Explosive testimony in a New York City police department discrimination suit alleges that a pair of high-ranking superiors who once oversaw the day-to-day operations of an elite anti-gun unit ruled with such an iron hand they arbitrarily delegated which white suspects should be treated with respect, even as they routinely browbeat underlings into thinking all blacks were best handled as “f***ing animals” deserving of a “bullet to the head.”
During a recent deposition hearing, three former members of the department’s firearms suppression unit took the stand in support of the federal discrimination suit lodged by Detective Debra Lawson. Lawson also alleges that the stench of racial decay was so prevalent throughout the force that it all but eliminated any chance hard working, decorated black officers such as herself ever had of attaining promotions or even better work assignments.
Named in the suit are Capt. James Coan and Lt. Daniel Davin, with the former being accused of regularly hurling racial epithets in his dealings with black suspects and the former simply putting himself on record as advocating all such victims were less than human.
“You make sure if you have to shoot, you shoot them in the head,” one retired detective testified hearing Coan instruct officers regarding black suspects. “That way there’s only one story,”
At the same time, Eric Sanders, attorney for the plaintiffs, insists Lawson regularly observed her superiors doing all they could to be respectful of white suspects. “Search warrants served in the predominantly white area of Staten Island were handled without kicking in any doors,” he said. “They created a hostile environment for both their black detectives and suspected minority-group gun traffickers.”
Indeed, those residing in neighborhoods spanning from Brooklyn’s Brownsville to Bedford-Stuyvesant to East New York weren’t nearly afforded the same courtesy or respect as their cross-borough peers.
“They didn’t care if it was kids in there, they didn’t care if it was women in there, naked women,” testified another detective who worked within the department as an undercover on some of their searches. “They treated them as if they had no rights whatsoever. It was disgusting.”
Speaking about Davin, Det. Al Hawkins recalled, “I was present with him and several members of the team when he called one of the perpetrators a nigger.” Perhaps even more disturbing, on another occasion Hawkins remembers walking in on a conversation where Davin was admonishing another officer: “if you have to shoot a nigger, do what you gotta do.”
“I just walked out of the room and shook my hand,” he told the New York Daily News.
NYPD union boss Roy Richter adamantly counters “that language was never utilized and discredits the bravery of this elite unit who routinely enter locations known to be occupied by known felons.”
Both Coan and Davin remain on the force, although they have been reassigned to other areas. Over the years, Coan has been involved in at least five shootings— two of them fatal. Coan also once shot a pit bull to death, later joking that the dog failed to take any legal action.
The NYPD has come under increasing criticism and scrutiny of late, including a class-action suit filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union earlier this month naming Commissioner Ray Kelly and charging that the department has violated the civil rights of countless black and Latino citizens based on its Operation Clean Halls initiative.
Under the program, NYPD officials regularly enter into agreements with landlords in minority communities across the city allowing officers to patrol private buildings.
“Operation Clean Halls has placed hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers, mostly blacks and Latinos, under siege in their own homes,” said ACLU Executive Director Donna Liebermann. “For residents of Clean Hall buildings, taking the garbage out or checking the mail can result in being thrown against the wall or humiliated by police.”
Just four months prior, the ACLU also filed suit alleging officers were on course to search, detain and interrogate roughly a million citizens in 2011 based on the department’s much maligned and controversial “stop-and-frisk” program. Many of those affected were shown to be young, impressionable black males, most of them later deemed even by the department’s stringent standards as “totally innocent.”
“Entire neighborhoods in NYC are turning into Constitution-free zones,” charged Lieberman. “A walk to the subway or coroner deli should not carry the assumption that you will be confronted by police, but that is the disturbing new reality for many New Yorkers.”
Not surprisingly, closer data analysis revealed most of the stops were concentrated in low income minority areas such as Harlem, Brooklyn and the Bronx, while precincts below Manhattan’s well-to-do 59th Street recorded the fewest stops.
“I have never been frisked,” reflected Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. “But I can no longer look mothers and grandmothers in the eye knowing in the bottom of my heart that there is a two-tiered justice system.”
Glenn Minnis is a New York City-based freelance sports/culture writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @glennnyc.