siegel's direction, the students tossed around ethnic slurs for Hispanics, blacks and Italians, sometimes with abandon, sometimes with embarrassment. They tried to explain why some blacks refer to each other with a slur - so offensive this newspaper refuses to print it here - but become incensed when whites use the same term. They also cited common racial and ethnic stereotypes: Jews, cheap; blacks, criminals; Latinos, drug-dealers; Italians, members of the Mafia.

"Stereotyping is saying the behavior of one person is the same as their whole race," said a student. "That's stupid."

Siegel says similar classes for cops can improve race relations in a city where stereotyping between the NYPD and the citizenry is ingrained. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Police Commissioner Howard Safir, however, have shown no interest, he says. The department's singular effort - Safir's $15-million "Courtesy, Professionalism and Respect" course - Siegel terms a "joke."

Enter Siegel's new-found ally, the PBA, which Siegel hopes can somehow expedite his curriculum either at the police academy or in station houses. As the cosmos about Police Plaza shook last month, Siegel and the police union united behind police officer Joseph Locurto, who, after passing the "CPR" course, participated in a Labor Day float in which he wore blackface, carried buckets of fried chicken and threw watermelon.

Should Siegel succeed, and stereotyping vanish from the face of New York City, might we expect to hear the following the next time a white cop shoots and kills a black kid?

Siegel: "Being a cop is a tough job. Until the facts are in, we should give the police the benefit of the doubt."

The Rev. Al Sharpton (who testified for Locurto in the police trial room): "Too many people view killings like this solely in racial terms."

The PBA: "We demand the cop be fired and that the department and federal government use all their resources to investigate this heinous crime."

Show or No-Show? The Historical Society's exhibition, "New York's Finest: A History of the New York City Police Department," opens tonight. Even Commissioner Safir says he's coming.

But will he? First, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani isn't coming, but his nemesis (and by osmosis, Safir's), the dreaded Bill Bratton, is. Safir recently called Bratton, his predecessor, "some airport cop from Boston." Bratton called Safir "the Rodney Dangerfield of law enforcement."

Printable versionSecond, the panel Safir agreed to serve on includes Bratton's former spokesman John Miller, who Giuliani fired for providing Bratton with too much favorable publicity. It also includes the Rev. Calvin Butts, who called Giuliani a racist.

Then there's Safir's wife, Carol. When last heard from, Carol was resurrecting the department's moribund police museum as part of Safir's deal with a downtown business group to open a police substation near Wall Street. Officials from the Historical Society say Carol told them she won't attend their exhibition because it's "too negative" and focuses on "police corruption." She also rejected the Society's offer of its exhibition's artifacts for her museum. But police department spokeswoman Marilyn Mode, who took the extraordinary step of speaking to One Police Plaza, says Carol is coming, always planned to and will accept the artifacts.

Reversal of Fortunes. Twenty-three years ago, J. Wallace La Prade, director of the FBI's New York office, announced the bureau had freed the kidnaped liquor heir Sam Bronfman and captured his two kidnapers. La Prade ignored the NYPD, which provided the lead that broke the case.

Last week, the FBI freed 6-year-old Brooklyn kidnap victim Chaim Weill and captured his alleged kidnaper. While bureau officials remained mum, the NYPD announced it provided the lead that broke the case.

Heard (in a speech by PBA treasurer Frank Toscano, honoring Chief Charlie Reuther at his retirement dinner): "It is a pleasure to have you retired."

Heard (from retiring Chief Gertrude LaForgia of Chief of Department Louis Anemone's refusal to serve on Reuther's honorary dinner committee): "He also refused to serve on mine."

Heard (from Safir on firing Locurto): "I concur with Deputy Commissioner Rae Koshetz's recommendation and find her reasoning well-footed in case law." Forget that Safir never made it through law school. Who writes this guy's lines?

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© 1998 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.