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#4266: Village Voice FWD - Police Brutality and Voodoo Justice (fwd)
Published June 14 - 20, 2000
POLICE BRUTALITY AND VOODOO JUSTICE
BY PETER NOEL
Rudy, Race, and Religion in the Wake of Louima and Dorismond
A grief-stricken Marie Dorismond, clutching a black, leather-cased Bible,
struggled to her feet following a rousing introduction by her adviser, the
Reverend Al Sharpton, on a Saturday morning last month. An overflow crowd at
Sharpton's House of Justice in Harlem, which had welcomed the mother of
alleged police-brutality victim Patrick Dorismond, was ululating with fervor
akin to a mau-mau victory dance.
Overnight, a scandal-scarred Mayor Rudy Giuliani seemed to have committed
political suicide: He had dropped out of the U.S. Senate race against First
Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. At long last, the spell cast by the city's
famously ill-tempered leader appeared to be dissipating.
Many in the crowd seemed captivated by the stocky, church going Marie
Dorismond, believing that the Haitian immigrant—who had named her slain son
after Ireland's patron saint, and whose familiar, raspy-voiced complaint
about Giuliani-style justice had touched New Yorkers—had something to do with
the sudden turn of events in the mayor's life. Every time Mrs. Dorismond
prayed, every time she tilted her head toward the heavens—her wide-set eyes
rolled back—enraptured blacks felt that she had an inside track on Giuliani's
destiny. Whatever Mrs. Dorismond prayed for remains her secret. But Giuliani,
she often predicted, had it coming for what he's done. "The Lord said, 'I put
my child in the earth. Don't touch my child! You got no right to kill!' " she
would cry. "The Lord said, 'The time soon come. I am the Lord! You must
respect me!' "
In March, after an undercover cop fatally shot her son in front of a
Manhattan nightclub, Giuliani said Dorismond was "no altar boy." He released
the victim's sealed juvenile record and refused to send condolences to the
family. From then on, nothing seemed to go right for the garrulous chief
executive. Since Dorismond's death, Giuliani and his top cohort, Police
Commissioner Howard Safir, have been diagnosed with prostate cancer; the
mayor has announced that he is separating from his wife of 16 years, Donna
Hanover; and his Senate bid lies in ruins.
In Brooklyn's Little Haiti and on black talk-radio station WLIB, the
so-called "Dorismond Curse" permeated discussions about police brutality and
Haitian voodoo, the little-understood Caribbean religion, which once
empowered slaves from Africa who were whipped and worked to death but finally
revolted. The slave revolution started with a voodoo ceremony in 1791 and
ended 13 years later with the birth of Haiti. To this day, some voodoo holy
men carry machetes symbolizing the spiritual power that fueled their
ancestors' hard-won freedom. The slaves who arrived in the 1600s on the
island of Hispaniola—one-third of which is now occupied by Haiti—toiled in
cotton, sugar, and coffee fields. To survive, they worshipped the Roman
Catholic saints of their European masters, while secretly seeing them as
representations of African deities. Thus was born voodoo, a word derived from
the Fon language of West Africa, meaning "sacred."
In Little Haiti, it is not uncommon to walk into homes or apartments that
have been converted into voodoo temples filled with dolls—"messengers" for
spirits that help people probe the mysteries of life and death. Some are
well-worn Barbies with notes that hang upside down by threads tied to their
ankles. Doing "business" means summoning the 11 principal voodoo divinities,
or "Iwa," derived from benign West African spirits and aggressive Central
African and Creole ones. Rhythms beaten on drums and beaded rattles with
bells awaken the deities.
While some blacks, who adhere to the notion that voodoo is an "evil
religion," envision zombies sticking pins in dolls resembling Giuliani and
Safir, others wonder whether Mrs. Dorismond herself has done a little
"business" to cajole the deity who would solve the mystery of her son's
death. But Mrs. Dorismond would have no part of that, scoffing at rumors that
voodoo is responsible for "who get hurt," a reference to Giuliani's and
Safir's prostate cancer.
"This is my voodoo! My Bible!" she said, hoisting the book and waving it
around to accolades from supporters at the Sharpton rally. "I will never stop
carry this!" she added. "It's in my hand! . . . And everybody gonna hear
this! The Lord said, 'If you touch my hair, you're gonna pay for it.' "
For some believers in "evil voodoo," the first Abner Louima police-brutality
trial hinged on a handful of lavender rocks and holy water. During the
explosive civil rights case in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn earlier this
year, the father of Justin Volpe, the white cop who was accused of sodomizing
Louima with a broken broomstick, told friends he was warned by Haitian
spiritual healers that Louima is a wicked voodoo high priest bent on deadly
Robert Volpe, a former NYPD detective, reportedly carried around the kind of
protection his spiritual advisers bragged would make Louima's evil bogeys
suffer. The irony in Volpe's alleged fear that Louima—who wears a bulletproof
vest—threatened his family with voodoo has not escaped some Haitians, who
contend that Volpe's son brought a curse on himself. Some believe that Justin
Volpe got the idea for the sadistic assault from the 1996 mutilation killing
of popular Haitian family doctor Claude Michel.
