“The difference between Chief Zeigler and Sean Bell was that Zeigler made all the right moves to become chief, but had he made the wrong move and reached for the glove compartment, he would probably have been going to the mortuary rather than going home,” retired NYPD captain State Sen. Eric Adams told the AmNews.
There for the grace of something powerful, New York City’s highest-ranking Black police officer could have experienced a Sean Bell ending, so intimated Adams.
It wasn’t ringing in his ears–it was the cold toll of ignorance, arrogance and profiling that evidently respects neither rank nor color when the stars are on Black shoulders, Chief Douglas Zeigler learned to his detriment when two white cops stopped their superior at gunpoint, ordered him out of his vehicle and refused to acknowledge his identification.
Two weeks ago, as he sat in his SUV in Corona, Queens, Zeigler, head of the Community Affairs Bureau since January 2006, was approached by two white police officers–at least one with his weapon drawn. One false move could have led to yet another Black death at the hands of white cops.
As Zeigler, former Chief of the Organized Crime Control Bureau (from 2003- 2006), sat parked at a hydrant on May 2, Police Officer Michael Granahan and another white officer approached the vehicle and confronted him. Granahan’s partner claims to have yelled “gun,” although this has reportedly been disputed by Zeigler himself. Published reports state that when Granahan went to open the door as Zeigler got out of the vehicle, he slapped Granahan’s hand away as the subordinate reached for the I.D. around his neck.
“The problem–which is beyond belief–is that in the midst of the Sean Bell trial, instead of the police re-examining their method of engagement with communities of color, they increase their action. The first three months of this year we had almost 150,000 stop and frisks. It’s as though no one is looking at all of this. The recent report by the ACLU showed a lack of diversity in the top ranks, and that it is increasing,” said the state senator.
On Sunday, Adams, lawyer Norman Siegel, activists and civil rights advocates held a press conference at 1 Police Plaza to protest the blatant profiling.
Only after the news of the Zeigler incident began to make waves was Granahan stripped of his gun and badge on Friday, and now awaits a departmental investigation.
Siegel demanded that, “If there is an explanation, that explanation should be made public, and made public at least within 30 days.”
While Zeigler, a former lawyer, was apparently unavailable for comment, Deputy Commissioner Paul J. Browne told the AmNews, “The incident was May 2, 2008, at 6:40 p.m. Chief Zeigler was not accorded the courtesy due a superior officer by a subordinate. As a result, the officer was modified–meaning his gun and shield were taken and he was relieved of enforcement duties until the matter is investigated further by the Internal Affairs Bureau. A second police officer at the scene showed no discourtesy and no action was taken against him.”
Asked about speculation that there is a video of the confrontation, Browne responded, “I’m unaware of any video of the incident.”
Almost exasperated by the audacity of the reality, Adams continued, “The highest ranking Black in the Police Department was stopped by white officers at gunpoint. They are taking their lead from the top,” he said of Police Commissioner Ray Kelly’s administration. That office, he stated, is saying to the rank and file, “‘Don’t worry about the concerns of Sharpton, Adams, Barron or Perkins. Ignore them, we know what’s best for them.’
“Our kids are collateral damage. There is no consideration; whether it is when they tried to stop Rev. Calvin Butts or drawing a weapon on Chief Zeigler. Kelly and Mayor Bloomberg are saying, ‘You want safer streets–this is part of it.’ This is basically them saying to the cops, ‘We don’t want to know how it’s done, just do it.’ At least back in the ’60s the Justice Department would step in.”
The community has a responsibility to force police department officers to be accountable. “Everyone wants to ignore what’s going on,” said the Brooklyn state representative.
In the wake of Monday’s Congressional delegation hearings regarding the acquittal of detectives Mike Olive, Gescard Isnora and Michael Cooper in the Sean Bell 50 police-bullet case, he said, “We need to use this as a spring board. Instead of hearings, a community group can call a forum. We need a Congressional delegation to use their subpoena powers and hold major meetings across the nation to call in police commissioners and chiefs and send a strong message to police departments that they are not run by the police: they are answerable to the people. But people don’t want to know,” Adams said, chastising communities for dwelling in blissful ignorance.
As for his proposed legislation to have a special prosecutor and that defendant cops be judged at a higher standard in the wake of the Sean Bell trial and verdict, Adams said that his office is working at it stringently. “We want it to be strong and right when we come out, so we’ll be looking at in the next couple of days.”
Perhaps ironically, Zeigler’s wife, Neldra Zeigler, is the NYPD’s deputy commissioner for equal employment opportunity.
“Chief Zeigler suffered the same indignity that hundreds of thousands of innocent Black people have faced for years,” retired detective Marq Claxton noted. “Although his rank couldn’t spare him the threat and harassment, it did provide him some minimal recourse. His experience only serves to validate the fact that too many police officers believe that their responsibility is to stop, question and/or frisk Blacks and Latinos anywhere at any time for little or no reason. Under Police Commissioner Kelly, it is an encouraged and accepted operational practice to routinely and indiscriminately disregard constitutional protections for Blacks and Latinos. Based on the recently released Stop and Frisk numbers Blacks can expect to be targeted at record numbers; hopefully these stops won’t result in anymore Sean Bell-type incidents.”