Paul Chevigny discusses his book "Police Power"
According to Paul Chevigny’s book, “Police Power: Police Abuses in New York," disobeying the police is what precipitated violence. Chevigny explained some of the police felt if they had to deal with the undesirables, whether they were criminals or not, anything goes on the street to get these guys and anything goes in court to make a conviction stick.
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Studs Terkel The subject of police power is discussed more and more in non police as well as governmental and police circles and it's obviously a multidimensional problem. It's easy to say that there is a sadist. It's easy to say there is a brutal man. But Paul Chevigny has written perhaps, to me the most powerful book on the subject most incisive. Pantheon published called Police Power and it was under the auspices it was a special project in the auspices of the Civil Liberties Union was
Studs Terkel And Mr. Chevigny himself has practiced law in Harlem. But before we begin there's a voice that you will find this voice rather familiar. A Puerto Rican whom I know, is describing an event in his life a certain day in his life. He was a night watchman. He worked from about, oh midnight to 7 in the morning at 6 in the morning. He's barely getting ready to go home outside the place he's working and we hear the event.
Witness Twenty, seven o'clock in the morning it was about six o'clock in the morning when I was getting ready to go home I walk out about 5 feet away from the back door of the academy. And in the parking lot a police was approaching he asked me if I have any idea- and identification. I said no we don't have any right now. He asked me if I have the key. I said, "No I just left it with the relief man." And he don't believe me when he don't believe me I ask him to come in and ask the relief man he'd said in a kind of a very rude manner. He pushed me against the car. He said he, he had done before from a other people and he push me against the car again. And called for help. It was on September 20 about six o'clock in the morning. When he called for help about 6 other car answer his call. It was another sergeant.
Witness In his car in his radio and another sergeant drop in and 6 men grab me and put my hands in the back. Cuff my hands. Throw me to the hood of the car. My cheek hi- hit the glass the hood and my arm was hurt by the side of the car. And, they were laughing about asking me what nationality I was. They were laughing walking back and forth back and forth in a way that, like making fun out of me. When.
Paul Chevigny Oh yes. The the thing is that this is kind of falls into a a general classic cases that I call problems of outcasts in our society. Kind of all degrees there are extreme examples: gamblers, prostitutes, people who kind of live a criminal life. Dope addicts. And there are people who are just unfortunate, their skin color or their nationality and the police are less their harassment of them is less total but nevertheless to to the policeman the the black man or the Puerto Rican tends to mean danger in the questions answered in a reasonable way by a Puerto Rican will be treated a little more suspicion than a white person who speaks English well and.
Paul Chevigny Oh sure, yeah, sure. But the, and then the next. But the the point the police brutality thing tends to come into it or the the false arrest. Now as far as I've heard on this thing this is pretty typical and the average poor Joe they frisk him and they give him a hard time and they and say beat it buddy or maybe they run him down into the precinct and they do a check on him and to find out if he's got a record or something. But he doesn't get into re- any real trouble until he starts to object. And he says, "You can't do this to me." And then he starts questioning police authority and that's the sin. That's the big sin when you question police authority. Whether it's legal or illegal then you're asking for an arrest and they're gonna, they're gonna start considering running you in for disorderly conduct which is in New York Cit- State is a breach of the peace. I don't know what you call it in Chicago but and a breach of a, to a cop I think that in a way you find that police arguing with the police really is a breach of the peace if they really think of it as being in some way a real threat to to good order.
Paul Chevigny Well, I found out how in some ways how easy it is and how hard to be a detective in a funny way. The way in which it involves a detective work parenthetically is that the only cases that are in this book are cases to which there were independent witnesses and. Because I wanted to get out of that box that we always have police cases.
Paul Chevigny Unfortunately they were. And the reason is that there's another. The reason is, is a second standard that I use which was that the person involved the person accused should be acquitted of the p- crime the police accused him of an ordinarily in order to get acquitted. When you're in there and your defense is they're lying they framed me. You've got to prove yourself innocent beyond peradventure of a doubt in order to do that you've either got to be middle class yourself and have middle class witnesses or at least have middle class witnesses. Now if sometimes 6 or 8 guys who aren't middle class will do. But I mean ordinarily. And so that that raise unfortunately raise the percentage of cases in the book that involve middle class people.
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Paul Chevigny He
Paul Chevigny Yeah, well he had a record and of course there longer record you get you know the more you expect to go to jail. I think parenthetically recently there's been a a series of articles in the New Yorker on reviving the problem of George Whitmore. And the, the, it's the problem of the ages because why did Whitmore confess? The evidence to Whitmore was.
Paul Chevigny Well, Whitmore is a notorious case of a of a of a false confession. He confessed to the brutal murder of 2 upper class white girls which was a i- on the you know a very respectable neighborhood in New York City where people just don't get murdered. And the detectives combed the town for months looking for that murderer and much much later they they stumbled over Whitmore in connection with another case and he confessed to the crime and it was later established par- for a strange reason because the crime was committed the day of the great Civil Rights 63, Civil Rights March on Washington. And as it happened even though it was years later people could remember where they'd black people could remember where they'd been that day and many of them remembered having been in a room with George Whitmore the day of the crime at a t- watching a TV set. So it was proved he didn't do it. But he confessed to it. And people wonder now why did he confess? Because it doesn't appear that he was beaten he was questioned 19 hours but he was- does there's not much evidence that he was beaten. And perhaps part of the reason is they kept telling him that they were going to give him a break, that the girls weren't dead, that they'd only been injured and all this stuff and that he could leave if he just confessed and all that. And after a while Whitmore pro- Whitmore probably just thought I'm never going to get out of here if I don't say something. I'm never going to get out of here. You know that was probably his view after a while.
