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Show of Force

The same cops who say that what happened to Abner Louima was heinous also say that violence is an indispensable part of doing their jobs.

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From the September 22, 1997 issue of New York Magazine.

On a dreary January afternoon, two cops were huddled in their radio car, bundled up against the weather and slowly cruising St. Ann's Avenue in the South Bronx. As the cops eased down the block, one of them saw two young black men coming out of an abandoned building, a known drug location. Before the men noticed the cruiser, they appeared to make an exchange out on the sidewalk. Though it was not the kind of day when either cop was eager to get out of the car, they pulled over and proceeded to question the two men.

When the suspects were asked to turn their pants pockets inside out, a couple of packets of heroin fell to the pavement. The two men were told they were under arrest.

"I had my guy up against the wall and had gotten the cuffs on one of his hands when the other guy suddenly spins, pushes his buddy into me, and starts to run," one of the cops told me recently. He was recounting the story, several weeks after Abner Louima was allegedly brutalized in the wee hours of the morning at the 70th Precinct station house, to shed some light on how and when cops use force.

"I quickly told my partner to finish cuffing the one still there, and I took off after the cocksucker who ran. I'm screaming at him, 'Stop, you mother-fucker.' So I'm chasing this guy through the South Bronx, I've got like 45 pounds of clothes and gear on, my heart's thumping in my mouth, I'm pumped up full of adrenaline, I'm out of breath, I'm scared shit, and I'm screaming at this asshole to stop. I'm also thinking maybe this fuck has a weapon, a knife or something we missed when we searched him. I was in really good shape at the time, but because of the cold and everything, it was like I was running in slow motion."

They ran for three or four blocks, and the suspect headed into a housing project. "I close the gap between us, and with my nightstick in my hand I dive at him and swing the stick as hard as I can at the same time. I hit him on the side of the leg—I fall to the ground, but he keeps on going. So I start to get up, and—you know when you get a hairline fracture in a baseball bat?—well, the skin of my hand was caught in a crack like this in my nightstick. I peel off the nightstick, he's about twenty steps ahead, and he finally reacts to the hit on his leg, and he falls," the cop recalled, pointing out that the guy hadn't gone down right away because he was cranked up on drugs.

"Well, I stumble over to this mother-fucker, and he tries to tackle me and go for my gun. So now it's like a schoolyard fight. We're rolling on the ground, and I suddenly realize that people from the housing project have come out and some of them are hitting me on the back of the head and punching me. Meantime, I'm still trying to subdue this guy. I get up, finally, thinking he's had it, and he charges at me from one knee. Now I'm whacking him on the back with my flashlight 'cause I don't have my nightstick. I'm also trying to call in an 85-forthwith [officer urgently needs assistance] on the radio, but I have no idea of the exact address.

"Finally, I get the guy down, and I'm keeping him down with my foot, but the crowd's still there. So I pull out my gun, and all the people just fucking scatter. I mean, it was unbelievable. I thought I was gonna get killed. My jaw is on fire from running in the cold. I lost my nightstick; I lost my flashlight; I ripped my pants. You have to understand these are all important things to a cop. The pants alone would cost me 50 bucks, about a week's spending money.

"When we get to the precinct, I'm bloody, I'm ripped up, and he's wising off. So I take this motherfucker into a room in the back of the station house, and I start hitting him in the stomach until he goes down. You always try to hit a guy in the stomach because it doesn't leave marks. Anyway, a detective walks in and sees him balled up on the floor and, without saying a word, turns and walks out. Now, I pick this shithead up, sit him in a chair, and start cleaning myself off. I told him, 'If you had run and gotten away, that would have been your reward. But I caught you, and that stuff just now was your penalty. From now on, we treat each other like human beings.' I got him a sandwich, and he was fine the rest of the way."


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