Police found Michel's body slumped over in the passenger seat of his Nissan
Pathfinder within the confines of the 70th Precinct. Someone had slashed his
throat and cut off his penis, placing it in his hand. The grisly slaying,
which remains unsolved, has the hallmark of a Haitian voodoo sacrifice, says
an East Flatbush specialist in ritualistic crimes who spoke on condition of
Asked why some Haitians see a similarity in Michel's death and the sodomizing
of Louima, the source replied, "We've seen these crimes before in Haiti and
in the Haitian community in America; they're both crimes of passion. They are
meant to kill." Volpe was charged with handcuffing and beating Louima, and
ramming the broken broomstick into Louima's rectum and mouth in a fit of rage
in a bathroom stall at the 70th Precinct station house in August 1997. He
mistakenly thought Louima had sucker-punched him in a disturbance outside
Club Rendezvous in East Flatbush, where a popular Haitian band called the
Phantoms was playing.
The phantoms Louima allegedly unleashed on the Volpes to avenge the attack on
him were taken seriously, according to James Ridgway de Szigethy, a Volpe
family friend, who associates with members of the right-wing National Police
Defense Foundation. The suspicion that Louima is heavily into devil worship
developed in de Szigethy's mind when he began to assume the role of "Occult
Cop." For three years, de Szigethy and a group of reporters have been
investigating allegations that the killers of club kid Angel Melendez dealt
in the netherworld. De Szigethy also has been looking into the Santeria
religion "as spread by [Cuban refugees], who Castro dumped in this country"
during the 1980 Mariel boatlift.
"It was something that I'd suspected from the beginning about Louima," he
says. "I suspected that he might be involved in the practice of voodoo." But
de Szigethy could not find anyone in Little Haiti to confirm his eerie
hunches. He recalls Louima giving him the willies on the first day of
testimony about a night of torture at the hands of Justin Volpe. "I looked at
his appearances and I just got a funny feeling."
He says that after Louima testified, he approached Robert Volpe about
Louima's alleged association with satanic voodoo. "I said, 'Bob, you're gonna
think I'm crazy.' " The elder Volpe grabbed de Szigethy by the arm and led
him out of the courtroom. "No, I don't think you're crazy," de Szigethy
quotes Volpe's father as saying.
According to de Szigethy, Volpe then pulled out "a little purple crystal . .
. and a little vial of holy water." (A Haitian voodoo practitioner, who asks
good spirits to do deeds for the living, says that the actual ritual seeking
an order of protection from an enemy is performed when someone binds "a
handful of small rocks soaked in lavender oil." After 10 days it is removed
and placed in a jar of holy water labeled with the name of the person who
threatens to do you harm.) The concerned father reportedly confided that
Haitian spiritualists urged him to carry the emblems of good over evil at all
What happened next might cause even Papa Doc to spin in his grave. "He took a
sprinkling of the holy water and made the sign of the cross on his forehead,"
de Szigethy claims. Convinced that Volpe's ritual somehow confirmed that
Louima believes in the supernatural, de Szigethy contacted the Reverend
William G. Kalaidjian, the controversial former NYPD chaplain who was forced
to resign from the department last year after referring to assistant district
attorney Thomas Hickey as a "fag."
"I want you to come into this courtroom because there is evil here," de
Szigethy told Kalaidjian, who also is a member of the National Police Defense
Foundation. Kalaidjian, who attended the trial as an observer, could not be
reached for comment. (On the day testimony in the trial was canceled because
a juror fell ill, de Szigethy says he also asked the Reverend Louis Gigante,
brother of former reputed Genovese crime family boss Vincent "Chin" Gigante,
to pray for the Volpe family.)
In addition to hawking the evil-Louima tale, de Szigethy advocated a
temporary insanity defense for his friend's son. "When this whole thing
started, everybody [asked], 'Why would some young man do such a strange and
insane thing?' " he explains. "I looked into his background and although one
source had called him a psycho I could find no evidence of mental illness on
his part. [But] what would happen if Justin Volpe changed his plea from not
guilty to guilty by reason of insanity?"
De Szigethy chided the NYPD for not considering the theory that Volpe's
rumored use of steroids may have triggered violent outbreaks known as " 'Roid
"Unfortunately the NYPD does not test for steroids," he says. "The theory
never took off." (The late Daily News columnist Mike McAlary, the only
reporter to interview Volpe, observed, "It was easy to see him as some
version of Mark Fuhrman on steroids.")
