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Community Activist Calls New Orleans Police Beating “Typical Behavior”

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Three New Orleans police officers plead not guilty to assaulting African-American Robert Davis in the French Quarter, caught on videotape by journalists. We speak with longtime New Orleans activist Malcolm Suber who has led the struggle against police brutality in the city for more than 25 years. [includes rush transcript]

On Monday, three white New Orleans police officers pleaded not guilty to assaulting a 64 year-old African-American man and beating up a journalist. On Saturday, the police began hitting Robert Davis in the French Quarter. They hit Davis at least four times in the head and he was dragged to the ground when another officer kneed him in the back. He was bleeding profusely from the head. The incident was caught on tape by a crew from the Associated Press. Once the police realized they were being videotaped they ordered the AP to stop filming. When the AP producer held up his press credentials, an officer grabbed him, leaned him backward over a car, jabbed him in the stomach and started screaming at him to leave the scene. Robert Davis was then arrested and charged with public intoxication, battering an officer and resisting arrest. Davis and his lawyer refuted the charges and Davis also said that he hadn’t had a drink in 25 years.

Yesterday, Davis told his version of events to the press. He said that had been walking to buy a pack of cigarettes when he approached a mounted police officer to ask about curfews in the city. Davis is a retired teacher who had returned to New Orleans over the weekend from Atlanta to inspect six of his family’s properties that had been damaged or destroyed in Hurricane Katrina. The police officers have been suspended without pay and a trial has been set for January. Justice Department officials said they will review the results of an FBI civil rights investigation to determine whether to pursue federal civil rights charges.

  • Malcolm Suber, Longtime New Orleans community activist who has led the struggle against police brutality in the city for more than 25 years. He is also a member of the People’s Hurricane Relief Committee

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined on the phone now from Houston by Malcolm Suber. He’s a community activist who has led the struggle against police brutality in New Orleans. Welcome to Democracy Now!

MALCOLM SUBER: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Can you explain what you understand at this point of this attack on Saturday?

MALCOLM SUBER: Well, this is typical behavior on the part of the New Orleans Police Department. They typically terrorize young black men. It may be abnormal to attack an older black man, such as Mr. Davis, but certainly on Bourbon Street, you would have many scores of young white guys who are drunk and misbehaving, and they don’t get beat. And yet, we have this elder black man, who apparently in some way agitated this cop, and his response was to beat him. And this is not atypical. I think the media has been trying to say that the New Orleans Police Department are under stress, and that this is abnormal behavior, and I would say to the contrary that this is very much normal behavior for the New Orleans Police Department.

If we look just in the past year since August of '04, the New Orleans Police Department went on a rampage and killed seven black men, young black men, and many — most of those cases, I would say, were questionable circumstances. And again, not one New Orleans police officer was indicted or charged with any crime. The typical behavior is that they are given desk duty and continue to draw pay. That's why I’m kind of surprised that these officers were dismissed, and are — and their pay withheld. That is out of character for what they do, typically, to the New Orleans police officers. That’s why they feel free to do what they want to do.

AMY GOODMAN: Just talking about Robert Davis’s version of events. He said he was going to buy cigarettes. He got nervous about curfew. He asked an officer, and then another officer interrupted, and Davis said, quote, “This other guy interfered, and I said that he shouldn’t interfere. I started to cross the street, and bam, I got it.” He said, “All I know is this guy attacked me.” And then said he was going to do it, and then attacked him. This also is what Robert Davis said yesterday when he publicly spoke.

ROBERT DAVIS: I hold no animosity against anyone. I want to thank our new police chief for his quick action. I really do. I mean, that’s the first time I have known it to happen, but I also want to have the officer who was on that horse, who was black, by the way, I’d like to have him suspended, because I feel that he had some complicity in the situation.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Robert Davis speaking on CNN. Your response, Malcolm Suber.

MALCOLM SUBER: Well, I think, again, a lot of people have a view that it’s white police that are on a rampage, but the behavior of the New Orleans Police Department, which is majority black, is that all of the cops, black and white, misbehave badly, terrorize young black men especially, but show a general disregard and disrespect for people, especially in the poor working class black communities and are generally disrespectful of black people.

My experience has been that if we would call a meeting in New Orleans any day of the week about police brutality, police misbehavior, you would have a standing room-only crowd of people who would come forward and testify that they had been mishandled by the New Orleans Police Department, and yet they have what they call an Office of Public Integrity Division, and yet that is not working. People have quit filing complaints because nothing ever happens. And I think Mr. Davis was remarking that it was remarkable that these guys were laid off so quickly, and especially laid off without pay. This is unprecedented. That is not the typical behavior. And I think it’s only because you’ve got the national light and the international story, that it was caught on tape.

AMY GOODMAN: I was on the BBC last night with a spokesperson for the police association, Frank DeSalvo. He was very much singing a different tune than the police superintendent, the police commissioner. He was saying that they had to do this to Robert Davis because he was drunk, and they were doing it to protect him.

MALCOLM SUBER: Right. Of course. Every time somebody is terrorized and beaten by the police, it’s typical that they charge the person for getting beat. You know, you attack the nightstick, basically. And, you know, it’s always interesting that nobody ever, especially the local media, Times Picayune, never publishes the history of the police officers involved in the case. But they always talk and level unsubstantiated charges about the man being drunk. Or whatever — whatever the police say is what is reported in the paper. And only rarely and after much agitation and protest on our part, do they publish one, the victim’s story, and secondly, the history of the police officers who were involved in this altercation.

AMY GOODMAN: Malcolm Suber, I want to thank you very much for being with us, has been dealing with issues of police brutality in New Orleans for years.

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