Last Sunday around 5:30 PM right in front of my building, the police shot Angel Torres, a 50 years old Puerto Rican guy, fatally wounding him in the leg. He bled to death at the corner before EMS managed to arrive. It is not clear to me if he just got shot in the femoral artery in a case of bad luck, or did the police used hollow point bullets (now approved for use by the New York Police Department, despite being banned in war). NYPD scarcely commented the incident that occurred in the low income neighborhood known to be bad. Here, like in Rwanda, such things are expected to happen.
An undercover policemen approached Torres in order to buy drugs from him (or to sell drugs to him, that's not clear either). Not knowing that the guy was a policeman, Torres responded by pulling his 15 centimeters long machete (a rather longish knife, but the NYPD loves to call it a machete - it sounds more serious, I guess) and chasing the officer with it. The undercover cop did not want to blew his cover, so he ran. The other police saw the incident and shot. Torres dropped the machete and ran in the opposite direction. To their credit, police shot him in the legs, since he was unarmed. Still, he died. We don't know whether he actually had drugs on him or whether he (at his age) was a drug user at all.
When I came home around 8 PM, the police sealed off Lexington Avenue between the 110th and 108th streets. Puddles of blood were lingering in front of the entrance doors to my building. Detectives were prowling the building asking everybody what did they hear or see. Since they obviously knew both who was shot and who did the shooting, I guess the reason for their polite information gathering might have been to find and address eventual potentially damaging details.
In all fairness, Torres might have been a drug dealer, or a self-victimizing drug abuser or a simple innocent Spanish-speaking bystander who just responded harshly to the harassment of an unknown English-speaking individual in the streets. The NYPD is running an undercover operation on the corner of 110th Street and Lexington Avenue in El Barrio trying to weed out heroin sellers. It is believed that erradicating the drug economy that exists around that corner would pave the road for the final gentrification of El Barrio and rise of real estate prices in that last enclave of cheap rents on Manhattan. The neighborhood is unfriendly to the police, because this would not be the first time that the cops shot first and then asked later. In the little cardboard shrine that people built for Torres on the corner of 110th and Lexington, there are always candles lit, some flowers and messages of support to Torres, the man who dared to stand up to what Puerto Ricans see as the oppression of WASP-y America over their ways of life. True, you can be a well dressed white gun seller and stand on the corner of 57th and Park Avenue and an undercover cop will absolutely never approach you without a very, very well proved case. On the other hand, Serb policemen would have stomped such a shrine under their boots promptly had a thing like that occurred in Prishtina.
A very similar incident occurred just a several weeks later in one of Mayor Giuliani's electoral strongholds: NYPD shot dead 31 year old, mentaly disturbed hammer-wielding Gidone Busch in the Hasidic Jewish Borough Park neighborhood. That incident, unlike the Torres one, made the front page of The New York Times (Torres got a tiny article in Daily News) and had Giuliani hold an early morning meeting with neigborhood leaders immediately (something he never does for Puerto Rican neighborhood problems). Still, Giuliani chose to publicly defend acting of his police force - to his own political demise, perhaps. What kind of police kills mentaly ill people "armed" with machettes and hammers? What kind of city lets potentially violent mentally ill people roaming the streets with no help, shelter or medication?
In March 2000 Amadou Diallo was shot dead with 41 bullets by NYPD for pulling out his vallet. He might have fared better if he was just mugged. The police protect and serve. The NYPD kills and brutalizes. They killed black teenagers Tysheen Bourne and Andre Fields just days after they killed (another black youth) Diallo. Tysheen and Andre were armed with toy guns. In both cases police officers were given right. Those who sodomized Abner Louima with the toilet plunger did not get off that easy. But this example of justice is rare in New York city. In a rampant attack on the constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of speech and assembly, the NYPD punched in the face and mutilated the knee of Stacey Patton, a black honor roll student of journalism and a women basketball team player at NYU, for her being in the protest against the Diallo murder and carrying a banner Avenge Diallo. Stop Police Brutality. Police is trying to justify their action by saying that she was calling to violence with the word "avenge." I heard many white people saying how much safer Mayor Giuliani has made New York City feel. Not if you are black. "Although the Ku Klux Klan may feel safe enough to march in Manhattan, the rights of Black men are increasingly violated by the police, " as remarked by Harvard Law student Bryonn Bain in the Village Voice article about his NYPD ordeal - he and his friends were arrested because white bouncers thought they might be doing something wrong, well, what else can be expected from black teenage males anyway?
I would just like that Americans who read this, pressure their law enforcement personnel to obey the same rules of engagement that they insist on the Balkan rulers to adopt. Similar machette, like Torres had used, is now prominently on sale in the nearby hardware store for $29.95. Cojones still sell well in all macho cultures. And the effect of pride should not be underestimated. Not all Puerto Ricans are happy with Puerto Rico being the U.S. possession, i.e. a colony. Not unlike Albanians in Serbia they have a "liberation movement" that the U.S. calls terrorist. Since 1941 the U.S. Navy is using a small island of the coast of Puerto Rico - Vieques - as the bombing range. Vieques contains three of the seven remaining bioluminiscent bays in the world, yet instead of being a natural preserve, it is used as a test range: live munitions lay scattered over the still inhabited island, civilian deaths from bombing mistakes mount over the years (last being in the April 1999), incidence of cancer is 27% higher than the rest of Puerto Rico due to the use of depleted uranium. In the past 15 years more than 1300 warships and 4200 aircraft have used Vieques as a target range. President Clinton just recently pardoned 13 such "terrorists" with foresight of his wife running for the senate from New York and needing the hispanic vote from the city. This seems to be justified by the level of suffering the U.S. inflicted over the years on Puerto Rico, and it might not be necessary for Hillary Clinton to win over Giuliani since he fairly pisses off both his opponents and supporters.