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Thousands gather to protest against NYC police

plunger August 16, 1997
Web posted at: 9:41 p.m. EDT (0141 GMT)

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Thousands of angry protesters, many waving toilet plungers, gathered outside Brooklyn's 70th Precinct on Saturday to demonstrate against what they say is a long-standing problem of police brutality against minorities.

The protests came after two officers were indicted Friday on charges of aggravated sexual abuse and first-degree assault. Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant, said they attacked him in a precinct restroom last Saturday and sodomized him with a plunger handle. He said he was arrested while trying to break up a fight outside a nightclub.

In addition to the charges against officers Charles Schwarz and Justin Volpe, a dozen others have been suspended pending a complete investigation into the alleged attack at the 70th Precinct. Schwarz and Volpe each face up to 50 years in prison if convicted.

Police estimated the crowd at 4,000 people.

The crowd stretches into the distance

Throughout the day protesters, many of them Haitian, taunted police, chanting, "No justice, no peace." At some times protesters stood toe to toe with officers watching the protest from behind a barricade, and called the officers racist and fascist.

Nevertheless, the rally was, for the most part, peaceful. Members of the Haitian community say they hope the rally will make people aware of the unfair treatment they claim they have received from police over the years.

"This is not only happening to the Haitians. It is also happening to the Jamaicans, the Grenadadians, whoever is black ... It's ridiculous." said one woman protester. "I'm looking at the Russians, they don't even speak English, just like us, and nothing is happening to them. It's always us. Why? What's wrong with America?"

Crime rate drops, but at what cost?

The 70th precinct

In the last four years, reports of serious crime are down 54 percent citywide, and 51 percent in the 70th Precinct. Civilian complaints against police fell more than 20 percent in the first half of this year.

Critics, however, say the Civilian Complaint Review Board is a failure because out of more than 20,000 complaints received so far, only one officer has been dismissed. Police Chief of Patrol Wilbur Chapman acknowledged that the latest incident damaged community relations, "but we're going to work very hard to restore the faith of the community in the 70th Precinct," he said.

And Mayor Rudy Giuliani said the case would be used to "make an example out of anyone who would engage in this kind of conduct." He called for the entire police department to cooperate in the investigation, noting that an officer had already been key to the investigation.


"The whole notion that police officers won't cooperate, this blue wall of silence thing -- the police commissioner and I challenged the police officers to break that silence," Giuliani said. "And one police officer -- a police officer, not a civilian -- came forward and courageously gave the district attorney the information that really has helped to pull this case together."

Louima remained in an intensive care unit Saturday, recovering from a tear to his colon and a laceration to his bladder; he now requires a catheter and colostomy bag.

He watched the protest on television and "felt very good that people are upset about what happened and that they were making their voices heard," said his lawyer, Carl Thomas, who attended the demonstration.

Correspondent Cynthia Tornquist contributed to this report.

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