Sunday, August 17, 1997
Brandishing toilet plungers and chanting “KKK must go!” thousands of angry protesters yesterday descended on Brooklyn’s 70th Precinct, where two cops have been charged with torturing a Haitian immigrant.
Pressed tightly against a line of cops standing behind police barricades, the mostly Haitian crowd jammed the street outside the Flatbush stationhouse where two cops, Justin Volpe and Charles Schwarz, allegedly beat Abner Louima before shoving a toilet plunger into his rectum last week.
Louima watched the demonstration from the intensive care unit at Brooklyn Hospital Center, where he is recovering.
Louima “felt very good that people are upset about what happened and that they were making their voices heard,” his lawyer Carl Thomas said.
As temperatures steamed into the mid-90s, the raucous crowd swelled to 4,000, with many pounding drums, dancing, and hoisting Haitian flags and plungers in the air in a racially charged, sometimes carnival-like scene.
Despite scattered skirmishes, no one was arrested in the tense stand-off as police brass took pains to adopt a conciliatory tone, even as many in the crowd chanted, “Pig,” “Shame on you,” and, “Seven-O, KKK.”
Someone from the crowd lobbed an empty water bottle, hitting a police officer in the eye. The officer was not hurt, but as a precaution, six officers were stationed on the rooftop of a one-story building across the street from the stationhouse.
The bottle throwing occurred around 7 p.m. after a late afternoon storm reduced the crowd to about 75.
During the height of the protest, marchers also shouted racial epithets and taunted the officers by waving the plungers in their faces.
“It’s Giuliani Time,” read one demonstrator’s sign, a reference to Louima’s claim that the cops told him, “This is Giuliani time, not Dinkins time” as they beat him.
Another sign displayed a photograph of Volpe with horns protruding from his head, accompanied by a caption that read, “Devil in a Blue Suit.”
Assistant Police Chief Patrick Brennan said the demonstrators “are mad as hell, and they have the right to be.”
“They want to get the most out of their demonstration, and who can blame them?” he asked.
Deputy Police Chief Wilbur Chapman conceded that the torture incident has “fractured” the community’s fragile relationship with the police. But he said the precinct’s new commander, Inspector Raymond Diaz, would “work hard to restore the faith.”
“One particularly horrific incident doesn’t negate all the terrific work that has been done,” Chapman said.
But that was not a sentiment held by many in the crowd, which began gathering in the morning outside Club Rendez-Vous, the Flatbush nightclub where Louima’s fracas with cops began early Aug. 9.
“In Haiti we went through all these things,” said Marie Toussaint, 36. “It’s a shock to find the same thing going on in the United States.”
Roy Sargent, 55, a former Flatbush resident, said he drove to the march from his home in Piscataway, N.J., because he wanted to be counted among the voices expressing outrage.
“We put the Police Department in uniform to serve and protect us, and this is what they’re going to do us?” he asked incredulously. “This has to stop.”
Others vowed to protest in front of the stationhouse every day.
The Rev. Al Sharpton spoke to the smaller crowd assembled at the precinct stationhouse.
“We’re not against the police; we’re against police brutality,” Sharpton told the demonstrators.
Standing nearby, Jonas Louima, 25, Abner Louima’s brother, said he hoped that the restless crowds would remain peaceful.
“I don’t want fights,” he said. “I want people to express what they feel without violence.”
Louima’s friend, Ian Joseph, said the steps taken by Police Commissioner Howard Safir to punish cops in the precinct did not send a strong enough message that brutality is unacceptable.
“They shift one and the other, but before they start firing people it won’t change,” he said. “If the cops had to live among us, they might fear that we might see them the next day, and it would be very different.”
Original Story Date: 081797