Paul Chevigny Yeah.
Studs Terkel Almost the classic case. We can almost perhaps dwell on it is the opening case that you have in your book though it deals with many and that's the Puerto Rican in Seward Park the case of this young. It all began this by the way this has the makings of a Paul Chevigny. When I say this the makings of a, a detective story but someone who was a socially aware guy. This all happened when an Irish couple, middle aged couple spoke of their son who hanged himself. That's how it began. And you thought there's no case and something was dropped about another boy a Puerto Rican kid. And that it began.
Paul Chevigny Right, yeah. The the way tha- that was a funny thing I had. I, I took this. I agreed to try to investigate this case the kid who died in the precinct even though I thought it was pretty likely that that it was a suicide and, and that even if it wasn't I wasn't going to learn anything about it. And they said that that parenthetically that, that, the whole, no thanks, that the, that the events had the neighborhood up in arms and that the cops had beaten up another kid. You know that was just that was part of the thing just to sort of get me interested in it and then after I heard that for a while I sat there sleepily and I finally picked up on this and I said you know, "What is this thing with this other kid?" And they tol- and I they connected me with a still another boy in the neighborhood a Puerto Rican kid and I found out about this boy Jose Rivera who'd gotten his jaw broken in Seward Park and there were a lot of witnesses as it happened in the evening. The cops drove into the park and apparently they did drive in because there was an atmosphere of disturbance in the neighborhood as a result of this event and they were telling all kids to leave to get out of the park. And Rivera gave them some lip. He said things like, "you can't you can't stay in the park anymore," and "don't push I'm going," and stuff like that. And he loitered around the car and was stuck his head in the police car and was listening to the radio which is kind of a, a weird thing to do except unless you're a kid. And so after he had said don't push I can walk. One of the officers says, "Take him in." You know and one of them slugs him and there's a little resistance and then they got him in the car and are beating him up. Well, he was charged with assaulting a police officer and was tried and there was a regular parade of witnesses who testified at his behalf and he was acquitted. And the point about that, that isn't is a good example of some of the other cases cause that just doesn't seem to be enough to provoke the cops in that case. But, the- it does fit into the pattern in the sense that it's that it's that refusal to go, that refusal to obey, regardless of whether the obedience is required by law or not that provokes this, this precipitates this incident.
Studs Terkel Now, yeah, this is was skirting where the questions the core of your book then as someone challenged and nobody asked why the arrest was made throughout many of these cases and when someone questions then we come to the psychology and you you're saying it isn't the question. Often we make the police the scapegoat for what society in a sense represents.
Paul Chevigny Well, that's because it's broader than than, I mean, that, most of the cases do deal with defiance in the street. But, but actually the cops view of it is I mean this is my view of what the cops view it is. But the his view of it is that, that he's got to deal with, with the whole class you might designate undesirables and that goes from hard criminals way over on one side to respectable citizens who who write down a cop's badge number or otherwise criticize them away over on the other side. And in the middle there's a whole class of of crimes and undesirables and the cop feels, and he's told this repeatedly by society, "It's my job to deal with these undesirables." I mean a typical example is the, the neighborhood people call up and say,"Do something about these junkies on the corner," and he says, "They're not doing anything but standing on the corner," and they say, "We don't care, we know they're junkies get rid of him." So finally he says, "All right." Run him downtown and they do. Well, anyway the point is that the cop feels that as long as he's dealing with the class the class troublemakers the class malefactors or whatever whether they be criminals or not the class undesirables, anything goes. Now this maybe involve an unlawful search which the cop will say wasn't unlawful. Now anything goes on the street. I mean anything goes to get one of these guys. And then after that anything goes in court in order to make that conviction stick. Those are the 2 things I mean you in other words, they're applying a private code but in a way it's not so private. It's really the code of society they say to the cops, "Listen what the courts say to you, you know that just, that's just for show baby." What they really want you to do is keep the neighborhood clean, you know.
Studs Terkel Yeah, yeah. What this is, yeah. Cause now your book opens and closes with this very theme that there is a private code. And you're saying it's really a public code. You know and we're talking now about which the police in a sense he's really a messenger for the, the code he carries he carries the mail for others and you're talking about editorials in the papers, we're talking about perhaps most of our society.
Paul Chevigny Sure, right. Funny thing my brother-in-law was telling me an interesting story in that connection about in some ways more fun to talk about stories that aren't in the book because but would are, which are just like it that have occurred since. And they I discuss in the book The Times Square clean up of alleged prostitutes who were running for nothing at all over a period of time. Now the funny thing the my brother-in-law read the book and he said, "Oh, newspaper editorials," and the newspaper he thought of was the New York Daily News which is the local tabloid there and he and then he said the very next day the the cleanup started again in Times Square and the list of arrests was, they arrested they arrest- they had 60 arrests because of public outcry 60 arrests in one night of which they had 20 prostitutes, 4 armed robbery, 2 narcotics and the rest were all disorderly conducts which in Times Square means nothing at all but hustling yeah. I mean, but hustling the guy along the street, move along, and he won't move along, take him in. Now, the Times had an editorial saying that most of these people have been released by the courts and they said well the trouble isn't with the police it's with the courts. They didn't convict they should have convicted them. Well it's outrageous you know. Didn't do anything! The reason the courts let it go.
