For New York's minorities, healing begins slowly
Guilty verdict brings little closure, but may embolden talk about
NEW YORK — The jury says "guilty," the victim feels justice has prevailed, and public confidence in America's system of jurisprudence is reinforced.
While it often works that way, this week's mixed verdict in the Abner Louima police-beating case is unlikely to bring a sense of closure for many New Yorkers.
The streets of New York - especially in the neighborhoods where the rhythms of Calypso mix with the hard-driving beat of rap - offer a window on how profoundly the Louima case has affected the minority community. Already, it is part of the vernacular. After arrest, young black men have been heard to remark: "At least I wasn't Louimaed."
Indeed, the legacy of this case - in which two New York cops were convicted of sexually brutalizing Mr. Louima, a Haitian immigrant - may be a more open discussion about minority distrust of police.
Officer Charles Schwarz was convicted of assisting in the attack that Officer Justin Volpe admitted to partway through the trial. But three officers were found not guilty of various charges, such as assaulting Louima while in custody in the police car.
Only a few hours after the verdict, Harmon Weston sat outside the Brooklyn courthouse with his four-year-old son Tyshane. "It's out there for a while," says Mr. Weston, referring to the issues that the trial stirred up.
After the story emerged about how the police tortured Louima, Weston says he changed the way he thought about the police. "As a member of the minority community, I see how they look at you when they drive by like you're some kind of a criminal," he says. And when he is out at a party, "the cops drive by looking for some reason to bust heads."
Healing such wounds in the minority community will be the challenge for the New York Police Department, the largest force in the nation. Immediately after the Louima verdict Tuesday, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Police Commissioner Howard Safir fielded a handful of questions from the press. They never tackled the issue of regaining trust, raising questions about whether they have yet fully grasped the extent of distrust.
They would not need to go far to find out how deep that sentiment runs. On the No. 6 train to Brooklyn, Ray Salvadurai, a law student from Sri Lanka, talks about why he has less trust for the police. "I know there are times when the police must use some force, but there are some people out there who may be overdoing it. Nobody should be treated like Louima."
Although they would have liked to see all four officers convicted, minority politicians were quick to praise the system that brought them to trial. Manhattan Borough President Virginia Fields complimented the US Attorney's Office for a "thorough and professional investigation and prosecution." Her views were echoed by luminaries, such as attorney Johnnie Cochran and Barry Scheck, both involved with Louima's civil lawsuits.
Religious leaders were also satisfied with the result. The Rev. Herbert Daughtry of the House of the Lord Church, said he didn't expect too much, but "could live with it." Now, he said, he could go back to tending to the church.
With political and church leaders satisfied, the streets of Brooklyn were quiet on the hot and sweaty evening after the verdict. There were no riots such as occurred in Los Angeles after the initial acquittal of the white police officers charged with beating black motorist Rodney King.
Some of the calm is the result of a desire to avoid creating further racial divisions. On a Brooklyn street, Raughndell John, originally from Trinidad, says it's time for New Yorkers to unite. "I want to see everyone walk together and know the New York police system is OK. I don't want any of my friends from Trinidad to come up here and have something bad happen to them."
Another member of the Caribbean community, Yvonne Delesford, remembers how hurt she felt when the Louima story became public. She worried about the safety of her seven sons. But now she is ready to move on. "Justice has been served," she says, and then echoes herself: "Justice has been served."