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#4780: The Haitian press and the police (fwd)
THE HAITIAN PRESS AND THE POLICE:
Opportunity or Sellout?
For two straight weeks now, the Haitian press in New York (Haiti-Observateur, Haiti-Progrès, Haitian Times) have each carried a full page ad praising the New York City Police Department for its friendship and protection to the black community. Dubbed as "Mission Possible," this charm operation is also carried out in the Latino press and in Caribbean and African-American newspapers.
The first problem with those ads is that they are a lie. The face of the law in our communities is a surly white cop in uniform, or an aggressive squad of white detectives in plain clothes. The smiling black or Latino cop in the children's playground is a figment of the imagination or a projection from the white suburbs. The inner city neighborhoods, where the majority of Haitians live, are patrolled like a war zone by the police, like an occupied territory where they can only prevail with brute force. Racial profiling, beatings, and macho hassling of black youth are the name of the game. New York City once had a black police commissioner and it didn't change any of this. Adding a few more dark faces to the police force is just more window dressing. Call it a snow job or a Jenny Jones makeover, it's a very thin veneer over a brutal reality and an even crueler policy.
Still the police in New York are facing some serious problems, which they hope to pave over with this latest expenditure. Community revulsion over the perverse broomstick torture of Abner Louima, the non-guilty verdict in the Diallo case, and the killing of Patrick Dorismond, have made the city's streets uncomfortable for the police. The forced resignation of Howard Safir, police commissioner and sidekick to Mayor Giuliani, and his replacement by Bernard Kerik, an alleged former bodyguard and chauffeur to Mr. Giuliani, have only added to the malaise. The new commissioner has gone to black churches, asking the community to "give him a chance." A chance for what? Some feel that the primary incentive behind this "Mission Possible" campaign is an attempt to avert a threatened Federal oversight of the New York City police. But why should the police change their ways when they can just change their image?
Subservience to the Police
Even when money is not changing hands, there is a very servile attitude toward the police and toward City Hall, among so-called Haitian community leaders. The list is quite long: Rev. Nicholas' embrace of Giuliani and Safir after the broom stick torture of his "nephew" Louima; Monsignor Rolland Darbouze's organization of a church committee to adorn the 67th precinct with a flower garden, in the wake of that same incident; Haiti-Observateur's ostentatious relationship with Giuliani and the police; WLIB's Moment Creole's proud association with Haitian cops who have built their career by informing on community activists and organizations; the National Coalition for Haitian Rights' insistence on teaching the Haitian community how to talk and to behave with the police, as if the problem was with the community and not the other way. These are only some instances of a disturbing obeisance to the police and to an oppressive power structure in general.
Three years ago on this day, thousands of outraged Haitians marched on City Hall in the aftermath of the Louima incident. On their way back across the Brooklyn Bridge, the police ambushed a substantial group of protesters and arrested over 100 people. Alerted by witnesses at the scene, an ad-hoc group of organizers decided to hold an emergency protest in front of the 90th precinct where those people were being detained. But when the organizers contacted Radio Soleil d'Haiti to get the word out, station manager Ricot Dupuy explained, in his best official voice, that he had just conducted an interview with Detective Serge Pierre-Louis. His station would not support any rally for "the crowd of provocateurs who attacked the police on the bridge." A job well done, Detective Pierre-Louis; I wish I could say the same about Ricot the journalist.
The case of Haiti-Progrès
Some might say it is unfair to hold the Haitian or the minority press to higher standards than the mainstream media is. The notion of fairness and accuracy in advertising and in reporting the news is dead and forgotten when it comes to the mainstream media and the Haitian right-wing press. But what about Haiti-Progrès, "le journal qui offre une alternative," which had played a significant role up to this point in the fight against police brutality in New York City? As a sometime contributor to its pages, I feel somewhat betrayed by CEO Ben Dupuy's greedy decision to eat at the police trough. Small newspapers, at least on the books, are always on the verge of economic collapse. But it's not just the money. Mr. Dupuy holds morality in contempt as a bourgeois concept. Both as a publisher and as a political operative, he is notorious for the ability to switch sides on issues without so much as a warning or goodbye to his former allies, often leaving the editorial staff of t!
he newspaper with no other option but to walk. So far, it is true, the paper has managed to survive those autocratic mood swings, and to limp along an increasingly mediocre path.
At this point, the loud chorus of "I told you so," from those who have watched with horror Haiti-Progrès' cynical alliance with alleged dope fiends within the Lavalas spectrum, makes it difficult not to throw the baby away with the bath water. Still, the Haitian community must hold Haiti-Progrès to its claim of being a progressive alternative. There are a number of things the newspaper can and must do, if indeed the decision to run the police ads was just a case of crass money-grabbing opportunism rather than an editorial sellout. The first step is a serious self-criticism on its editorial page, followed by a period when the paper would open its pages for thoroughgoing criticism. No one I know believes this will ever happen, but pointing out the line of principle to a wayward ally is always an obligation, even if not a pleasant one.
Aug. 29, 2000