Orwell's '1984' and Blacks in New York

Alton H.Maddox | , Jr. | 4/12/2011, 4:37 p.m.

George Orwell predicted that 1984 would be a bad year. It was. A posse of the NYPD stormed the home of Eleanor Bumpurs in the Bronx to enforce a warrant of eviction in 1984. The police claimed that she had a knife to stop a home invasion. The invaders were the police.

When the smoke had cleared, Ms. Bumpurs' limbs had been tied to a pole and she was taken out of the apartment naked with two fatal shotgun blasts to her body. This is the way that hunters take a deer out of the woods. Her alleged possession of a knife invoked New York's no-sock law.

History repeated itself on May 8 in Canarsie. The female victim was a Haitian immigrant, Ginette Denize. There was a landlord-tenant dispute. According to the police version, the victim had a knife to stop a police-inspired home invasion. The police had to take her down. New York's no-sock law was the cause of death.

On July 11, 1984, I was taken out of a courtroom in handcuffs and charged with assaulting two court officers. Everyone in the courtroom started behaving like the "three monkeys" or they started hallucinating about my "criminal behavior." The trial judge was in the mix .My legal career was supposed to have ended in 1984.

New York's no-sock law strikes again. One of my witnesses was my client, Willie Bosket, with a rap sheet that would cover New York City, and the other one was a courageous, Black transit worker. State-sponsored witnesses would support the prosecution's case.

Bosket was an unpopular defendant. His misadventures were credited with subjecting Black and Latino youth to South Africa's version of youth justice: "New York Juvenile Offender Law." This law was the vehicle for sending the "Central Park Six" to prison. I best remember Michael Stewart for kissing a white girl before embarking on a subway train for Brooklyn. He never made it. This is reminiscent of Emmett Till. Eleven transit cops beat him into a coma in Manhattan. He died. This is called "Jedburgh justice."

Attorney Louis Clayton Jones was not going to take it lying down.Attorney Michael Warren was Jones' law partner.I had been recruited to ride shotgun. Law is still trial by combat. There was no grand jury action until 1984 and, at first, it was thumbs down. One day we left the courthouse in Manhattan and never went home that night. Scores of Blacks trekked to the World Trade Center. Our feet got tired so we went inside and white folks officially evacuated the building. Under the slave codes, it is defined as an unlawful assembly.

We had never thought of occupying the building until law enforcement accused us of taking it over. For the first time, the World Trade Center became the focus of a political struggle. We had simply intended to confront Gov. Mario Cuomo over the appointment of a special prosecutor.

While the late Bill Tatum and Al Vann were mediating a truce, we convened a people's convention. "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail." And plan we did. Before we left the World Trade Center, Gov. Cuomo promised to hear the demands of Black activists. It later became only a brief encounter and we promised to get even.