Two New York police officers were convicted this month of the horrific and brutal torture of a Haitian immigrant, Abner Louima, on August 9, 1997. After his arrest outside a nightclub two years ago, Louima was beaten by four police officers in a car. Nothing unusual there. Beating suspects is so routine in the US that it would hardly evoke a yawn from most people. At the police station, police officer Justin Volpe stripped Louima and thrust a broom handle into his rectum puncturing his intestines and bladder. The filthy handle was then pushed into Louima’s mouth. He was hospitalised for two months and needed three operations before he could walk again.
When the trial started last month, Volpe’s defence lawyer David Kornberg argued in court that Louima’s injuries were the result of a homosexual act with another man. It was only after a number of police officers gave graphic details of how Volpe had assaulted Louima that the defence crumbled and Volpe pleaded guilty on May 25. He had assumed that his fellow officers would not inform on him. However, the evidence against him was so overwhelming that other lawyers advised their clients to distance themselves from Volpe. Volpe and one other officer were convicted. Three officers walked free.
The Louima case, like the more recent Amadou Diallou case, in which an immigrant from the west African state of Guinea was shot 19 times by four police officers - who fired a total of 41 shots - outside his apartment as he returned from work, has brought out the brutal nature of the American police force and of the pervasive racism in American society. Brutality has become ingrained in their psyche.
On June 8, for instance, Amnesty International released a report in New York condemning the use of stun-belts by US law enforcement officials against suspects and prisoners. In an advertisement in the New York Times a day earlier, Amnesty reported that “around the US, police and prison guards are using electroshock weapons of up to 5,000 volts on suspects and prisoners as young as 17. Stun-belts are just one of these brutal devices. Activated from as far as 300 ft. away, they cause incapacitation and excruciating pain” (New York Times, June 7, 1999).
Muslimedia: June 16-30, 1999