Studs Terkel Yeah,
Paul Chevigny The judges were probably downtown were probably downtown conferring among themselves and getting together with the DA and saying, "Look you can't do this you can't just drag these people in and bring them up in front of the bench for us." And they were throwing the cases out and then the co- the courts were being blamed for having not be tough enough on
Studs Terkel And you describe by the way the book itself and all we can do during the hour is really touch on different aspects of what I think is a remarkable study of not so much again the theme not so much a a sadistic officer at all but of what our society wants from the question of law. You have you have various chapters called, defiance and force and the question of frames and covers. Covers are very important too. But more than that coming back to the cop coming coming back to the gu- he's certain, he sees someone as a threat to him.
Paul Chevigny Yeah.
Studs Terkel Yeah. As Jerome Skolnick by the way. He is Jerome Skolnik who also, I think was on the president's committee a report that didn't quite wasn't made public either a certain report that he made.
Studs Terkel Yes.
Paul Chevigny Right.
Paul Chevigny Yeah.
Studs Terkel And nothing has been said about his comments about a young disorders, disorders among the young. But he he analyzes as you do too what goes on in the mind of a cop particularly I suppose mostly young, could I ask you this question?
Paul Chevigny Yeah.
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Paul Chevigny Oh no, I don't think so. I don't think there's any. No. It's you see the funny thing it isn't it isn't just hot headedness here and it is losing your temper. But there's this tendency that a policeman feels you know that old expression I, I mentioned this in the book. It's funny a lot of our expressions the long arm of the law, John Law and all that stuff, we we personify the cop as the law and he personifies himself too as the law. And then [throat clears] when you when you defy the law you go to jail. But of course I mean suppose it's a government of laws and not of men. You know but to the policeman it's a government of men and it's government of policemen. And you know what he says goes.
Studs Terkel And more and more you see this erosion of of, right. That is ed- as more and more is accepted as hysteria grows he becomes accustomed to it. You mentioned this somewhere along the line. The question of mass in the matter of mass action.
Paul Chevigny Yeah well, your Chicago incident of course in the in the convention is the classic exa- the all time classic example of that. And the the interesting thing is I think that probably in one of the reasons that a thing like that occurred one of the reasons the thing that attains such notoriety is that essentially the police took action there against pretty ordinary middle class people who happened to be involved in a dissenting faction at that point. It was a kind of a unique moment in history when a very conservative administration tangled with the forces the kind of middle class forces of of reform. And the, it probably wouldn't have happened in New York not because people don't get harassed in New York but just because the middle class forces reform don't get harassed in
Paul Chevigny Yeah it does happen to middle class people, it'll happen to you. If the cops come along and tell you to move and you say, "nah, I don't wanna," they'll say, "what are you a wise guy?" and if you say "I'm not a wise guy I just want my rights," something like that you're likely to go to
Studs Terkel So there's something then involving called resisting arrest this point and there's a very comic it's comic it's sort of Alice in Wonderland thing when someone you somewhere along the line somebody was accused of beating someone up he says, "I couldn't possibly cause he had been charged resist- with resisting arrest if I did."
Paul Chevigny Sure.
Studs Terkel Yeah, but a young policeman starts out, a policeman starts out young and very impressionable and you see people at their worst, naturally. You don't go to the better homes because there are fewer problems or they keep them under control. Sure a man and his wife argue but it's on a quiet level. In the poorer classes of homes frustrations are great pressures are tremendous. They turn on the TV set and had this giveaway programs who was winning thousands of dollars or the watch watching a play of some kind everything's beautiful and lovely. They watch this and they don't have any of it and they can't get any of it. An argument breaks out the close one to him he's gonna get it. Now we're taught, he means the middle class kind of police in this case that if my mother father argue the mother went around shutting the windows and the doors she didn't want the neighbors to hear them. And so we just the young cop sees these people at the end he says and when they have arguments a good argument and necessitates police to come and quiet it down the impression of a young police officer they aren't really people you know get rid of them.
Paul Chevigny It's true that that older cop is in some cases older cops after they've been on the force a long time maybe 15 years they, they a kind of level off. But there's a long period in the middle there where there's a lot of anger against the people they're dealing with. And they it's it's hard to distinguish really. Part of the problem with this book is that it's it's based entirely on the testimony of observers. So that very subtle things like the age of the police officer and his his precise tone of voice whether he he himself was being provocative or not and things like that are kind of hard to determine from the testimony of witnesses.
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Paul Chevigny You know the way witnesses are they they they often agree on the overall basic facts. But the placement of people and the tone of voice and what they said and all that kind of stuff is usually pretty confused.
Studs Terkel We, but if we can come back even though you have other cases the more graphic this one case of Jose this young Puerto Rican in Seward Park area I think is almost the classic in that it involves an acquittal. Finally an eventual acquittal after his remarkable testimony that the judges ignored and the cops said they made a mistake. They should have had another charge of disorderly conduct.
