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For a Cop in The Bronx, No Thonx

June 5, 2017

For the first time since four white cops fatally shot African immigrant Amadou Diallo, an NYPD officer has been charged with second degree, or intentional, murder in an on-duty shooting. Again, the shooting occurred in the Bronx. Again, the officer was white. Again, the victim was black.

Click here to read what the police brass say about NYPD ConfidentialThe city has changed in the 18 years between the two shootings. What has not changed is the distrust between black New Yorkers and the police.

While the Diallo case drew international condemnation for the wanton police shooting of an unarmed man, Sgt. Hugh Barry was indicted last week by Bronx grand jurors for fatally shooting Deborah Danner, a 66-year-old, emotionally disturbed black woman who police say attacked him with a baseball bat. Police had responded to her apartment, where she lived alone, alerted by neighbors who heard her screaming inside.

Click here to read the New York Times profile of Leonard LevittHer shooting was fraught with controversy from the outset. It occurred last October, just a month after Jim O’Neill was sworn in as police commissioner. Before the police investigation was completed, he placed Barry on modified assignment, citing his poor tactics — not waiting for trained emergency service officers and not using his Taser instead of his gun.

O’Neill — who is seeking to make improved relations with black New Yorkers a cornerstone of his tenure — then issued a heartfelt apology: “We failed. … There was a person in crisis. … We were called to that apartment to help someone [and] we ended up killing her.”

O’Neill was perhaps naïve in not appreciating the consequence of his words — in particular by officials with their own agendas. Just a few hours later, Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose political base consists of black New Yorkers, took O’Neill’s cri de coeur to another level. 

“It’s quite clear that our officers are supposed to use deadly force when faced with a dire situation,” he stated, “and it is very hard for any of us to see that that standard was met here. The sergeant involved last night had the training; he had the tools to deal with this situation in a different manner. … It was certainly protocol that called for deferring to the Emergency Services Unit — that was not followed. There was obviously the option of using a Taser — that was not employed.”

Conveying a tone that O’Neill had not intended, the mayor concluded: “Deborah Danner should be alive today. Period.”

To her credit, Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark, whose office indicted Barry, did not grandstand, forgoing the standard DA news conference in announcing a cop’s murder indictment. Barry was also charged with manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.

Yet how can the charge of intentional murder be viewed as anything but grandstanding? The law states an officer can use deadly force if he feels his life is threatened. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who is tasked with investigating deaths of unarmed civilians by police and who is no shrinking violet in the publicity line, declined to take the case, pointing out that a baseball bat is a weapon.

Click here to read the Washington Post article on NYPD ConfidentialThe four cops who shot Diallo were eventually acquitted by a predominately white jury in Albany after an appeals court removed the case from the Bronx, accepting the cops’ argument that anti-cop Bronx jurors might automatically find them guilty. Many blacks saw the removal and the acquittal as racism. Many cops saw it as justice.

If at his trial Barry is found guilty of intentional murder, an appeals court might eventually reverse that decision. Once again, many blacks will see the reversal as racism. Once again, cops will see it as justice.

This column reported last week that after saying he would march in the Puerto Rican parade with Mayor Bill de Blasio, Commissioner O’Neill bailed out after the department’s Hispanic Society of officers announced it would boycott the June 11 parade. O’Neill says that characterization was incorrect: he never said he was marching.

Question: Now that Oscar López Rivera, the convicted terrorist the parade had honored as its first “National Freedom Hero,” has downgraded himself to a “humble Puerto Rican and a grandfather,” is O’Neill going to march with de Blasio?

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