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Fatal Police Shootings — Justice or Politics?

February 5, 2018

Even if Sgt. Hugh Barry is acquitted of murder charges for fatally shooting Deborah Danner, an emotionally disturbed black woman, a tough road lies ahead for him. He’ll likely face a departmental trial that could force him out of the department.

The department has not acted consistently in such cases. At least once, the determining factor was not justice but politics.

In 1987, in a shooting that echoes Danner’s, police officer Stephen Sullivan was acquitted by a Bronx judge of fatally shooting Eleanor Bumpurs, an emotionally disturbed black woman, who police say rushed at cops with a 10-inch knife during an eviction proceeding.

Then police commissioner Benjamin Ward called the actions of the evicting cops “dumb,” but he defended the shooting by Sullivan, who subsequently retired in good standing. The fact that Ward was the city’s first black commissioner blunted the racial outcry that Sullivan, who was white, had gotten away with murder.

In 1996, Frank Livoti was acquitted by a Bronx judge of causing the death of Anthony Baez by using a department-banned chokehold after Livoti provoked a confrontation. A year later, he was tried departmentally, found guilty, and fired by then police commissioner Howard Safir.

“It was the right thing to do,” then Chief of Department, Louis Anemone told NYPD Confidential.

Click here to read what the police brass say about NYPD ConfidentialLivoti was subsequently tried in federal court on civil rights charges and found guilty.

Then there were the four Diallo cops. In 2000 the four, who shot the unarmed African immigrant Amadou Diallo in his apartment vestibule, were acquitted by an Albany jury. The department prepared to try them departmentally. Two attorneys, Lieut. Michael Gorman and a civilian, Paul Gallagher, were assigned.

In a 2016 letter to the civil service newspaper The Chief, Gallagher wrote: “In 1999 I was a staff attorney in the Special Prosecutor’s Office (SPO) of the NYPD, a unit that was established in 1995 to do two basic things: to prosecute high-profile cases, and to get officers accused criminally off the job before the criminal trial concluded. However, in the case of the Diallo cops, I was told to wait until the conclusion of the criminal cases before proceeding internally against them.  …

“Then, to my surprise, the Firearms Discharge Review Board (FDRB) came up with a report that found the shooting justified and essentially exonerated the Diallo cops of any wrongdoing.

“This is where politics enters the arena … . The FDRB, although it sounds like an independent review board, is actually subject to pressure brought upon it by the upper-echelons of the Police Department. In other words, their reports are not objective, but subject to the whims of those several pay grades above the actual FDRB investigators. …

“A few months later, word came down through the chain of command that the cases against the Diallo cops were to be dismissed. I must make clear that this decision was purely a political decision, not a legal one. …

“The decision was nominally made by Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik [who] owed his appointment to Mayor Rudy Giuliani… . Anyone who is still upset about the lack of justice in the Diallo case should look no further than the Mayor’s Office at the time.”

So will justice or politics determine how the department treats Barry, who is currently on trial in the Bronx for fatally shooting Danner, who police say attacked him with a baseball bat in her Bronx apartment?

Police Commissioner Jim O’Neill and Mayor Bill de Blasio have prejudged the case, publicly criticizing Barry for not using his Taser and for not calling for supposedly better trained Emergency Service Unit detectives.

“We failed,” O’Neill said the morning after the shooting, which happened in his first month as commissioner. “We were called to that apartment to help someone [and] we ended up killing her.”

The mayor said: “It’s quite clear that our officers are supposed to use deadly force only when faced with a dire situation and it is very hard for any of us to see that standard was met here. ... Deborah Danner should be alive right now. Period.”

DEMOCRATS, GET REAL. Democrats continue to give it the old college try. Instead of searching for a strong, centrist leader who can play hardball with Donald Trump, they went back in time to the Kennedys.

Last week, they called on third-term congressman Rep. Joseph Kennedy III, of Massachusetts to deliver the Democrats’ rebuttal to Trump’s State of the Union address.

As earnest and passionate as the 37-year-old came across, the Kennedy name may no longer be effective enough to inspire a younger generation. The Kennedy brand has been tarnished.

Click here to read the New York Times profile of Leonard LevittLet’s begin to count the ways. Just as President Bill Clinton, despite his accomplishments, may ultimately be defined by the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Joe’s uncle, Ted, the longtime senator, may be defined by Chappaquiddick. While driving with passenger Mary Jo Kopechne in 1969, he said, the car went off a wooden bridge and into a pond. He escaped, disappeared for hours, then said he tried to save Kopechne, but couldn’t. Nobody believed him. Nor should they.

Young Kennedy’s father, former Rep. Joseph Kennedy Jr., will be remembered for trying to annul his 12-year marriage to Sheila Rauch so he could marry his second wife. Rauch’s best-selling book “Shattered Faith: A Woman’s Struggle to Stop the Catholic Church from Annulling Her Marriage,” upended father Joe’s Senate bid. A decade later the church reversed its decision.

Then there’s cousin Robert Kennedy Jr. A former alcoholic and drug addict, he has most recently been in the news as a defender of his cousin, Michael Skakel, who was convicted in 2002 of murdering neighbor Martha Moxley in Greenwich, Connecticut. In a recent book, he proclaimed Michael’s innocence and, with no credible evidence other than his own imagination, blamed her death on two black men from the Bronx. That, readers, is what is called racism.

Last week, Connecticut's Senior Assistant State's Attorney James Killen filed a motion seeking Skakel’s return to prison, where he served 10 years before he was released on bail in 2013 while seeking a new trial.

Still, the Kennedys are apparently not without clout. Ever wonder how or why the Triborough Bridge, constructed during the Great Depression, was renamed the RFK Bridge in 2008? 

Turns out Robert Kennedy Jr. contacted then Gov. Eliot Spitzer to make the request. Spitzer said RFK Jr. called him out of the blue and said the Kennedy family was asking for the change. 

Spitzer complied. “It was an easy lift,” he said.

Now let’s get back to that strong centrist leader — one who has the courage not merely to mix it up with Trump but to compromise to get the party’s agenda through, while maintaining its basic principles.

Click here to read the Washington Post article on NYPD ConfidentialLet’s start with the abortion lobby within the Democratic party, which is as pernicious and uncompromising as the Republican gun lobby. It holds that a woman’s right to an abortion extends right up to the day of delivery, a position that offends a lot of people, including Democrats. Unless the life of the mother is endangered, is it so bad to limit the time a woman can have a legal abortion?

Or take immigration. The key here is the DACA Dreamers — those children brought to the United States by their parents and who are not citizens. If that means giving Trump a wall so he can save face, give it to him. If that means compromising on chain migration, preventing easy access to aunts and uncles and cousins once-removed, do it. If that means ending the visa lottery, end it.

Why are Dreamers the key? Because they represent what this country stands for, the best of who we are — because they are us.

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