WASHINGTON (NNPA) - Gov. David A. Paterson, the Rev. Al Sharpton, State Sen. Eric Adams, and a host of clergy and civic leaders, have issued "a call for an independent investigation of these types of shootings," Paterson told the Amsterdam News, referring to the shooting death of Officer Omar Edwards by a fellow officer two weeks ago.
"Though these tragic occurrences are rare, they seem to happen disproportionately to African-American officers," Paterson stated. The governor noted that since the shooting death of patrolman John Holt Jr. in 1940, there have been at least 20 such incidents of policemen shooting policemen, most of them White cops shooting Black cops. Paterson recalled an incident in 1973 involving the brother of the late former Assemblyman Samuel Wright of Brooklyn. "His brother, Irving Wright, was a police officer working off duty as security in a grocery store on 112th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue," the governor recalled, "when a man robbed the store. He didn't draw his gun and act immediately because he didn't want to endanger the lives of customers.
"Once the customers were out of harm's way," Paterson continued, "Officer Wright, with his gun drawn, went out of the door in pursuit of the robber when he was shot and killed by the police." According to the Officer Down Memorial web page, two on-duty officers saw Wright running with a gun in his hand near the corner of 111th Street but did not see the suspect because he ran west on 111th Street and hid under a parked car.
The two patrolmen exited their patrol car and yelled, "Freeze! Drop your gun!" Officer Wright, 34, and a seven-year veteran of the force, did not stop at first but then spun around toward the officers. As he spun, his gun accidentally discharged. Both uniformed officers opened fire, striking him six times. He was rushed to St. Luke's Hospital, where he died from his wounds.
What is most disturbing for the governor and those with him at the press conference is the persistence of such incidents and the critical need to remedy them. "I am confident that the district attorney and the police commissioner will conduct a thorough investigation of this case, but what I'm talking about is just the number of times these things happen," the governor related.
When asked what procedures might reduce the number of such tragedies, the governor stated that he wasn't an expert on such matters. "But what I think happens is that in moments of stress, people have fears, and when they see an African-American with a weapon, their perception is that he's committing a crime," he said. "And this is a fear not only shared by White Americans but by some Black Americans.
"Something must be done to make sure that this perception is not the first thing an officer is reacting to," Paterson said.
Many critics of the NYPD have proposed a residency requirement and psychological testing for officers, but Paterson wasn't sure if this was the answer.
"I won't endorse any particular procedure, but these are things that can be looked into," he replied. "Since there is a pattern in all this, I propose that we sit down and do the research and be open-minded enough to see what can be done." Sensitivity training, he suggested, may be part of the solution, "since I've seen it work in other cases," he said.
Paterson has met with the Edwards' family and said they are taking it very hard. "They are a very gracious family. We talked and then prayed together," he said. "I don't think they are that concerned with [these] issues at the moment, since they just lost someone they loved very deeply."
Finally, the governor was asked if the call for an independent investigator was the creation of a temporary federal or a permanent one. "We will discuss this with the feds to see if this is a national problem, something that happens frequently in other cities, or we may see what can be done at the state level."