Paul Chevigny Well, that's really you're really talking about the system now because the interesting thing is that the kid was charged only with assault now that that the made for a lot of defenses [coughing] because I mean he was supposed to have have kicked this officer in resistance to arrest. But what arrest? They didn't have anything to arrest him for except assault which is supposed to been done after the arrest so they were in a box on that point there. And the other thing is that after the kid got he came to court with a broken jaw and the judges they may not always do justice but they're they're kind of nice old guys that's there view of the law I'm gonna be I'm gonna to be a nice old guy and they just couldn't do it. They just couldn't let it go down. They couldn't throw this kid in jail for assault. If he'd been charged with disorderly conduct which in New York is what we call a violation which is maximum 15 day I mean it's and it's a nothing. It's not a crime. They are probably convicted him of it to cover the officers but these guys now they were young. That's true. These guys were young. But whether that's significant. I don't know. But they were too young to know that, that the game is played. You put the lowest charge on him and then a resisting arrest and then an assault. And if he and if you really gonna nail him they're gonna convict him of the assault but you got to you've got to give them a scale, you gotta give them a scale to they work with.
Paul Chevigny Yeah. Well the the cover charge is really that they do 2 things and have 2 functions. One of them is simply to cover the mistake. Now in the case that I discuss in the mass police action chapter I mentioned this case of the arrests down on Tompkins Square and now the cops showed the gr- Thompson Square a little park in New York City and a number of hippies were arrested there and some of them were beaten up severely. Some of them were merely thrown in the paddy wagon right? Now those who were most severely injured were charged with felonious assault on a police officer. Those who were merely arrested were charged only with disorderly conduct. In other words they drew the charges in such a way as to account for the defendant's injuries and in other words he said the cop in effect says the reason he's got a knot on his head and blood on his face is that, that son of a gun tried to sock me or stab me or whatever. And the second reason for for the seriousness of charges which he doesn't appear in that case but appears in other cases they put on big charges when they think when they see they're in trouble. Witnesses show up at the precinct and they say we saw terrible thing we saw a cop beating up a guy blah blah blah. And the cops say uh, oh got to get him to cop out. So they charge him with felonious assault in order to try and coerce the defendant to plead guilty to a lesser charge. So there's 2 functions try and get him to plead guilty. And for heaven's sake cover the mistake.
Studs Terkel Yeah. So here again we come to this Alice in Wonderland approach that this cop was telling you earlier with his irrefutable logic that I didn't beat him up because if I did he'd be charged with resisting arrest.
Paul Chevigny Whom,
Paul Chevigny That's generally true that you'll find that I've got a case pending now. A couple of very nice women a mother and her daughter and they were involved in a demonstration that grew out of the the incredible teacher dispute we had. And they were demon-. The teachers were down at city hall demonstrating for their teacher's rights. And these were 2 ladies were down there with a little group demonstrating on behalf of of community control and the cops on horses charge the group that were that the nurse and her daughter were in. And the daughter fell down and apparently a horse stepped on her and it not hard enough to do her any real injury. And the mother came in grabbed the reins and tried to get the horse off the daughter. Well they hit the mother. Somebody hit the mother with the club and knocked her down and then they had the daughter there groaning in pain and they had that mother bleeding and it scared the daylights out of them as you can imagine. And so the initial story was
Paul Chevigny Yeah, yeah. They were very scared. They were a couple of middle class women who apparently been pretty seriously injured so they were charged with felonious assault. And the initial story was in the way the ladies told it to me was that the police were laughing in the precinct at this cop because his original story was that the 2 ladies had knocked him off his horse. And all the cops said, "Ah, come on. What do you mean they knock you off your horse?" So then they changed it to say the 2 ladies jumped on the horse and started to hit him about the head and shoulders and but the the first story about being knocked off the horse was too ridiculous. You know it made him look silly so then they changed it.
Studs Terkel Yeah. So there's the question of status involved. Again we come to, see. I realize now as we're talking about the book which is called Police Power a study. And we'll come to the subtitle too: Police Abuses in New York City, is the Alice in Wonderland aspect but also New York City is one of the better places you're implying to in the introduction that it's been a very difficult book to write in other communities.
Paul Chevigny Well that's a good, that's a good place for us to talk a little bit about Chicago which is which may, which is better in some ways. I think they, they seem to have better training in Chicago and better and better automation of information and so forth.
Paul Chevigny Yeah and at the at the highest at the le- the kind of crime detection level of police work which this book doesn't deal much with that I think Chicago police are very superior. But the street level it looks to me like for example you have a stop and frisk program here in the ghetto that your task force does a systematic stop and frisk and a a man favorable to the program reported that they got 3 somewhat over 3 percent arrests out of 250,000 stops and frisks. That means that nearly a quarter of a million people were suffered unnecessary indignities and that the police are not really applying even a standard of suspicion. I mean if they even picked up people who even qualified as suspicious they'd have to do better than that. You know there's systemtic, you've got to be systematically stopping for that. They don't do that in New York. That they're frankly scared to do it they're afraid they'll have a riot on their hands if they do. And the other thing is that the the the administration of the city seems to be so restrictive that that that the class that constitutes dissenters is enormous you know whereas in many ci- in a more with a more liberal administration the class that constitutes outcasts or dissenters is is somewhat small. But then that doesn't mean the cops in Chicago treat outcasts any worse than cops in New York do it just mean they're more outcasts.
