|Inmate transport buses like these were idled by COBA|
Back on December 3rd, 2011 New York City Department of Corrections officers Kevin Gilkes, 48 of Brooklyn and Louis Pinto, Jr. 30 of Hicksville, NY claimed a then 20 year-old inmate being held at Rikers Island on robbery charges named Dapree Peterson suddenly came towards them in an "aggressive manner".
An official report filed by the two officers claims they were both forced to maneuver the inmate to the ground and subdue him for their own safety. Only problem with that is the videotape of the incident showing Gilkes slamming Peterson into a wall and then beating him while Pinto stands there watching.
Peterson filed charges against Gilkes and Pinto and was scheduled to appear in court to testify against both officers in the Bronx Supreme Court last Monday November 18th. But in a monumental coincidence of mysterious mechanical problems on a mass scale, the Department of Corrections claimed it's fleet of 33 buses (yes, the whole fleet) normally used to transport prisoners between Rikers Island and the courts on a daily basis were ordered taken out of service after an impromptu and excessively detailed inspection of each bus conducted by (drum roll please) members of the Corrections Officer's Benevolent Association, according to a scathing op-ed in the New York Post.
It gets better.
The New York media is feasting on the fact that it turns out it was actually an intentional slowdown sanctioned by Norman Seabrook, head of the Corrections Officers Benevolent Association designed to prevent a single prisoner, the same Dapree Peterson, from going to the Bronx Supreme Court to testify against the prison guards who were not only caught on videotape beating him, but then lied about it and tried to cover it up in an official report.
According to the New York Times the slowdown lasted through Tuesday the 19th and left hundreds of cases backed up because the inmates scheduled to appear couldn't be transported to court. It's so absurd Mayor Bloomberg has threatened a $1 million a day penalty to be levied against COBA if it engages in another union lackey stunt like that again; which is straight out of the Boss Tweed playbook.
In today's NY Daily News, Barbara Ross reports the city is suing both guards for falsifying an official report and Gilkes could face time for misdemeanor assault for beating Peterson; can't wait for Ole' Gilkey to meet up with some short-tempered Dept of Corrections guard on the end of a double-shift if he ends up serving time. But most likely he won't. Convicting a Rikers Island DOC guard for beating a black inmate is like fining race car drivers for going over 55mph on a Formula One track.
Anyway we'll see. The officer's trial is set to continue on December 5th. If the media heats up enough and the crowd demands a sacrifice the city will be serving someone up. At least we can expect a couple of interesting press conferences from Norman Seabrook and maybe a few good NY Post covers.
It's not just the blatant absurdity of this case that's so shocking, it's the gall of the corrections officers and their union (COBA) for thinking they could simply stage a massive shutdown in the media capital of the World to prevent an inmate from testifying in open court against an officer who is on videotape beating the crap out of him while another just watches.
To say nothing of systematically preventing scores of other inmates from accessing one of the most fundamental Constitutional rights; the right to a fair trial. It reeks of something deeper in the criminal justice system.
The publication of books like, 'The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness' author Michelle Alexander's groundbreaking analysis of the systematic mass incarceration of African-Americans, published in 2010, or Wall Street Journal reporter Douglas A. Blackmon's Pultizer-Prize winning 2008, 'Slavery By Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans From the Civil War to World War Two' a stunning examination of the intentional manipulation of local and state laws used to keep thousands of African-Americans in a forced labor system in south, have offered incredible insight into the incredibly dysfunctional nature of the US judicial system.
Blackmon's book was also made into a PBS documentary and I have to tell you it was not easy to watch. The stories and accounts were heart-rendering of course, but it was more than that. To look at evidence of how the same United States that defends Democracy and freedom around the world operates a prison system that internationally incarcerates people of color on a mass scale and condemns them to unspeakable conditions for profit really helped me gain some perspective on the country I call home; where I began my K - 12th grade mornings saying the Pledge of Allegiance.
While I consider these books must-reads for all Americans regardless of race, religion or background the thing is you don't have to dive into these meticulously researched books to see evidence of a justice system that is at odds with the very fabric of the Constitution.
As we see from the deplorable actions by the Corrections Officer's Benevolent Association and their leader Norman Seabrook, it's right here in front of us happening everyday. Just remember this story the next time you hear about an inmate choking himself to death in his cell or falling down a flight of stairs. The spirit of Jim Crow lives on Rikers Island.