On Tuesday, I was greeted with the headline in Kathimerini, Greece’s paper of record, “Guilty verdicts for policemen in teen murder trial.” On the night of December 6, 2008, the court found that officer Epaminodas Korkoneas willfully murdered 15-year-old Alexis Grigoropoulos while his fellow policeman, Vassilis Saraliotis, watched on. Korkoneas was sentenced to life imprisonment and Saraliotis to 10 years behind bars.
The teen’s murder sparked some of the worst rioting Greece has ever seen. The verdict has only partially assured the populace that the state — and its repressive arm, the police — has not armed itself against them. But at the same time, Greeks can sleep safely knowing that their police force will be subject to the same the laws as the general public.
This state of affairs does not exist in New Haven.
Last week, after listening to the assurances of Rob Smuts ’01, the city’s chief administrative officer, I felt confident that policemen, if found guilty of a crime, would be duly held to account. Unfortunately, the veil was lifted this past Monday, when I attended a brutality-awareness meeting of “Copwatch” at the New Haven People’s Center.
I learned that the NHPD, the East Haven PD, and even the YPD have been accused of terrible crimes. And the Citizen’s Review Board (CRB) that oversees the police complaints process has been unable to help them.
All of the CRB’s members must be approved of by the Board of Police Commissioners; one is appointed by them directly. An impartial and representative group indeed.
But even if the CRB did decide that the internal police investigation was flawed, it has incredibly limited powers:
“a. recommend further investigation;
b. inform the Chief that the Board believes that the IA’s [Internal Affairs Unit’s] determination was biased or incomplete;
c. state that the investigation appears to have been complete and unbiased;
d. recommend such other actions the Board deems appropriate.”
Recommending, informing, and stating: hardly a mandate for change. So even in the unlikely event that a review board, appointed and approved by the police were to rule against the police, they could only recommend that the authorities look at it again. This doesn’t sound very much like justice to me.
The stories that were told that night, though unverified, have angered me even more than the alleged brutality at Elevate two weeks ago. I heard police in East Haven had beaten an Hispanic man almost to death, while his entire soccer team, his wife, and children pleaded with them to stop. His crime? Getting out of his car. Another man was assaulted for asking why his friend was arrested. A Yale student was beaten for sitting on his porch and asking an officer a question. The list went on, and worse, pointed to a pattern of racially-motivated violence.
Sickening as they are, the aforementioned stories aren’t yet verified. (The CRB hasn’t been able to say if any crime has been committed; I wonder why?) But I can verify the story of Malik Jones, who was executed in his car by Sgt. Flodqist in 1997. The officer’s punishment? A few months’ suspension and a promotion upon return. And what about the story of Officer Dennis O’Connell, a policeman who has been banned from a housing project because of his history of racially-motivated violence? O’Connell hasn’t even been taken off the streets.
Faced with the prospect of police whitewash, Yalies need to wake up; police brutality is horribly prevalent in our city. We must join with New Havenites to keep the police force accountable. Putting pressure on the City to try police in civilian courts is one way, but another is to simply remain aware. Film policemen when you see them attacking a fellow citizen. Call them out for their actions. Send a message that we will no longer stand this behavior.
I have a great deal of sympathy for the students who were allegedly attacked at Elevate. But I can say that I am glad, even, that the Elevate raid happened. Our enemy has been revealed; the crimes of the police of this city have been brought to the attention of the student body. It is now our duty as citizens — and as human beings — to stop them.
Nicolas Niarchos is a senior in Trumbull College and a former arts & living editor for the News.