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Diallo case still sensitive

March 18, 2005

Whether or not you think Fernando Ferrer is a political opportunist, one thing should be clear to all New Yorkers: Six years and one month after Amadou Diallo was shot dead by four cops, his death still resonates through the city like no other.

Ferrer, the leading Democratic candidate for mayor this time round, created a firestorm this week when he told the 4,600-member Sergeants Benevolent Association that the Diallo shooting was a tragedy not a crime.

In addition, he said the four officers who were acquitted by a jury in Albany in 2001 had been "over-indicted." The four were acquitted after being charged with second-degree or "intentional murder." Readers can decide for themselves whether this was an "over-indictment."

SBA president Ed Mullins said of Ferrer's recent remarks: "In the past, his responses were against the police. I tend to believe he is realizing that as mayor you can't be one-sided to any group of people."

Of the four cops he said: "The key is intent. I have never encountered a cop who intended to drive to work to shoot someone he didn't know in order to make a headline, to disrupt the whole city and his personal life."

Four years ago when Ferrer ran for mayor, he was the first and only candidate calling for the firing of those four officers.

That issue was so sensitive then that his primary opponent, Mark Green, disassociated himself from former police commissioner Patrick V. Murphy just minutes after Murphy had endorsed him. In response to this reporter's question, Murphy had suggested that the four cops be sent to a low-crime precinct in Staten Island.

In light of his past tough talk, Ferrer's statements this week drew criticism from Diallo's mother, many of the city's black politicians and the New York Post, which in apparent preparation for supporting Mayor Michael Bloomberg, as it did four years ago, said Ferrer was "having trouble with consistency."

An examination of Ferrer's past statements on Diallo, many of which appeared in this column, indicate his criticisms were directed not just at the officers but also at Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and ex-police commissioner Howard Safir.

During that mayoral race, in words that still ring true, Ferrer said: "The four officers ... showed tragically bad judgment and utter disregard of life. The events of Feb. 4, 1999, the response of Mayor Giuliani and ex-police commissioner Safir and that misguided policy of confrontational policing have widened the divide of distrust between the police and communities they serve."

One last point. Four years ago, Ferrer was the only candidate to reject Giuliani's post 9/11 bid to remain mayor for three months after his term ended. After Ferrer said this, Giuliani folded like a cheap suit.

The Kelly doctrine. With the mayor in attendance, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly announced the opening of yet another NYPD overseas bureau - this one in Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic.

Although Kelly said the bureau's purpose would be primarily narcotics enforcement, he called it "part of the NYPD's international intelligence network," which he said was "custom made to New York City and an early warning system for terrorism."

To emphasize that point, he had Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence David Cohen in attendance, although Cohen didn't utter a word.

Since no provision in the city charter exists for stationing officers overseas, Kelly is funding the bureau - as he has others - through private contributions from the city's Police Foundation. The foundation, an organization of fat-cat New Yorkers, was founded three decades ago to fight police corruption, but has morphed into a charity for successive police commissioner's pet projects. Kelly's is terrorism.

Under its new chairwoman Valeria Salembier of the Hearst Corp., the foundation has adopted Kelly's yen for secrecy.

Last week, the foundation held its annual $1,000-a-head dinner at NYPD headquarters, which a number of cops attended, their tickets paid for by the foundation. Although the city's Conflicts of Interest Board permits officials to attend such functions if a "city purpose" is involved, neither the department nor the foundation would divulge the officers' names.

The foundation also refused to divulge which of its own members attended, its spokeswoman calling it "a private affair."

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© 2005 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.