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Past top cops back protests

March 15, 1999

Wilhemina Holiday, deputy police commissioner for community affairs from 1984 to 94, appeared Friday outside One Police Plaza, supporting protesters of the fatal police shooting of an unarmed African immigrant, Amadou Diallo.

Her boss, former police commissioner Benjamin Ward, the city's first black commissioner, supports the protesters as well, she says.

Civilians and police officers who spoke with Ward at last Thursday's Guardians Association of black police officers 50th anniversary dinner-dance, told One Police Plaza that Ward expressed support for the protestors, said the four cops who fired at Diallo 41 times should be suspended and chastised Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson for "taking too damn long" in his grand jury investigation. Ward couldn't be reached for comment.

Diallo's shooting by white cops resonates in black New Yorkers in ways white New Yorkers may not fully comprehend. As Holiday put it, "This could have happened to any one of us. It's a sad state of affairs when police officers believe all blacks and Hispanics are criminals."

The choreographed daily protests outside Police Plaza - at which five people are arrested each day for civil disobediance - are fast assuming the stature of 1960s civil rights marches. Today, Harlem Congressman Charles Rangel plans to appear - and to be arrested. "Unless there's snow or rain that will give him pneumonia," says his chief-of-staff Jim Capel, "he is likely to commit some acts of civil disobedience."

Police Commissioner Howard Safir - desperately seeking any black group or person to meet with - even expressed the remote possibility last week of meeting with the Rev. Al Sharpton, who is leading the protestors. Such a meeting would, of course, be anathema to Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Although Safir is a mayoral stooge, his meeting with Sharpton is another matter. A former deputy police commissioner way above Holiday says: "Even if the mayor views Sharpton as a rival political figure and refuses to meet with him, the police commissioner is different. How can you talk about improving community relations if you refuse to meet with the leading community activist? Safir doesn't have to meet with Sharpton himself. He could designate somebody."

That was how Ward dealt with Sharpton under former mayor Ed Koch, who had as much use for him as Giuliani does. Ward designated Holiday.

And when former Mayor David Dinkins began a minority recruiting drive through the city's black churches, then-police commissioner Ray Kelly had grits with Sharpton to kick off the drive.

Giuliani and Safir are supposedly launching a similar $15 million recruitment drive, saying they would work through the department's black and Hispanic fraternal organizations. Yet neither the mayor nor the police commissioner appeared at the Guardians dinner-dance, attended by the city's and state's most prominent black law enforcement officials. One can only ponder what message their absence sends.

A Final Irony. Two weeks ago, the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association picketed the New Yorker magazine, protesting a Diallo-inspired cartoon. Picketing cops carried signs with names of officers killed in the line of duty. A photograph of one that appeared in Newsday read: "Killed. Line of duty. Police Officer William Capers. April 3, 1972."

Actually, Capers, a second-grade detective and 19-year veteran, was killed chasing an armed robber while off-duty by a uniformed officer who mistook him for the robber. As in the Diallo shooting, the officer was white, Capers black.

Overnight Moves.
Commissioner Safir is to appoint - perhaps as early as today - the first black supervisor for the virtually all-white street-crime unit, four of whose officers shot Diallo. Police sources say he is believed to be Captain Robert Wheeler, the commanding officer of Brooklyn's 60th Precinct, whom Safir is expected to promote to deputy inspector. Safir is also set to appoint a fourth black NYPD chief, perhaps because, as this column reported last week, he couldn't remember the name of the third. The new chief is believed to be Demosthenes (Monty) Long, recently of the first deputy's office and the police academy.

The Double-Dis Mystery (con't).
By the time you read this, a decision on a new city sanitation commissioner will probably have been made. Since Staten Island borough commander Gene Devlin withdrew, Chief Without Portfolio Kevin Farrell is the leading NYPD candidate. Safir recently stripped Farrell of his Manhattan detective command and assigned him to Chief of Detectives Bill Allee's office, a move construed by many in Police Plaza as dissing Farrell or Allee, or both. Brokering Farrell's sanitation bid, as he did Devlin's, is S.I. Borough President Guy Molinari, who has replaced Hasidic Rabbi Edgar Gluck as the department's unofficial fixer.

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© 1999 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.