Paul Chevigny And, but the, and then the other thing that I think it's interesting that it's interesting what the Civil Liberties Union here in Chicago I spoke to Jay Miller about this is doing is that these policemen who are accused of of the 5 policemen who were accused of the Chicago Riot business.
Paul Chevigny They've the the Civil Liberties Union here has said that they will at least consider helping them out with Civil Liberties Union facilities because it's their feeling that they're being made the fall guys. And I think that's very interesting and it fits into the theme of this book that is my theme is that it's society that's responsible not the cops. And that's really I think Jay's point too, the Civil Liberties Union here that, you can't make these 5 guys take the rap for what
Studs Terkel That's right, yeah, yes, yeah, yeah so we come, I think we should, point out clear that throughout this book it's not a question of Paul Chevigny you know and I'll ask you about your investigative work and how the cases came to you in your own experiences and heard them that you are not making the individual police [unintelligible] the scapegoat you're saying exactly what they are doing but why they doing it you know.
Studs Terkel We're trying anyway. It's interesting about the police reaction to this book. The, I haven't had much. I haven't had a lot of adverse reaction. I mean I've had some wisecracks and that's about all but I've had some letters from cops and they really want to disc- they really like want to discuss things with me they're points in the book. There are some things they don't agree about. And, they write to me and they say you know I don't think you understand how to stop and frisk law works because blah blah blah. Very interesting. There are a lot of very smart guys on the force who have thought about these problems and they and they don't they don't understand them very well themselves. You know they say everybody's saying to himself every American is saying to himself you know why are these cops hitting people why are they on the take? And nobody really knows the answer. I try to give a little piece of the answer. But you got to start with the assumption that they're just ordinary guys and that's something in the nature of a job and society makes them do these things. If you don't start with that assumption you start the assumption that they're pigs you're getting no
Studs Terkel Yeah, yeah of course. That's exactly the precisely the point. I think you have something here about what also happens, I forgot who made it some sociologist about it's the job of a detective are going to be suspicious.
Paul Chevigny Yeah.
Paul Chevigny That's right. And it's very true that that older detectives the case I discussed that in connection with the detective who pulled a gun on 2 colle- 2 sort of sort of moderately radical college boys in a bar and he probably, apparently he was a little drunk but he probably thought they were Communist conspirators or something like that. He didn't know any guys like that you know and and it was his job and had been his job for as long as he could remember to try and put things together every time he heard the fact he tried to get over other fact to make an incriminating pattern. And that's his job, you
Studs Terkel And so we have a, an interesting situation developing a society that may become more restrictive and therefore the police becomes freer you know because he's defending what these restrictions represent. And so the then the as you are implying to that the number of outcasts will become more and more than you see this trend during the past several years of your work.
Paul Chevigny Oh is it starting getting more restrictive? Oh, I don't know about that. The, I'm not sure it is getting more restrictive I think that as I say in the book the cops tend to shift their fire to whoever happens to be the celebrated outcasts of the moment. There was a time in New York City at least when it was Jews now that 75 years ago. But it's been peaceniks and and Black Panthers and whatnot in the last couple of years. The- I think maybe working on this kind of material now this is really in an interesting way this is a real this is unlike other books about a legal problems. Cause this is really the street street law. You know what happened in the street that led to the legal problem and that I really, I really li- liked that I'm a little bit like you that way I know you like that kind of thing to and.
Paul Chevigny Yeah. And too much of American law has been about you know they, to talk about policy. You know they talk like like when they're working on the st- when we were we working on the stop and frisk law for example on whether it sho- whether we should have one or we shouldn't have one. The big problem was that when no work had been done on, on a sense in a lot of work has been done on what the effect of a stop frisk program is? You know when, when you, when you, when you let an officer make a stop on suspicion what really happens? You know what really tends to happen? Nobody knew. You can and there were professors talking about you know the pol- well we, we, we have to foster two policies here.
Studs Terkel The
Studs Terkel I think we should, before we come back to the policeman who is not so much fearsome as fearful this cause this again is the under theme of your book too that he is afraid of some thing who is different. That and this could be the black, it could be the deviant could be the narcotic addict could be the peacenik. This to that, said in a sense he represents a huge aspect of our society.
Paul Chevigny Yeah, it's very convenient for him to be afraid. I mean it's convenient for society for him to be afraid because he's what is he afraid of, he's afraid of all those things that represent change and that's what society is afraid of. They're afraid that all these people are going to come in and change things and that they're going to lose out. Not only that they're going to lose in a concrete sense but they're going to lose status in the sense that. Well, I take a concrete example the guy who, the reason that the the father of the long haired kid who lea- runs away from them goes to the village is so furious at him is that the kid is that your daddy work like the devil all his life to get the 2 car gar- garage in, in Long Island or wherever Lake Forest and the kid just says, "It wasn't worth it daddy you shouldn't have done it you wasted your life." In effect that's what he says to him. And the more and the black man says even more threatening things such as, "I'm going to take away from him. I'm going to try to take it away from you or some of it away from you." And to be afraid of those thi- and to be kind of instinctively afraid of everybody who's different is like an institutionalization of all that opposition to change. You know it's a very convenient emotional.
Paul Chevigny Yeah.
Paul Chevigny Yeah.
Paul Chevigny Yeah.
