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#3001: Police Say Officers' Calm Averted Worse Violence... (fwd)


March 26, 2000 ____   By JAYSON BLAIR  NY TIMES
Police Say Officers' Calm Averted Worse Violence, but Critics Say     
Marchers Were Provoked                

By the end of the afternoon, the crowds had cleared and no one was dead.
But the angry outbursts of violence that erupted in Brooklyn yesterday
before and after the funeral of Patrick M. Dorismond were perhaps the
most severe clashes between civilians and the police since the Tompkins
Square Park disturbances in 1989.The violent protests, in which an
American flag was burned, bottles  were hurled and dozens of officers
and protesters were hurt, overshadowed the funeral of Mr. Dorismond, the
unarmed security guard killed in a struggle with police officers on
March 16. Police officials, who routinely and peacefully control
demonstrations in the city that are far larger -- though not as angry --
as the one yesterday, defended their decisions and the actions of the
1,000 officers assigned to the crowd, which unofficial police estimates
put at 4,000 to 5,000.  The Rev. Al Sharpton and lawyers for the
Dorismond family,however, said the police were too quick to move in with
riot gear and use other aggressive tactics. Police Commissioner Howard
Safir said in an interview yesterday from police headquarters, where he
had been monitoring the events,that the officers' calm had kept the
violence at a minimum.  "My police officers were incredibly restrained,"
he said. "That is why 23 of them were injured and fairly few civilians"
were harmed. "We took actions to ensure that we did not have a riot and
it was brought under control pretty quickly," the commissioner said.   
"Nobody came in with helmets and batons until after people started     
throwing bottles." The violence yesterday was in stark contrast to many
recent Manhattan rallies, including a large, impromptu but peaceful
march from Midtown to City Hall last month by protesters angered at the
verdict in the trial of the officers who shot Amadou Diallo. Yesterday's
march, from the Andrew Torregrossa Funeral Home in Marine Park to Holy
Cross Catholic Church in Flatbush, began calmly. But things got ugly as
the funeral procession, traveling east on Church Avenue from Flatbush
Avenue, arrived at the church.The marchers toppled metal police
barricades that were preventing large crowds from congregating in the
street and served as a lane for the approaching vehicles. The officers
retreated as the protesters began throwing the barricades. The retreat
seem to embolden the members of the crowd as they chanted at the
officers. Despite sporadic shoving between police officers and
protesters, the scene outside remained relatively calm until about 1:45
p.m., when Mr. Dorismond's coffin was driven from the church to Cypress
Hills cemetery in Queens. Protesters, who had congregated in the middle
of Church Avenue,where the metal barricades stood hours earlier, began
pushing against one another. They were jubilant when about 200 uniformed
 officers in front of the church moved out of the way toward a side    
street. But as the police officers began to withdraw, some with their
backs to the crowd, bottles began raining down on them. Soon, officers 
with batons and riot helmets formed a line to separate the officers  
from the largest portion of the angry crowd that was gathering at       
Church and Rogers Avenues.As the officers prepared to arrest
demonstrators who were standing in Church Avenue, commanders gave the
protesters no warning with bullhorns or other methods. At that point,
community leaders asked the ranking police commander to remove the
officers in riot gear, saying they were the targets of the aggression
and were reacting too aggressively.Critics in the crowd accused
officers, including some supervisors, of beating people randomly with
their batons and fists. Others complained that they were not
communicating clearly or using bullhorns, and that that was making the
already chaotic scene worse. At points, protesters set fires and turned
over dumpsters. There were moments when both protesters and police
officers were pushing and shoving, and in some cases punching one
another.Officers tripped over one another as the police seemed to
struggle at times to find an effective strategy. Supervisors had to
constantly remind their officers to face the crowds and not turn and be
distracted by arrests or peripheral scuffles.  Jesuh Mullur, 21, a
student at John Jay College of Criminal Justice,said she saw one women
being beaten by police officers for refusing to move onto the sidewalk.
"She was just standing there and one officer just struck her over the
head with his stick," Ms. Muller said.The woman was taken away in an
ambulance. The community leaders, including State Assemblyman N. Nick 
Perry of Brooklyn, and the police worked out an agreement for the     
officers to back off and the protesters to walk down the sidewalks.
But when the crowd spilled into the street, they were cut off by       
officers in riot gear. By then, Chief of Department Joseph Dunne, the
department's third-ranking official, had been sent from police
headquarters to take charge of the situation.  Chief Dunne did not
appear in the mood for concessions. "There are  bottles being thrown at
police officers," Chief Dunne shouted at one community leader. "I am
doing what needs to be done and you are not helping." After Chief Dunne
arrived about 3 p.m., the police appeared to take a more coordinated
approach. Although there was additional bottle throwing and arrests, the
demonstrators were moved out of the streets and onto the sidewalks. 
 By 5:30 p.m., when the crowd had dwindled to a few hundred on a    
corner, 23 police officers and 4 civilians had been injured, officials
said. Officials said 27 people had been arrested, primarily on charges
of  assault, disorderly conduct and inciting to riot. "Thank God all
the  injuries were minor," Commissioner Safir said. "This is outrageous
behavior," he added, blaming the violence on what he said was a small
group within the larger crowd that had turned on the police. The
officers, he said:, "did nothing to provoke anyone." You had a bad group
of people who attacked the police," Mr. Safir  said. "You had a bunch of
thugs who attacked the police, while the majority of the crowd acted