2006-12-15 / Editorial/Opinion

From the Editor’s Desk

Where Are Our Local Politicians When Shots Are Fired in Rockaway? Part II
Commentary By Howard Schwach


Last week in this space I vented my anger at local politicians who play to the media whenever a young black man is shot by police in the pursuit if their duty but never show up in Rockaway when a young black man is shot by another young black man, something that happens a hundred times more often than a police-involved shooting.

James Sanders, Malcolm Smith, Ed Williams (president of the local NAACP) and others stood shoulder to shoulder with Al Sharpton and his right-hand man, ex-Black Panther Charles Barron, ready to excoriate the police for shooting 50 shots at three men in a car after the car had already struck an undercover police officer who was following it on foot.

Nobody in that crowd seems to care that all of the three men in the car had previous records for gun offenses or that they were in a building where sex is regularly sold illegally and where there had been a number of other criminal violations in recent weeks. In fact, that is why the police were staked out there to begin with.. Nobody seems to care that one of the undercover officers in the building heard one of the three men talk about getting a gun to settle a dispute before the three walked to their car.

Nobody with the police perspective on the incident has piqued the interest of the media, it seems. Turn on the televised news and you see Barron, Sharpton, lawyers for the two men who were shot, Lawyers for the five men who were in the wedding party and were witnesses to the shooting, family members, community activists, all with an ax to grind.

On December 8, for example, Senator Malcolm Smith hosted a “Tri-Level Joint Legislative Task Force Meeting” in response to the shooting. Sounds impressive, doesn’t it? It focused on a ten-point plan regarding police policies and procedures. The panel, however, is made up solely of politicians. With the exception of Eric Adams, a retired police captain who stood with the Nation of Islam and clapped when its leader suggested that somebody stick nightsticks up the rear end of white police officers, there is not one person on the panel with any law enforcement experience or expertise. How can anybody with no street experience on the job make up a set of procedures that will work on the street? Look at the members of the committee: Representatives Greg Meeks and Charlie Rangel, a couple of black city council members and Betsy Gotbaum, who had trouble remembering what city she lives in.

Tell me whether this group really plans to come up with valid procedures, or are they just pandering to the cameras?

Their suggestions include ending all undercover operations, marking unmarked police cars with lights and sirens and forcing police to hold fire until they are fired upon.

On the same day that task force meeting was announced, some cops in the 67 Precinct in Brooklyn faced a very familiar situation. The undercover cops and detectives were following a report that a robbery team was ready to strike. One of the perps ran from the cops. Some chased him on foot, others in a vehicle. Cut off by the police car, the perp turned, pulled a gun and pointed it at the officers who were closing in on foot. One of the officers shot and wounded him.

One of the procedures mentioned by the militants is that a cop should not be allowed to shoot until he or she is shot at first. In this case, you probably would have had a couple of dead cops.

Those who were captured in that incident are already claiming what everybody claims: that the cops never announced themselves, that they are the poor victims of racist cops, that they have never done anything wrong in their lives.

Of course, the people with Bell that night will testify that the cops did everything wrong and that their friends are angels who were just trying to have a good time. They will back the story told by the two others who were shot – that they never said anything about a gun, that the police never identified themselves, that the cops killed their friend in cold blood and for no reason. Yet the media, rushing to cover what they consider one of the biggest stories of the year, fall all over themselves reporting on those stories as if they came down from the mount.

How about a little balance? How about a healthy dose of the most important tool a reporter has – a little skeptism? How about asking questions that elicit some real answers as to what happened that night rather than running a package that includes several anti-police sound bites without any balance?

Stanley Crouch, a black conservative columnist for the Daily News was so incensed that he wrote a recent column entitled, “Listen to Cop Critics –- Not to Rabble Rousers.”

Crouch is right. The rabble rousers come out to play whenever a cop is involved in killing a black man. Where are they, however, when black men are continually killing other black men at a near-record rate? They are nowhere to be found.

What do I think happened after reading all the published accounts, talking to many cops and filtering it all through my eighteen years of covering crime stories in Rockaway and my 33 years as a teacher, most of it in Rockaway?

I believe that the undercover cops heard one of the men in front of the bar (who was later shot) say “Get me my gun.” I think that one of the cops abandoned his undercover role and went to his car to get his gun and shield (they could not bring them into the club because a bouncer was searching everybody who entered) because he thought that there was a dangerous situation developing. He told his Lieutenant that he heard people speaking about a gun and believed that at least one of the men in the club had a gun in his waistband. I believe that he thought that there was one or more guns in the car

Section 35 of the New York State Penal Law states that a police officer can use deadly force to defend himself or another person from “what the officer believes to be the use or imminent use of deadly physical force.”

I don’t know about you, but I consider a guy coming at me twice with a large, heavy automobile to be the use of deadly physical force.

Don’t tell me that those three guys did not make the undercovers as cops. I will never believe that, especially when we’re talking about three guys who have reportedly been through the court system a number of times on drug and gun violations. I believe the report that the cops had their shields outside their shirts because I have seen them do that literally hundreds of times.

The reports say that the three men had no weapons. What is a car but a deadly weapon when used to run down a person standing in the street?

That’s what happened. The driver aimed for and hit an undercover cop. He then backed up and hit him again. The cop pulled his gun to defend himself. The rules permit that.

Some of my colleagues at The Wave believe that the cop could have shot at the car’s tires and stopped the car that way.

That, however, happens only in fairy tales and on television.

There is an old police saying, “it’s better to be tried by twelve than carried by six.”

I believe that. No police officer has to have his or her life gravely threatened without taking action to stop that threat, whether it be by gun or by automobile. I believed that when I was a teacher as well and was threatened by a parent or a student for some imagined evil. Nobody has the right to a free shot at somebody else, no matter whether that person is cop, a teacher or a civilian.

As to the number of shots, anybody with combat or police experience knows that when your adrenalin is pumping and the action is real and life-threatening, you just keep on shooting until the magazine is empty. You make sure you put your attacker down and keep him there.

I learned that in the Navy, on Shore Patrol duty.

The mantra then was “If you knock a guy down, make sure he stays there or, as sure as hell, he’s going to get back up and kick the hell out of you.”

Now that this rant is out of the way, I feel better about the situation, but I would still call for Rockaway’s black leadership to stand up and be counted on the issue of guns and black on black crime.

Cops can’t be effective without being proactive and aggressive. I don’t really think the good black people who live in the projects want it any other way.

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