Marxist-Leninist Organizer
August, 2000

The Police Murder of Patrick Dorismond
And the Role of the Grand Jury

Patrick Dorismond, a young Haitian-American, was killed on March 16 by a New York City undercover cop, Anthony Vasquez, when he angrily said no to drugs in refusing to be entrapped in a police "buy and bust" sting operation. Dorismond’s murder came just a few weeks after the acquittal of the 4 cops who killed Amadou Diallo in a hail of 41 bullets, and after another police murder of Malcolm Ferguson, just a few blocks from where Diallo was killed. A few days after Dorismond was killed, cops in riot gear accompanied by police helicopters attacked thousands of angry mourners at his funeral in Flatbush, Brooklyn, provoking an uprising that left over 20 cops injured and at least 27 people arrested, several of whom are facing serious felony charges.

Now a grand jury has murdered Dorismond again by refusing to indict the cop who killed Dorismond. This was despite the fact that several eyewitnesses flatly contradicted the cop’s claim that his gun went off accidentally during a struggle. Moreover, this type of gun, an 9mm police special, are supposed to be fitted with a special safety mechanism designed to make such accidental shootings impossible. The grand jury’s decision led to another mass protest in Flatbush on Saturday, July 29.

The Grand Jury – A Tool of the District Attorney

When the capitalist press talks of a decision by a grand jury, they try to portray it as an "independent" body of citizens. But in reality, the grand jury is an arm of the prosecutor’s office. It is the D.A. who decides what charges should be considered, and it is the D.A. who explains the law to the jurors. In the overwhelming majority of cases in which ordinary workers and oppressed people are accused of some crime, the district attorneys directly requests indictments, and the grand jury willingly grants these indictments. The saying goes that "a grand jury would indict a ham sandwich if the D.A. asked it to." Not only that, but the charges brought are generally the most severe that could possibly be brought for the crimes alleged. It is true that an indictment is not the same as a conviction. But under capitalism, despite its fraudulent claim of "equal justice for all," most poor and working people never get their "day in court." People who do not have money to hire a private lawyer are forced to rely on Legal Aid lawyers, who do not have the time, or frequently the inclination, to mount a serious defense against the charges. They must generally engage in plea-bargaining, in which they plead guilty to a lesser charge, even for crimes of which they may be totally innocent.

So why couldn’t New York D.A. Morgenthau get an indictment of Officer Vasquez? For the simple reason that he never sought one. In this case, as in most cases of police brutality the D.A., instead of asking for an indictment, merely says: "We are opening an investigation into the death (or injury, etc.) of such-and-such a person." A grand jury does not decide indictments by a unanimous verdict, but by agreement of 16 out of the 23 jurors for an indictment. The D.A. can always count on a sufficient number of jurors to follow his or her lead in failing to make an indictment. In this case, moreover, two jurors, an African-American man and an Anglo (white) woman, were actually thrown off the grand jury for asking too many questions critical of the police version of the murder. (This information has not been published in the capitalist press, but has come to the attention of this author through a contact who knows one of the two jurors.)

Morgenthau’s satisfaction with the grand jury’s decision can be seen from the excerpts of his report to Police Commissioner Safir published in the New York Times on July 28. The report repeats every item of the police version of the murder, such as: that Dorismond threw the first punch in the fight, that the cops identified themselves as police, and that Vasquez’s gun went off accidentally. The report does not even mention that all these details were contradicted by civilian eyewitnesses. So much for the lie that the D.A. represents "the people."

Meanwhile, police terror continues throughout the country. On July 5, an African-American man, Joe Wilbon, died in police custody after being beaten by police in Baltimore, Maryland. On July 12, about a dozen police were videotaped beating another unarmed African-American man, Thomas Jones, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Police at first claimed that Jones had shot a cop during the chase after the incident that led to the beating, and Jones was originally charged with attempted murder. However, they finally had to admit that one cop had shot another in the finder during the chase.

The various organs of the state: the police, the prosecutor’s office, the grand jury, are all arms of the capitalists against the workers and oppressed peoples. They cannot be "reformed" to "serve the people." Only massive, militant and continuous mobilizations of the people can lead to any justice in cases of police brutality.

Jail Anthony Vasquez – Jail Killer Cops

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