On the afternoon of April 13th, the NYPD was busy orchestrating a perp walk for the press. The so-called “gentleman groper” who had been terrorizing subway riders for months was led down the same stretch of asphalt that Dominique Strauss-Kahn was paraded through last year. Only this time the man was innocent, and this was all squarely for show—and the police knew it.
Public pressure to find the groper had been intensifying since the assaults first began in February. The NYPD responded by finding a man who vaguely resembled the surveillance photos (themselves inexplicably released months after the first attacks). The man’s alibi, easily verified by witnesses, restaurant receipts, and Metrocard swipes, was ignored by detectives. He was quickly served up to the press to great applause, and New Yorkers let out a small sigh of relief, their confidence in the police restored.
A full month later, the District Attorney publicly acknowledged what the police had known all along: this was not their man. While the NYPD’s top brass played a cynical public relations game, the real groper was given free reign to continue his assaults. He remains at large. [Update: Lawyer Paul Kraft was eventually caught 8 months later; after being quickly released on $5,000 bail, Kraft took a plea deal offered by the DA that imposed no jail time and that also included a provision allowing him to keep his law license.]
While the higher-ups doggedly work the press, their subordinates out patrolling the streets are being confronted more and more with charges of sexual assault. Just two months ago, NYPD officer Michael Pena was sentenced to 75 years in prison for raping an elementary school teacher who was on her way to work, repeatedly threatening to shoot her in the face with his police-issued service weapon.
As more survivors continue to come forward, these incidents are beginning to look less and less like isolated cases. Last year, despite testimony and evidence to the contrary, two officers were acquitted of raping a woman who was passed out in her East Village apartment. While admitting to taking advantage of the woman physically, they pointed to the lack of DNA at the crime scene as proof that no sex had taken place. They derided the survivor as a “gold digger” during the trial and publicly advised other officers/rapists to “be very, very, very careful” when responding to calls for assistance by women in similarly vulnerable states—a veiled reference to the wiped DNA evidence that ultimately allowed them to beat the charges. While these two officers were removed from the force through more bureaucratic means, sexual assaults by the NYPD are being reported with a regularity that has long since ceased to be shocking. While grand juries weigh evidence and mull over legal code, the pile of bad apples continues to grow.
Some insight might be gained from the peer-reviewed studies and Congressional reports showing that at least 40% of police officers have battered their domestic partners within the past year—a rate four times higher than that of the general population—and this number only accounts for the officers who actually self-reported as abusers. How can we be asked to trust the police to protect us from violence—sexual or otherwise—when nearly half of its officers are themselves violent domestic abusers?
From dismissing a recent sexual assault as “simply a drunk man bumping into a woman” to the refrain of officers blaming women for wearing dresses, skirts, and shorts, the litany of abuses and insults goes on and on. Rather than making our streets feel safer, the NYPD’s behavior reproduces the very conditions of sexual violence that turn a short walk home into a risky proposition. Their disparaging attitudes toward survivors and samaritans alike has helped foster an atmosphere that enables and emboldens predators, making them feel as if they can commit their attacks without any fear of consequence.
Communities have long been organizing themselves in response to this crisis. Neighborhood watches, ride-home services, self-defense classes, and survivor support networks are helping to make this city a truly safer place. Organizations like RightRides, the Center for Anti-Violence Education, and Safe Slope work tirelessly to educate, advocate, and organize in the name of building safer communities. Rely on politicians to emerge from behind banks of microphones and promise to get more cops on the street; they fail to understand that it’s self-organization within our communities, not more violent authority from without, that truly has the power to end sexual violence.
The NYPD has shown itself to be thoroughly incapable of protecting our communities from abusers and rapists. Their negligence in sexual assault cases has become predictable; their hostility towards survivors now standard operating procedure. Behind the thin blue line lies a deep culture of sexual violence that reveals itself in every new charge of rape made against an NYPD officer. As another long hot summer gets underway, we come together in solidarity against sexual predators and all those who allow them to continue. It’s time to show abusers and rapists—whether they wear badges or not—that we intend to fight back.
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