Paul Chevigny Those are the liberal fathers they say you know,"Tsk, tsk, tsk, the cops shouldn't hit people on the head and so forth." But but on the other hand you pin him down to the mat and they say well they have a job to do and the job they're doing is is my dirty work.
Paul Chevigny Yeah.
Studs Terkel If we can come back to you now I think we should come back specifically to Paul Chevigny and the nature of this book how it can to be written on advent- adventures isn't the word, experience.
Paul Chevigny Well I think of them as adventures. I mean that's a that's an interesting thing that the book doesn't. The book I tried to write from a kind of an I haven't talked about this before but that I wrote the book, try to write the book from a neutral point of view and to let the facts tell themselves. And but you know so I don't say that for example in all of these cases particularly where black people are involved and particularly young kids in the ghetto who don't have a record who are in court in like I had a case involving a couple of kids who had good jobs one of them was a computer programmer. They had never been arrested and they were in their twenties and they lived in Harlem and it was like miraculous that they had made it. You know and here they were they had been busted in a subway dispute and the cops had roughed them up and they were accused of a series of little things that culminating in resisting arrest and in effect the book had been thrown at them. And I was scared to death in that case. And this happened after the book was written I tried this case and I tried it over 3 or 4 days in front of a pretty good judge and and I was sweating every morning before we went to trial and the kids were saying the kids were kind of happy go lucky. I mean they were innocent they knew it and they didn't know anything about the system of justice. They assumed they were going to be acquitted. You know and I assume they were going to be convicted.
Studs Terkel But
Paul Chevigny And I was there slugging and I was thinking and they were saying at the end one of the the most happy go lucky of the o- of the 2 said to me, "We didn't have to worry man, you did all the worrying for us. You were jittery the whole time." And I said, "You don't know, you don't know what's at stake."
Studs Terkel [Laughing]
Studs Terkel So this is interesting here are you who were practicing law but also you're involved definitely in Harlem with the defense of many people who are unable to pay who could easily be in victims of institutions the walls and you know about it but these innocence these 2 kids were wholly unaware of it, yeah.
Paul Chevigny Yeah, They had, they had in a funny way they had led kind of sheltered lives and that sometimes happens in poor communities you know the mother and father do everything to keep the kids sheltered from
Paul Chevigny Yeah.
Studs Terkel But coming back to Paul Che- Chevigny indicate the nature of his detachment yet obvious involvement there is no detachment but you try to be as fair as you could. You even insisted to the Civil Liberties Union that the former commissioner of police review your book, Johnny Broderick. Was it Johnny Broderick, John Broderick?
Paul Chevigny No.
Paul Chevigny Well, when you say insisted no I didn't. Civil Liberties which is the the magazine organ of the union, Civil Liberties Union asked me to suggest somebody to review it and I suggested Vince Broderick who is the former police commissioner of New York City. Now Vince's review is interesting because, I call him Vince I don't know him that well but I do know him a little and his review is interesting because his criticism is a very basic kind of criticism of this book of this type of book and that is he says that, "Well you got only so in so many ca- only 123 cases in here," he said and "you're," he said, "You've seen the dirty side of the of the policeman." He said, "Your view of the policeman is as distorted as the policeman's view of the Negro, in effect." he says, "Cause you don't see anything but the dirty side." That's an interesting criticism and really I can't you know it's funny and this kind of study you really can't refute it. I mean yo- you cannot finally refute it. I can say and I can believe that even the cases I couldn't authenticate are so much like the ones that I could that that they many of them must be true even though they didn't have witnesses and that the and that the nature of society of the police job is such that what I describe as tendencies in this book tendencies to to abuses have got to be tendencies. But I mean in the mathematical scientific sense it cannot be proven.
Studs Terkel Yeah, except for one thing I read his review too of your book that I think having read your book and he's read your book is that ex-commissioner Broderick missed a key point you are not attacking the policemen. That's precisely the point, you were speaking of institutional injustice the very the institut- institution itself. And he is we come back to him again as in a sense almost the guy who carries the ball.
Paul Chevigny Well Vince is more of an idealist than neither one of us. Because Vince really believes that that he's got a, a ro- a kind of romantic cop buff's idea about cops which is nice for a guy. I mean by nice I don't mean pejorative I mean it's great for a guy who's the been the commissioner and been interested in police law enforcement work all his life to have retained that kind of idealism. To too few to many guys get cynical, you
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Studs Terkel [laughing]
Paul Chevigny And I kept saying, "No no you know I'm having a good time." And I mean, basically that it's very hard to say why you start to do a thing. But what I did I'll tell you I'll tell you what it is and in doing this I'm going to knock the law schools. The law schools teach you kind of what you would call a mandarin approach to
Paul Chevigny Yeah, no but I mean you give me a chance giving me a chance because they teach you the law schools teach you a funny thing they get economic. They get money making confused with intellectual accomplishment which is a very good trick for educational institutions to do. They teach you that all the hard work that really requires that legal brain is the work that's done in the big firms that are only really respectable legal work respectable in the intellectual sense is done in the big firm. Well I bought that act everybody bought it and my generation in law school. We all want to go to work going to big Wall Street law firm where we really could find something that was worthy of our talents and the fact that it paid better than any other job was was hidden behind that. So I did that and then one day I did, I was encouraged by a friend to do a case as a volunteer for the for C.O.R.E. which was a somewhat different organization then it is now the case that I volunteered to do as it turned our was cops against Louisiana which is a, ultimately turned into a big Supreme Court decision. Well it was so much work and so much very demanding work, it involves so many knotty problems which I had never come up against before. But I realized I had been sold a bill of goods cause I I mean in other words obviously my convictions were in this direction but I felt that that you know my attainments had a line in another direction because the law school had taught me that. And I was just dead wrong. I mean the legal work is the same here and there. So you do what interests you. You know what you think is the most valuable.