The family friend pointed to the testimony of another Haitian immigrant,
Patrick Antoine, who claimed Volpe punched him for no reason while police
searched for suspects in the nightclub melee. Antoine testified that he, too,
was taken into the bathroom by Volpe, where Volpe apologized for acting like
a madman. "He told me he was sorry," said Antoine, who, like Louima, was
arrested on an allegedly false charge of assaulting a police officer. "He
told me he was like somebody who was going crazy." Antoine said Volpe then
noticed that he was wearing a cross and asked if he believed in Jesus. "I
said, 'Yes,' " Antoine recalled at the trial. "He told me he believed in
If Louima indeed has satanic powers with which to punish his enemies, why,
some supporters argue, did he depend on a mostly white jury to give him
justice? Wouldn't he have asked the evil spirits for the ultimate sacrifice?
But that in no way resembles the man New York Times reporter David Barstow
found one Sunday sitting "perfectly still, his face a mask of calm," in the
third pew of Croisade Evangelique de Pecheurs D'Hommes, the East Flatbush
Pentecostal church pastored by his uncle, the Reverend Philius Nicolas II.
"And yet, again and again church members spoke of Mr. Louima in the kind of
reverent tones reserved for those whose lives seem touched by divine
intervention," Barstow wrote. "To them, he is 'a gift from God,' or 'anointed
by God,' or 'one of God's special ones.' "
Some people have exploited the ignorance surrounding the voodoo religion for
political reasons. One of them had close ties to Rudy Giuliani's 1993 mayoral
campaign. In October of that year, this reporter learned that Dr. Guirlaine
St. Fleur, a graduate medical student, who is Haitian, was the strategist
behind a quietly run campaign to recruit Haitian immigrants to come out
publicly in support of Giuliani. (I wrote about St. Fleur in "Black Magic
Woman: How an Operative From Haitians for Giuliani Made a Devil Out of Me,"
in the October 19, 1993, Voice.) It sounded like a sick joke. Giuliani is to
the Lavalas—followers of then exiled Haitian president Jean-Bertrand
Aristide—what Czar Nicholas II was to Jews. To this day, the Lavalas hold
Giuliani, a former associate attorney gerneral in the Reagan administration,
responsible for the detention program in which some 2200 Haitian "boat
people" were imprisoned under inhumane conditions in a detention center near
the Everglades swamp.
I discovered that "Haitians for Giuliani" operated out of then
Giuliani-backed comptroller candidate Herman Badillo's downtown Manhattan
campaign headquarters, and I eventually tracked St. Fleur to a Brooklyn
apartment. In a phone conversation, she disclosed that she had trained at the
Georgia Bureau of Investigation, where she had studied forensic medicine, and
claimed that made the Lavalas "paranoid" about her. In fact, some said she
was a member of the Tonton Macoutes, Haiti's dreaded secret police under the
Duvalier regimes. St. Fleur insisted such fears about her were unfounded and
invited the reporter to Badillo's campaign headquarters to learn more about
her work on behalf of poor Haitian immigrants.
The meeting ended suddenly after a Badillo staffer questioned how the
reporter had gained access to the office. St. Fleur denied talking to me and
arranging the meeting. The next day, she left this message on my voice mail:
"Mr. Noel, this is Dr. St. Fleur speaking. I do not know you. Now, I see by
your last name you seem to be Haitian. . . . I do not know who sent you to
speak to me, and I'm not going to take this lightly. I'm extremely upset, but
I'll tell you one thing, and I'm gonna spell it out for you, in Creole.
B-A-F-F-I-M M-A-M-Y-A-N. You will have to answer to Baffim Mamyan. You don't
know what I mean, you will know. . . . This is the last person in your life
you are going to . . . treat like this, abuse like this, verbally, socially.
. . . Baffim Mamyan will have to answer with you. And I'm not joking. I'm
from Haiti. I was born in Gonaive, and Gonaive people NEVER, NEVER play with
people. I'm scientific; you may laugh as much as you want. But spiritually,
you and I, we have a rendezvous. Never forget that in your life."
Marie Dorismond, who says she was "born on a Libra star," calls on Saint
Patrick, not Baffim Mamyan, for justice. "And I will always pray," she vows,
"as long as my son's justice is not done!"
Additional reporting by Amanda Ward and Associated Press
Tell us what you think. firstname.lastname@example.org
Peace and love,
Bon Mambo Racine Sans Bout Sa Te La Daginen
"Se bon ki ra",
Good is rare - Haitian Proverb
The VODOU Page - http://members.aol.com/racine125/index.html