There is scant reason to look for good news when a 19-year-old is killed in a tragic accident. But at least we can be relieved that a grand jury in Brooklyn has decided not to indict a police officer in the young man’s death. The grand jury took only 35 minutes to reach its decision.
The youth, Timothy Stansbury, was black. The cop who shot him, Richard Neri, is white. Sixteen of the 23 grand jurors were black. We don’t know the names of these sane men and women who cleared Mr. Neri.
But the grand jury’s decision didn’t stop racial arsonists from demanding that the officer be prosecuted on federal civil-rights charges, as if he were a reincarnation of Birmingham Police Chief Bull Connor. It didn’t stop Congressman Charles Rangel from making a truly contemptible statement, saying that white suburban cops are “not suitable” to patrol black neighborhoods. Never mind that their uncommon heroism has reduced crime in those very same neighborhoods. What would happen if white suburban politicians said that black cops from the city shouldn’t patrol their streets?
Lost in the discussion was Officer Neri’s assignment: He was patrolling the roofs of housing projects. That’s where young knuckleheads fire their latest weapons of individual destruction, sell drugs and use pit bulls to terrorize working people. It’s a pretty safe bet that neighborhood residents don’t care where a cop lives if he or she is protecting them from cretins.
The racial arsonists are, of course, entitled to their rage, but their arguments ring hollow when they compare the Brooklyn shooting to the Abner Louima and Amadou Diallo cases. Mr. Louima was sexually assaulted by a cop, Justin Volpe, in a police station house. Mr. Volpe, who is doing 30 years for his crime, was prosecuted by the very same district attorney, Charles J. Hynes, who is now being accused of incompetence.
Diallo was shot 41 times by trigger-happy cops-truly an “unjustified” shooting and a classic police overreaction. The Brooklyn case doesn’t remotely compare to those two events.
New Yorkers of good will are entitled to wonder how many members of the “Get Neri” squad can remember the names of the two black undercover cops, James Nemorin and Rodney Andrews, who were shot to death in March 2003 by four thugs. How many of them made a condolence call to the dead men’s families, held a demonstration or called for a civil-rights investigation?
The pernicious words from Mr. Rangel, uttered on the steps of City Hall with former Mayor David Dinkins at his side, were reminiscent of what destroyed Mr. Dinkins’ Mayoralty. He catered to the likes of Sonny Carson during the Korean-grocery boycott and offered an appalling lack of leadership during the Crown Heights riots. It has left him with a chip on his shoulder.
When you get past the searing anger of Mr. Rangel and Mr. Dinkins, they raise an interesting conundrum, which is the efficacy of enforcing the residency requirements for city workers. Would it be better if all city workers lived in the five boroughs? No doubt, but the rules are skewed. Teachers can live in New Jersey, but firefighters can’t-but they can live in Chester, N.Y., 60 miles from midtown. Cops can live 120 miles away in Montauk, but not across the Hudson in Hoboken. City bus drivers are allowed to live in the Poconos.
As somebody who believes city workers should live here, I have softened a bit when I see housing prices of $480,000 for a two-family house in Staten Island that five years ago sold for $250,000-a price that even then was far out of reach for the average city worker.
Not many fair-minded New Yorkers would argue if Officer Neri had his gun taken away, but there is plenty left for him to do in fighting crime. He would have good company among members of the “bow and arrow” squad, named for cops on restricted duty for one reason or the other.
Officer Neri, who has a 12-year unblemished record, should not be fired, prosecuted, or tarred and feathered. He can continue to serve the city from behind a desk. Or maybe he can land one of those truly important police jobs-the kind doled out by the politicians in the department to reward their cronies. Maybe he can be assigned to guard the ballplayers’ private parking lot at Yankee Stadium, serve as a chauffeur for police brass, or place barriers along sidewalks for parades. Or-here’s my favorite-maybe he can patrol the Verizon buildings to protect private property during a strike. Of course, the cops are union members, too, or is that something they think about only at contract time?
Officer Neri, the Stansbury family and our city have suffered enough. A public flogging of Mr. Neri won’t do, since he has already had his share of media lashings.
Joe Conason will return next week.