The 48-Hour Rule: How the Police Get Their Story Straight When They Kill Someone

By Travis Morales. Why are police who brutalize and murder rarely if ever charged, much less convicted and sent to prison?

The 48-Hour Rule: How the Police Get Their Story Straight When They Kill Someone

BROOKLYN, NY (Workers World Today) — Three days before Christmas, 1994. The Baez family is altogether. Around 1 a.m., four of the Baez brothers go outside, and start a game of touch football. Everybody’s happy, playing around…then the ball goes off target, thud…it hits the roof of a cop car parked on the street. “Sorry about that….” No big deal. Another cop car pulls up. Francis Livoti is the driver–a cop who’s had 14 official complaints filed against him. Many of them involved choking. Thud…the ball hits Livoti’s car. He gets out and orders the Baez brothers to go home. But they are home. The brothers try to continue their game….Livoti gets out. He’s in a rage. “That’s it! Who wants to fight?” he yells.  Livoti gets Anthony in a chokehold.  Livoti is crazy with anger. He holds Anthony around the neck–10 seconds, 20 seconds, 30 seconds, 40 seconds, 50 seconds…a long killing minute. The life spills out of Anthony Baez.

Anthony’s father, Ramon, comes running out of the house. He yells out, “He has asthma!” Livoti yells back, “He’s sick? He has asthma? Good for him.” Anthony falls unconscious face down in the street. The cops kneel on his back and handcuff him. Anthony lays in the street for 15 minutes before they drag him to a police car. He never regains consciousness. All the while this is happening, Anthony’s family is screaming, “He has asthma…don’t hurt him…somebody call the cops!…” One of the cops yells back, “We are the cops, you idiots!”

In any other case where someone had been killed, the suspected perpetrators would have been immediately arrested, taken to jail, and interrogated.  But not this time.  Why?  Because the killer was an NYPD cop. Under the 48-hour rule in the PBA union contract, Livoti, who had just choked Anthony Baez to death, could not be questioned for 48 hours! Livoti and three other officers on the scene took advantage of this. Reportedly, they met behind the 46th Precinct to get their stories straight.  Another officer on the scene, Daisy Boria, refused to take part in the meeting.  During Livoti’s trial, her testimony contradicted that of all the other officers, including her partner, about what had happened.  She was subsequently branded a “rat” by her fellow officers and was run out of the NYPD.

Livoti was tried only on charges of criminally negligent homicide, not murder!  According to the New York Times, “During the trial, Justice Sheindlin suggested that the police had constructed ‘a nest of perjury,’ tailoring their accounts in Mr. Livoti’s favor.” Nonetheless, the judge acquitted Livoti.

Yes, Livoti and his fellow officers took advantage of the 48-hour rule to get their stories straight.  But this is not unusual.  Across the country, many police contracts in major cities prevent officers from being interrogated after an incident.  In 2006, a New York State Court of Appeals effectively threw out the right of police unions to include the 48-hour rule in their contracts.  In 2014, just weeks before Eric Garner was murdered, the New York State Legislature passed a bill that, again, allowed police unions to include the 48-rule in their contracts.  According to the New York Post, “It passed 57-2 in the Senate and 132-2 in the Assembly just before they adjourned in June. (Among those supporting the bill were all 42 of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Caucus members present for the votes.)”

Why is the 48-hour rule so important to the police and the powers that be? The choking murder of Anthony Baez is just one of thousands of stories. In 2017, alone, according to research by TheRoot.com, across the country, police killed 1,129 people. According to the police themselves, 147 were unarmed, yet only 12 officers were charged with a crime related to a shooting death! Most of the people killed (718) were suspects in nonviolent offenses, were stopped for traffic violations or had committed no crime at all.  Most of the unarmed victims were people of color. Of the 147 unarmed people killed by police, 48 were black and 34 were Hispanic. Black people accounted for 27 percent of the people killed by law enforcement officers. Of the unarmed victims of police violence, blacks made up 37 percent, almost three times their percentage of the U.S. population (13 percent).

Over and over again, when the police brutalize and murder us, when they are caught on video for the whole world to see like when Daniel Pantelo choked Eric Garner to death, we are told these are just a few bad apples.  If these are just a few bad apples, where are the “good cops”?  If these are just a few bad apples, then why don’t their fellow officers stop them when they are brutalizing someone?  Why don’t their fellow officers report them? Why are police who brutalize and murder us given a paid vacation on desk duty? Why are police who brutalize and murder rarely if ever charged, much less convicted and sent to prison?

In the words of Bob Avakian, leader of the revolution and Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party:

“The role of the police is not to serve and protect the people. It is to serve and protect the system that rules over the people. To enforce the relations of exploitation and oppression, the conditions of poverty, misery and degradation into which the system has cast people and is determined to keep people in. The law and order the police are about, with all of their brutality and murder, is the law and the order that enforces all this oppression and madness.”

That is why the police are rarely if ever charged, convicted and sent to prison when they commit cold-blooded murder like when they murdered Michael Brown, Eric Garner, 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley Jones, 12-year-old Tamir Rice, Antonio Zamzrano Montes, 17-year-old Laquan McDonald , Elanor Bumpers, 13-year-old Nicholas Heyward Jr., Manuel Díaz, 16-year-old Kimani Gray, Shantel Davis, Manuel Jaminez Xum, Akai Gurley, Ramarley Graham, Joel Acevedo and the list goes on and on and on and…  That is why they need the 48-hour rule to get their stories straight.

In my 66 years, tens of thousands of people have been killed by the police, many thousands of them unarmed, disproportionately Black, Latino and Native American. Every time we hear those two words, “justifiable homicide,” they burn a hole through our hearts. The police get off because that is their job. If it was not, then they would be tried, convicted and sent to prison instead of rewarded over and over again. People ask me, “When will these murders end? What will it take to stop this?” I answer them, again in the words of Bob Avakian, “Revolution, Nothing Less!”

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