Racial Bias Charged in Police Brutality Case: New York Cab Driver Faces Jail Term After Brawl With Plainclothes CopsBy LAVINA MELWANI
August 4, 1995. AsianWeek, pg. 6
NEW YORK -- Last year when Pakistani cab driver Saleem Osman rushed to the aid of another taxi driver having a dispute with a white truck driver, little could he have guessed that his Good Samaritan deed would land him in a year-long entanglement with the New York Police Department, with the possibility of a jail sentence of up to three years.
Osman, who is coordinator of the Leased Drivers Coalition of the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence (CAAAV), had come to the scene of the dispute after hearing the taxi driver's request for assistance over citizens-band radio. He offered to translate for the Urdu-speaking driver, but the police officer present told Osman to return to his car.
Osman says he was approached by two men -- later identified as plainclothes officers -- who allegedly yelled racial abuses, telling him to go back to his "own country" and warning, "There's no black mayor in New York anymore -- you better watch out!"
According to Osman, when he complained to the uniformed officer, the two plainclothes officers allegedly attacked him, dragging him out of his car by his clothes and hair, kicking him, and pushing him to the ground. Osman was arrested and charged with a series of offenses, including assaulting the two plainclothes officers who allegedly attacked him.
He was held for over 24 hours in jail, where he says officers refused to give him medicine for his diabetes. He was released only after more than 100 protesters from various community organizations staged a demonstration outside police headquarters.
Despite letters of protest from community and political leaders, charges against Osman were never dropped. Two large-scale demonstrations, held to show support for Osman, called for Manhattan's district attorney to dismiss all charges against him. Because of community pressure, the district attorney reduced the felony charges against Osman to misdemeanors, but refused to dismiss the case altogether.
According to Anannya Bhattacharjee, director of CAAAV, "Since Mayor [Rudolph] Giuliani has taken office, increasing anti-immigrant sentiment and racist scapegoating has taken on deadly proportions. Police brutality against people of color has been increasing at an alarming rate. CAAAV's own workload of cases -- documenting and assisting persons of Asian ancestry who have been killed, beaten, or abused at the hands of New York City police officers -- has increased dramatically."
CAAAV members point to the recent police killing of 16-year-old Yong Xin Huang and the subsequent exoneration of the police officer who shot him. Bhattacharjee says, "Police Commissioner William Bratton has continuously refused to meet with CAAAV and other minority community groups who are demanding action on the appalling increase in police brutality against people of color in New York City."
Osman cites police brutality, racially motivated attacks, and even attacks by passengers as the hazards of being an Asian taxi driver. He says, "They are very much successful because of the driver's language barriers. Most of the calls to police are made by the drivers, but when the police come to mediate, it's most often the driver who is arrested because of racist attitudes."
According to Jennifer English of the Manhattan district attorney's office, Osman was given an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal (ACD), "which means that if Osman has no further arrests or problems with the law, the case would be dismissed. We told the judge we consented to the adjournment because the defendant has no criminal record and because we understood that the defendant was acting with good intentions.
"However, his actions were inappropriate. In fact, the defendant has apologized," English says. Osman was asked to make a statement of apology.
According to CAAAV members, however, the demand for an apology in order to secure an ACD shows that "the DA's office, rather than protecting the interests of justice, is yielding to pressure from the NYPD to save its face."
Asked whether the incident was racially motivated, English says, "We did a thorough investigation and feel the police officers acted properly."
Osman, who maintains he was victimized by police through brutality and racial slurs, says he is planning to pursue a civil suit against the NYPD.
Copyright 1995 AsianWeek/Pan Asia Venture Capital Corp.
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