Neighbor to Neighbor: ‘60 Minutes’ cutting of 60 seconds hid truth

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    As a youngster, he wanted to become, of all things, a police officer. He wanted to protect people, to keep them out of trouble. He also wanted...

By Barbara Morris

It’s always good to hear stories about local young people who make good in spite of overwhelming obstacles.

    As a youngster, he wanted to become, of all things, a police officer. He wanted to protect people, to keep them out of trouble. He also wanted criminals put out of circulation.

About the time he could have applied to join the department, a hiring freeze precluded his application. Still interested in the law and in furthering his education, he attended and graduated from York College in Jamaica, maintaining superior grades despite having a heavy work schedule.

As soon as there hiring freeze was over, he took the entrance exam, passed with high grades and was assigned as a rookie patrolman on a Merrick Boulevard foot post in the 105th Precinct, his boyhood stamping grounds. That was in 1979, when things had already begun to get ugly along the boulevard.

He felt he could help more if he learned more. His good grades and ambition won him a scholarship at St. John’s University School of Law. He was busy day and night, serving the people of the City of New York, and learning as much as he could about the law and the people.

A little more than three years ago, his devotion was rewarded. Police Commissioner Howard Safir appointed him to the top legal spot in the New York Police Department. His title was something to make any law enforcement officer very proud: Deputy Commissioner, Legal Matters.

His future career was to have many highs and lows Learning that Justin Volpe was accused of committing an atrocious crime against Abner Louima was devastating. Following that, there was the tragic incident with Amadou Diallo and, although he feels, as the jury felt and as I feel, that those officers never intended to kill Mr. Diallo but instead got caught in a serious of accidents, it was an indelible stain on those involved, and in fact, on the entire department.

Trust is hard to regain. Some try to help but some don’t. A 911 caller claimed that three young men, one of whom attended Harvard, had been seen throwing bottles outside a club. A sergeant and other officers responded and made the arrest. Those arrested denied the charges and claimed racial profiling. CBS’ “60 minutes” invited our hometown hero to participate in the program they planned to do on the incident.

Before accepting the invitation, the deputy commissioner personally and unannounced, first visited the club in question and asked if he could wait for the arrival of the two security people who had spoken to police. Luckily, they were to work that night and when they were questioned separately, each of them confirmed what they had seen and what they had told police. the next step was to visit another complainant who reported almost being hit by one of the thrown bottles as it crashed through a window.

That was evidence enough for our deputy commissioner to accept the invitation to speak with Mike Wallace, because the witness corroborated police reports.

A meeting was arranged, with massive cameras and sound equipment, and, of course, Wallace, who immediately “went for the jugular.” After listening patiently, the deputy commissioner explained the information he had confirmed that there had been no racial profiling. Wallace said he didn’t understand. The explanation was repeated and, some time later, that “60 Minutes” show was aired, with all but a 60-second appearance of the deputy commissioner who had hoped that the truth might have helped renew faith in the police, because there are still a lot of wonderful officers anxious to help those who need them. Facts should be facts and we are proud of our own Deputy Commissioner George A. Grasso, even though in this case, “60 Minutes” left the evidence of the truth on the cutting-room floor.

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