Studs Terkel Are there, it's on the subject. Do do you think is that, a friend of mine who's a doctor in town and says that's a marvelous young medical students, coming up a big change it's not the old boudoir doctor making [unintelligible] a whole group. Is this so in law too do sense?
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Paul Chevigny Well the I, this book was done I was asked to do a study for the New York Civil Liberties Union. Now they had a they had foundation money to do a systematic study of police abuses. And essentially they wanted to do what I did which was basically simply to take the cases the complaints that came in and try to find out what evidence there was for them and what could be done to help the people involved. In other words whether the remedies for police abuses were effective. Now the the answer to that question is flatly no the remedies are not effective. But the reason the remedies aren't effective is for reasons that were not so evident to those who set up the project. And that is that the cop. It isn't that the civilian review board is in the way or the non civilian review board in the way although that's partly it but that the cop himself is in the way he's arresting this guy and charging him. And I've got to defend them. You know with with utmost labor and in some cases I have to throw out all the all the defendant's remedies because the DA finally I mean you've got to here you've got a magnificent defense and the DA's response to it is, "Ok I'll dismiss the case if you'll waive claims against the city." and there you are. And you really can't say no unless the guy has been has been maimed so
Studs Terkel What.
Paul Chevigny I mean a poor man if he's been permanently injured he wants his damages. But the matter but, I mean poor people are a little more practical than middle class people you know they're not going to spend 3 or 4 years trying to collect a few hundred dollars damages from some guy.
Paul Chevigny Yeah.
Paul Chevigny Well, the, it happened. I I don't discuss it in detail because it was only in for 4 months and its effectiveness couldn't be tested under those conditions of course. But it was Lindsay put it in when he came into office it was one of his campaign promises. And it's yo- the listeners may remember it was put on the ballot by the policeman's, Patrolmen's Benevolent Association in New York City. A referendum to test whether the CCRB civilian complaint review board should be kicked off should be kicked out in effect whether all civilians on it should be kicked off. And the citizens voted upwards of 2 to 1 to kick all civilians off. Well I mean what do you say about that? It just means that people don't want the police to be better than they are. What else can it mean?
Studs Terkel Yeah,
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Paul Chevigny I mean as for tying the policeman's hands that was that was a complete phony because the. I mean there was no question that the review board was going to work entirely within the exi- existing structure of the law it had no power to limit a policeman's actions it only had power to to take action against an abuse of his existing powers. There was no question limiting it you know and and this thing about while police will be afraid to act if he thinks somebody looking over his shoulder. Well, I mean the there just wasn't any. Let's say it was briefly there was no evidence for that view
Studs Terkel So you yourself in working cause well I want to come to the case what I call the respectable Caplan's. A case here how the the circle of outcasts can increase and widen respect. Let's touch of that now.
Paul Chevigny Well that's an interesting little case. A very little case wa- blew up a very big political affair. These people were schoolteachers now and they were they were in favor of the civilian aspect of the review board. They were driving in their car down in the lower east side and they passed the police car with a sticker on it. Now there are schoolteachers and their conscious of that public officials aren't supposed to take political positions. So they went back to the car and asked the cops if they knew that there was a sticker on the car and got a "no" response. Asks when they would take it off. Also cops said "no". Now at this point the policemen were looking through their little books their little law books and they and then they said to the lady, "Can we have your identification?" "Why." "Well we want to write you up for jaywalking." So [laughing] then they began to get angry and they refused to give their identification and the the wife said you know if you want my you want we'll settle this at the precinct let's go down to the precinct. And she just got right into the police car. Let's go. You know so the fat was in the fire. The cops arrested the other, the husband and the cousin who were there and carried him off. OK. Now what's the point. Here's the sorry-, backtrack a step they charged them with jaywalking and also what disorderly conduct. Once they brought them into the precinct they had to have reason for an arrest. Jaywalking not an arrestable offense, see. So, now the point is that here were people whose very position was in defiance of the police criticism of the police. They, they were in favor of a review board. Beyond that the cop they were they were deliberately criticizing and defying the police they were trying to tell the cops what to do. Right? Very bad thing to do. So here they were done then now they were it was a it's a kind of a dramatic case because they were at first convicted of the disorderly conduct and there was an eyewitness a Puerto Rican girl who who in effect volunteered to come down which was.
Studs Terkel This
Paul Chevigny It's incredibly public spirited of her because she worked all night and then she came in the morning to court and she had reason to fear some reprisal which they certainly had none and her, when I s- you know I was floored because we did something that I rarely found effective. We went down the houses facing the scene and rang doorbells in the front apartments looking for witnesses which usually leads to a conspiracy of silence. But this girl said, "Sure she'd do it." And I said, "Gee thanks." You know I gave her a subpoena. I couldn't believe it and she said, "It's all right. I'm a Puerto Rican I understand these things." Very very slightly patronizing to these middle class people you know but. As much as to say,"You know you're getting what I've been getting."
