Police Brutality

From Abu Ghraib Torture to NYPD Police Brutality

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Since the height of the Occupy Wall Street movement in the fall of 2011, Deputy Inspector Andrew J. Lombardo has become notorious to activists. He is referenced “in numerous tweets, YouTube videos, and news reports” of police abuse and brutality towards protesters, according to The Gothamist.

Military.com reports that many cops are landing jobs with departments right out of the military. For a lot of those officers, it is difficult to separate between the role of an occupying army overseas, and community policing at home.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t keep precise statistics on the number of veterans employed in law enforcement, instead lumping together the classification with wardens, school crossing guards and other security jobs. But the agency reports the unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans was 7.7 percent in July, up from 7.2 percent in June. That’s 0.3 percent higher than the unemployment rate for the civilian labor force.

Adam Johnson and Keegan Stephan explain that “his tactics of seemingly arbitrary arrests, intense questioning, and what some have described as ‘mind games’ have been documented by activists and First Amendment organizations for years.”

The Gothamist adds that “What isn’t known is that before he rose to be one of the NYPD’s most prominent point men on NYC protests, Lombardo, or “The Lombardo” as many activists not-so-lovingly call him, was a prison guard at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq for the 800th MP Battalion during the time of the prisoner torture scandal.”

Military.com elucidates that “Veterans face challenges that civilians do not. Some are unsure how to express to potential employers how skills learned in the military translate to the civilian job market. Some return with post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury and wonder if those conditions will be a deal-breaker if they reveal them when interviewing for a job.”

Lombardo seems to be a case in point.

Johnson and Stephan reveal that “The internal Abu Ghraib report matches an ‘Andrew J. Lombardo’ whose picture can be seen on a US Army Reserve Facebook post from 2011 in reference to an NYPD Captain (his rank until very recently) of the same name who held the same position, in the same brigade, at the same time.”

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The add that “The Taguba Report, carried out by Major General Antonio Taguba in May 2004, verifies that Lombardo was part of the military chain of command during the time of the notorious human rights abuses.”

Though Lombardo, and several others of the 310 Brigade 800th Battalion were evidently not accused of any wrongdoing, his time at Abu Ghraib is consistent with a broader trend of the way our wars abroad have, in the words of the ACLU, “come home” and have a potential chilling effect on First Amendment activity. From the importing of armored MRAP trucks through the 1033 Program to a spike in sound cannon purchases, the use of methods developed in Iraq on peaceful protests at home is increasingly making civil libertarians worried.

Dr. Peter Kraska, a professor at Eastern Kentucky University and expert on the militarization of police, told Gothamist that, “It is hard to come back from military operations that are so deeply rooted in psychological warfare—people dying, yes, but also where you are supposed to be influencing the culture of a population—and not have that bleed into the operation of civilian policing, especially as these officers rise through the ranks.”

“Overall, it is not a good idea to put someone who has cut their teeth in the military in a position where they are policing a potentially volatile situation like a protest,” said Dr. Kraska. “It can cause them to use tactics that are not accepted in democratic policing.”

One Occupy Wall Street protester, Yonatan Miller, told the Gothamist that Captain Lombardo “used my legal name. That’s how he would mess with me.”

For instance, as seen in a YouTube video from 2011, “everyone called me ‘Yoni,’ the only way anyone would know my legal name is if they had been running information on me. When he approached me he said my complete name, I took this to mean he wanted me to know that I was being watched. I am a Dutch citizen, this compelled me to stop protesting—I didn’t want any immigration problems.”

In Yoni’s video, he was questioned whether he had any connections with “terrorists” or “terrorist activity.”

Lombardo demanded that he search Yonatan’s bag. These “mind games” and bullying led the end of his activism.

“I wanted to be involved with Black Lives Matter. I really did. But I couldn’t run the risk of being watched, I couldn’t run the risk of being deported,” Yoni added.

At protests, the Gothamist reports, Deputy Inspector Lombardo “is effectively in charge of the new Strategic Response Group,” frequently instructing officers to make arrests of whoever he deems in need of being singled out and locked up.

“In my experience, people who are in charge of departments,” Dr. Peter Kraska, a professor at Eastern Kentucky University and expert on the militarization of police, noted, “like chiefs of police, have been responsible for taking those departments very far down the road of militarization.”

Johnson and Stephan add that: “Several other activists we spoke to had similar experiences to those of Jose and Yoni. One protester, who goes by the name ‘Dragonfly’,” an African American woman, “says Captain Lombardo approached her after a brief absence from participating in Black Lives Matter and #Fightfor15 actions and said ‘Where were you? We were looking for you last week’.”

Another activist, going by the named “Ash J”, said that once he was detained for no reason, at the direct and personal order of Captain Lombardo. The only thing he was doing was filming the police arrest of a man back in December. But there was, of course, nothing at all illegal about that.

“I was filming a routine arrest during an action and as I was walking away, Captain Lombardo yelled out to one of his blue shirts, ‘That’s him, that’s him!’” Ash recalled.

New York City activists say this is common practice for Lombardo and those under his command.

Lombardo had nothing to pin on Ash, so he told the officer he sent after him: “just say he was blocking traffic.”

Another activist told Johnson and Stephan that in 2012 Lombardo removed an elderly peace protester known as the “knitting old lady” from Zuccotti Park. The video of the arrest went viral because it was so brazen.

Lombardo had an officer blare a bullhorn in her ear, then took her, her rocking chair and belongings.

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“That’s why activists are scared of him,” Ash explained. “He does the stuff other cops don’t want to do. He does the stuff most people don’t want to do.”

(Article by M. David and S. Wooten; images via Facebook and courtesy of Stacy Lanyon; h/t to the Gothamist)

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