“Testilying”: A Brutal Pig Snare of Lies and Punishment

March 26, 2018 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


John Bunn was 14 years old in 1991—the year he and his friend Rosean Hargrave were arrested and charged with killing an off-duty corrections officer in Brooklyn, New York. There was no physical evidence against the teens.

The only testimony against them came from another cop who survived the confrontation. The cop falsely “identified” Bunn and Hargrave as the killers in lineups organized by NYPD detective Louis Scarcella. His lies were backed up by other cops and the prosecutor and upheld by the judge and jury that convicted the youths. Eighteen years later, John Bunn was released on parole; Rosean Hargrave was in prison until 2015. In 2016, a judge vacated Bunn’s conviction, saying Scarcella had “fabricat[ed] false identification evidence” essential to putting Bunn and Hargrave in prison.

Blue Wall of Deceit

Fabricating stories, concealing evidence, destroying evidence, throwing down fake evidence, lying about beatings and threats they inflict on people, covering up illegal searches and seizures, creating fake photo lineups, providing false accounts of witness identifications—all this and more is standard, deeply entrenched practice for the NYPD, and every police department in the country. A cop told the New York Times, “Behind closed doors, we call it testilying.”

This is not new, and it’s not just because the job of being a pig in the U.S. attracts dishonest people. In Los Angeles in the late 1990s, a huge exposé revealed a nest of police coverups, lies, and foul crimes against the people. One victim, a 19-year-old immigrant, was shot by cops while forced on his knees and handcuffed—then the pigs planted a rifle on him. He was sentenced to 23 years in prison after the cops lied in court, and left paralyzed for the rest of his life. The authorities had to review the cases of hundreds of people—mainly Latino youths—whose convictions were based on false testimony from cops. The entire LAPD was engulfed in a deep and massive scandal. But only three of the many cops involved ever spent time in prison. Four other cops were found guilty by a jury on minor charges—but then a judge declared the jury had made a mistake and threw out the verdicts. In Tulia, a small town in the Texas Panhandle, 46 people, 39 of them Black, were sent to prison in 1999 on felony drug charges, on the basis of the lies of one openly racist undercover pig. These are just two of many, many examples from across the country.

Police in this country enforce the “law and order” of a system of intense poverty, no decent jobs, crumbling housing, and shitty education for millions of people. A system of mass incarceration—some two million in prison, the highest rate in the world, overwhelmingly Black and Latino. A system in which Black and Brown youths are harassed and arrested over and over again until they are dubbed “habitual criminals.” A system where health care is nonexistent or piss poor. A system that has for centuries thrived on violently enforced oppression of Black, Latino, and Native American people. A system whose culture and legal system honor and uphold their brutal police over and over. And now, the fascist regime in power has made it clear that these pigs are even more free to carry out their brutality and terror without repercussion.

Lying cops are backed up by the legal system of this society every step of the way because their role is to maintain and defend this capitalist-imperialist system that exploits and oppresses tens of millions of people mercilessly.

Last year, the NYPD made 239,971 arrests. Overwhelmingly, these were Black and Brown people. A study by John Jay College professors found that from 1993 to 2016, Black people were about five times more likely than whites to be arrested for minor drug charges. According to New York City’s Budget Office, 90 percent of prisoners in city jails are Black and Latino.

Tens of thousands of people thrown into New York’s hellish jail system on the basis of phony or nonexistent evidence are locked up for months, even years. This cruel setup puts enormous pressure on people to make plea deals—to admit some “guilt” and either be sentenced to prison or put on probation—so they can get out of the infamous Rikers Island jail.

Very rarely is the false evidence challenged on any level. In 2016 only 1,460 criminal cases went to trial in New York City, while 270,304 criminal cases were “resolved” without a trial—meaning the police involved never were challenged about the “evidence” they brought against the people they arrested. As one Brooklyn cop said about him and his fellow pigs, they have “no fear of being caught. You’re not going to go to trial and nobody is going to be cross-examined.”

Even more infrequent is for one of these pigs to be exposed for their lies. The New York Times reported that “in the rare cases when an officer does testify in court—and a judge finds the testimony suspicious, leading to the dismissal of the case—the proceedings are often sealed afterward.”

Again, this is not just in one city but all over the country. In Los Angeles and Tulia, for example, many innocent people facing long sentences pled guilty rather than fight for a trial. A professor who studied these experiences wrote: “Time and again, actually innocent defendants asked ... to explain why they pled guilty repeated a common mantra: it was their word against that of the police, and who were the prosecutors, judges, or jurors going to believe?”

And in those highly unusual circumstances when a pig is proven, in court, to have lied—they are more likely to be promoted than to be punished. Kimberly Thomas was arrested on the basis of planted evidence and false testimony when she visited a friend in the Bronx who lived in a building where a police bust was underway. A video camera in the hallway proved that the story the cops used to charge her was complete bullshit. Over a year’s time she had to go to court 16 times. When prosecutors finally dropped her charges, she told the court, “For 396 days I have been fighting for my life, my freedom and my sanity. This has been such a surreal journey that I don’t wish on anyone.” Meanwhile, the cop who tried to frame her had been promoted to detective.

Not a “Few Bad Apples”

Think of how many lives have been destroyed of people caught in this vice—either maintain your innocence and spend months or years waiting for a trial that will almost certainly end in your conviction with long sentences... or plead guilty to false charges founded on police lies in the hopes of getting a lesser sentence.

Every step of the way, the legal system maximizes the punishment inflicted on Black and Latino people, especially the youth. It rewards the cops, prosecutors, and judges who carry it out. This is not an aberration; it is not a case of a “few bad apples.” It is this system that rules over the people working the way it’s supposed to.




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