Studs Terkel That's
Paul Chevigny "I'm gonna to help you would you help me?" And well she testified, the judge convicted him anyway and there was a public uproar about it was reversed on appeal. These cops were disciplined by the Department. And here's an interesting thing that shows you about departmental trials. Now there was a sergeant who passed in a truck during this scene and he, the Caplan's told me about him and I said, Oh,forget him we'll never find him." you know and that was my view. Well, at the departmental trial they found this sergeant. In order to do this they had to well they couldn't have that many sergeants in the area that night they probably found 4 or 5 and they questioned them and they found the one who had seen it and he said he'd seen it. Now here's the fantastic thing. An investigation was made of this case while the criminal charges were pending and the cops had this witness all the time they had him in their back pocket. They knew that these kids were innocent. They knew it the whole department knew it and yet they let them go to trial and be convicted.
Studs Terkel Yeah,
Paul Chevigny You know and it seemed to me and I mean that's the worst aspect of the police of the police disciplinary system is that they they put on this this ballet of it's being separate from the criminal process whereas in fact the criminal process and the diciplinary process are are inextricably interlocked.
Studs Terkel Yeah. We haven't talked you know as we listen to Paul Chevigny talk about his experiences and the nature of the book, oh and and oh the sources of information someone would call, you it was a guy named Franklin was a a union guy, black guy who would give you tips on. He would tell the kids to see you wherever it is.
Paul Chevigny Yeah.
Paul Chevigny Well, tips no I mean his were tips. Yes, but most of the time that was it was actual complaints people calling in and saying my son was beaten up or something like that. It was more much more concrete than a tip and hi- in the- in his case he was ki- he was kind of a unique guy who happened to have a lot of connections in the neighborhood. But as for, they that's the interesting thing about being a detective that I found which I was sort of a little bit that you being a detective is either, is either very easy or it's impossible in the sense that you find your witnesses are either willing and they're going to do it or else they just they just aren't there at all. You know I mean it's not a question of you're going around and and putting some clever private eye mentality to work and finding that hidden witness they're not hidden they're either sticking out all over or they're they're not there.
Paul Chevigny Yeah.
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Paul Chevigny The Puerto Rican kids they were all Puerto Ricans but many cases there were the witnesses were middle class and sometimes they got arrested too because being middle class people they saw police abuse and their instinct was to say, "Hey you can't do that," and the police, the lieutenant or whoever was there say,"yeah, wanna bet?" you know. And then down you go to the precinct and you're charged with interfering with
Paul Chevigny Right.
Paul Chevigny What are the remedies, huh? Well, you know it's it's integral to this theme that the police are doing to a large extent what society wants you got to say that society's got to change for the police to change a great deal insofar as the police lag behind society. Review boards help a little bit but there are so many cases in which they can't authenticate the facts that I really feel that you've got to have. You've got to open up the police department in the sense you my feeling is you've got to have what they call lateral recruitment meaning that you can't have this monolithic civil service in which every man at every level in the department has worked his way up from the bottom and therefore will want to cover everything that's done by the people below 'em. I think people got to be trained at all levels. You've got to train detectives to be detectives and take them in from civilian life as detectives and even taking administrators captains lieutenants from civilian life. In some ways you might get better administrators because they would have been specially trained for the job. And, but more than that you'd break down this monolithic structure. You take the Army for example, there was a time when the Army was totally professional in this country and there was a lot of internal brutality. Sergeants socking privates and so for- it doesn't happen anymore. Two reasons. Because the army is full of draftees and they wouldn't. They would just as soon see the sergeant go to jail as look at them. And also the officers are of a different class and background than the men. That's pretty undemocratic I can see but I'm talking only about the the element in it which has to do with their not having they're having a lateral recruitment at all levels bottom and top.
Studs Terkel So at the very end you're saying and that's the irony here is an Alice in Wonderland quality and also irony that the private code of the police represents the public code. And with more and more repression it's self-defeating that which big respect for law and order then declines rather than
Studs Terkel So it can we, would it be of not asking you to be a a sort of Nostradamus. But a prognosis? [laughing] Paul Chevigny is our guest before we're talking about a book called Police Power. The subtitle Police Abuses in New York City but you could name any community and Pantheon very excellent publishing house publishers. If we come back to to you now and thoughts today. Is there?
Paul Chevigny Well, sure there's a slight there's a slight trend to the right. I don't think that I don't think that the powers of the police are going to decline and I don't think that society is going to want are going to want to limit their abuses any more than they've done up to now and probably less.
Paul Chevigny All right. This brings us back to the importance of police abuses and the urgency of the problem they represent. They are hardly the only acts of oppression in our cities but they are the easiest to recognize. The anger they instill is part of the fuel for the violent uprisings in our cities. During the past few 5 years as an indispensable condition for ending those uprisings the police must change their allegiance from from a private code to a publicly recognized rule of law. And it is only when society itself demands this change that it will take place.
Studs Terkel Paul ahh! By the, I should point out the mistake I made as a natural one. Hector Chevigny was a remarkable man who was Paul Shevigny's father, one of the founders of the Radio Writer's Guild an excellent writer in the days pre-TV and wrote an excellent book by the way called, My Eyes Have a Wet Nose remember that. Thank you very much Paul Chevigny.