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Editorial: Lots of bashing, Not much healing

Last week a hundred citizens gathered in the basement of a Queens Village church to discuss the problem of police brutality in the wake of the third killing of an unarmed black man. The title of this meeting, "The Diallo Murder: A new Forum of Lynching/Police Brutality a Threat to All," set the tone for the evening's one-sided dialogue.

Leroy Gadsden, representing the NAACP, said the meeting was called to put forth ideas and suggest legislation that would reduce the hostility and animosity between the police and members of the minority community. There is an urgent need for a healing of the rift that has grown between the NYPD and the black community. But accusing the police of "lynching" cannot be a step in the healing process. As a photographic exhibit now on display at the Museum of New York makes clear, a lynching was a deliberate and premeditated act usually carried out by a racist mob. The three killings of unarmed black men that led to this meeting were not intentional. Such language can only widen the rift.

The legislation discussed included a bill sponsored by Michigan Congressman John Conyers that calls for the elimination of the 48-hour rule, which gives police officers two days before they have to answer questions about a shooting. With all of the killings that happen every day in Detroit, it's a wonder that Conyers has the time to think about New York. And the congressman can hardly be blamed for not knowing that the 48-hour rule was a concession made during labor negotiations with the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association (PBA). We trust that Conyers is not anti-union.

His legislation would also require that every police officer involved in a shooting be tested for drugs and alcohol. Like much of what has been proposed, this is knee-jerk stuff. There is nothing to suggest that drugs or alcohol played a role in these tragic shootings.

It was also proposed that police officers be required to live within the five boroughs. Would the legislature insist that the men and women already on the force sell their Long Island homes and move into the city? Probably not. Would a police officer living in Little Neck be better able to relate to people living in Laurelton? Again, probably not.

This is also a union issue. If Albany asks the PBA to give up the privilege of living on Long Island, it's in for a battle royal. As we saw two years ago, there was not one state legislator representing Queens who had the courage to vote against the PBA. Folks like Assemblyman William Scarborough can talk the talk in a church basement, but when it comes to voting they will not walk the walk.

Nevertheless, we think it's important that steps be taken to increase minority representation on the force and to encourage police to make their homes in the city. The federal Housing and Urban Development has introduced a program called "Officer on the Block" in which police officers can buy HUD homes at half the normal HUD price. Participants can also get better mortgage rates. If this works, it should result in more police officers buying homes in minority communities.

Unfortunately this meeting failed to address deeper issues. There is a rift. There is also a need for better training of the city's police. At the same time, leaders like Scarborough and Gadsden should remind their constituents the historic reduction in crime has resulted in thousands of lives being saved in the city's minority communities. No one should want to roll back the clock.

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