The NYPD’s naked racism

October 20, 2011

The NYPD's day-to-day culture of racist discrimination produces and protects officers who practice the in-your-face racism that is today's front news, explains Gary Lapon.

"I FRIED another nigger," said New York Police Department (NYPD) officer Michael Daragjati in a phone call to a friend. "Another nigger fried, no big deal." Daragjati was on patrol in Staten Island on April 15 when he did a "stop-and-frisk" of a 31-year-old Black man, searching him on the street.

Although he found no weapons or contraband on his victim, Daragjati is accused of responding to a supposed insult from the man by arresting him on trumped-up charges of resisting arrest, lying in the police report and to his supervisor, and subsequently making racist comments about his victim in text messages and phone calls to a friend.

Daragjati's epithets were recorded because his phone was being monitored as part of an investigation into an ongoing pattern of wrongdoing.

This vile racism has touched off a fresh storm of criticism of the NYPD and prompted the federal government to charge Daragjati with a civil rights violation for "trumping up charges against a Black man and lying on the police report."

New York police make an arrest in Brooklyn
New York police make an arrest in Brooklyn (Douglas Palmer)

According to the New York Daily News:

Daragjati swore out a criminal complaint, falsely asserting the man had pushed and kicked him and 'flailed' his arms to prevent being arrested. Several other officers had witnessed the arrest, in which the man offered no resistance. The victim later pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct on the advice of his lawyer.

Stemming from these charges, Daragjati faces a possible year in prison and a $100,000 fine, and combined with charges in an unrelated case in which he is accused of beating and intimidating a man he suspected of stealing a snowplow from him, Daragjati could face up to $850,000 in fines and 60 years in prison.

This is not the first time Daragjati has been accused of racist and illegal practices. According to the Daily News, he "has been sued twice before for falsely arresting [Blacks]--the city settled one case for $12,500 and the other is pending."

DARAGJATI'S RACIST abuse is the latest high-profile example of the systematic racism that runs through the NYPD. This isn't a matter of "a few bad apples," but of a rotten barrel that has produced a culture of brutality and racism that produces and protects officers like Daragjati.

Just last month, 17 NYPD officers were indicted for fixing tickets and other violations. Tapes from this case revealed widespread racism among the officers under investigation as well as many others. "The wiretap recordings at the heart of the probe captured conversations rife with racist and inflammatory remarks," according to the Daily News.

Lee Wengraf, an activist against police brutality in New York and member of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, explained:

The reality is that police violence and police brutality are far from an exception. They are a day-to-day reality in poor communities and communities of color where police play a repressive role. The numbers of people of color targeted by stop-and-frisk in New York speak for themselves, as well as the hundreds of thousands who are detained or worse because of the color of their skin.

This pattern of brutality includes multiple cases of NYPD killings of unarmed Black men, including Amadou Diallo, a 23-year-old African immigrant shot 41 times in 1999 for the "crime" of reaching for his wallet on his own front porch--and Sean Bell, a 23-year-old Black who died in a hail of 50 police bullets the morning after Bell's bachelor party in 2006.

In both cases, officers charged in the shootings were found "not guilty."

Then there is the everyday bigotry of encounters with New York police. Stop-and-frisk is a widespread tactic employed by the NYPD where hundreds of thousands of mostly Blacks and Latinos are stopped and searched on the street each year without any valid cause for suspicion. The statistics show that the racism on vile display in Daragjati's boast is merely the most confident expression of a pattern that runs through the stop-and-frisk program.

In 2010, 601,055 people were stopped and frisked in New York City, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union. Of these, 86 percent were not charged with a crime, and 85 percent were Black or Latino, although Blacks and Latinos comprise just over 50 percent of city residents.

In Black and Latino neighborhoods, the NYPD's stop-and-frisk policy creates conditions akin to life under military occupation. For example, in just eight blocks of Brownsville, a predominately low-income African American neighborhood in Brooklyn, police made 13,200 stop-and-frisks in 2009, nearly one for each of the blocks' 14,000 residents. They resulted in arrests less than 1 percent of the time.

The stark racial disparities involved in stop-and-frisk searches by the NYPD contribute to the already overwhelming disparities in drug arrests and convictions. Although the practice is justified as an attempt to keep residents of "high-crime areas" safe, the truth is that over-policing in communities of color serves to manufacture the elevated crime rates that create the pretext for stop-and-frisk in the first place.

Stop-and-frisks often result in Blacks and Latinos being illegally arrested for open marijuana possession, according to a WNYC News investigation:

Under New York state law, possessing a small amount of pot becomes a crime--a misdemeanor--when it is smoked or displayed "open to public view." If the marijuana is concealed on the person, possession of the drug is only a violation, which is not a crime. The person receives a ticket and fine.

WNYC tracked down more than a dozen men arrested after a stop-and-frisk for allegedly displaying marijuana in public view. Each person said the marijuana was hidden--in a pocket, in a sock, a shoe or in underwear...They each said the police pulled the drugs out of his clothes before arresting him for having marijuana in public view.

Such searches are illegal because police are only legally allowed to search someone's pockets if they believe someone might possess a weapon.

More than 50,000 people were arrested in New York City in 2010 for marijuana possession, and 90 percent of them were Black and Latino, despite statistics that show that young Blacks and Latinos are less likely than whites to smoke marijuana.

Not only that, "a former New York City Police Department narcotics detective [recently] testified officers commonly planted drugs on innocent people in order to meet arrest quotas," alleging that the practice was widespread, including supervisors, undercover officers and investigators.

That's why stop-and-frisk is commonly understood as a form of intimidation and repression aimed at communities of color in New York City.

THE NYPD has been mired in scandal in recent months, and the naked racism of Michael Daragjati is only the most recent revelation. NYPD officers were recently acquitted of raping a woman they were tasked with helping, despite admitting on tape to having sex with the victim while she was incredibly intoxicated.

Last year, former NYPD officer Wilfredo Rosario was convicted of sexually assaulting an 18-year-old woman while on duty, part of a pattern of abuse.

And the brutality of the NYPD has been revealed to the world as a result of its heavy-handed response to peaceful Occupy Wall Street protests, which has included mass arrests, the pepper-spraying of women already in a police pen on the sidewalk, beating unarmed protesters with batons, charging them with horses, throwing them to the ground, and punching them in the face.

All this makes clear that the behavior of a cop like Michael Daragjati isn't the exception--but the NYPD rule.

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