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#4725: A Tragedy, Not a Crime (DAILY NEWS EDITORIAL) (fwd)


A Tragedy, Not a Crime ______OPINION____EDITORIAL
Published July 28 2000   NY DAILY NEWS

When Patrick Dorismond was felled by a police officer's  bullet in
March, there was an outcry against the NYPD,especially among members of
the minority community. Was this unarmed black man, fatally shot on a
midtown street, brutally victimized by someone who had sworn to protect
and serve? The answer is in, and it will be difficult for many to     
accept.  But accepted it must be, for it is evidence that the criminal
justice system continues to work. And as long as the system works, it
will protect and serve all.The decision, handed up yesterday by a
racially mixed grand  jury, is that undercover Detective Anthony Vasquez
bears no criminal liability in Dorismond's death. High emotions are to
be expected in what has been an emotionally charged case from the very
beginning. But the outraged must remember that the American legal system
is designed to uncover truth,  not fulfill expectations.
 As Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau noted, "The grand jury
is not a forum for the expression of political views or the resolution
of policy disputes. To allow it to be used for those purposes would
simply layer an injustice upon a tragedy." No compassionate person
denies that Dorismond's death was a tragedy. All the more reason to
ascertain the facts  surrounding it, which was done through the
testimony of two  dozen witnesses and 42 exhibits introduced into
evidence.  Everything pointed to a fatal accident.                    
Vasquez and Dorismond had struggled over the officer's gun, and as they
grappled, it went off, a bullet striking the victim in the chest.
Vasquez "did not intentionally pull the trigger and in fact does not
know how the discharge came about," Morgenthau said. "The struggle
lasted only seconds."The repercussions will be felt for a long time. As
they should. Mayor Giuliani, who has admitted as much, was absolutely in
  error when he released the victim's sealed juvenile records         
and a toxicology report. The NYPD ought to have learned a lesson, too,
about undercover tactics going horribly wrong. And what might be done to
prevent future deaths. Dorismond had been outraged when he was
approached and taken for a drug dealer. And as the DA emphasized, "No
one,including Detective Vasquez or the other officers involved, now
believes that Mr. Dorismond realized that the men he was confronting
were police officers." The city as a whole has been reminded of the
everyday fear  and mistrust felt by so many in the minority population.
That which is justified must be acknowledged and addressed.But so must
be the fact that horrible mistakes happen, mistakes  with deadly
consequences. No amount of anti-police fervor  can turn them into
anything but a mistake.