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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NYPD Violence

Let's assume for a moment that every bad thing that's been said about Patrick Dorismond was true. It was said that he smoked marijuana, that he once threatened a man with a gun he didn't have. It was said that he punched a guy for shortchanging him on a marijuana sale and punched his girlfriend while she was holding their child.

Let's accept the charge by New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's that Patrick Dorismond spent a good deal of his adult life punching people - although there's no proof of this - and the cops' story that Dorismond lunged at Detective Anthony Vasquez's gun.

Even if all this is true, it doesn't explain why Detective Vasquez drew his gun in the first place on a man involved in a commonplace street brawl, which was instigated by the police, over a crime that was never committed and that, at most, would have been a misdemeanor.

Two lawyers and one former police officer have explained to me the American law on the use of deadly force. Police officers are justified in using deadly force only when their lives or the life of someone else is threatened, or to prevent someone from committing or fleeing the scene of a violent crime. Pulling a gun on somebody just because that person has ticked you off is not in the rule book.

In New York City, we've now reached the point where police officers apparently feel it's all right to shoot people for the crime of talking back or for trying to finish a fight the cops started. Men go after each other physically all the time, over matters serious and trivial.

Now we're being told that, in a fight with an unarmed civilian, a cop is permitted to even the score by shooting him. It's an issue of power, says Michael Letwin, president of New York City's Association of Legal Aid Attorneys.

"Police feel that any hint of resistance, not necessarily even physical, just someone standing up for themselves, is intolerable. They feel that violence is justified when anyone doesn't immediately do what they're ordered to do."

If so, then the police officers we pay to keep our neighborhoods safe have in effect become roving death squads, with absolute power over us.

Trevor Garel understands this mind-set. The 62-year-old is a semi-retired criminal-defense lawyer and a former prosecutor. He served as a New York City cop for 17 years. He had a regular beat, worked undercover in narcotics, was on the vice squad, conducted investigations as a detective and investigated applicants for the police department before leaving the force for Yale Law School in 1978.

When he was a cop, his bosses advised him to pull his gun only if he planned to use it.

Now, Garel observes, police officers pull their guns on a regular basis, even for routine traffic stops.

"The mind-set is, I'm going to show you who has the upper hand. This is our street, and we're going to show you, dammit, who's boss out here," Garel says.

There are several versions of what happened March 16 between Dorismond and the New York City police the night that he was killed.

Everyone agrees that three officers approached Dorismond and fellow security guard Kevin Kaiser on Eighth Avenue, asked to buy drugs and were told to get lost.

Dorismond was particularly upset about being mistaken for a drug dealer, and he said so. An argument and punches followed. Each side contends the other threw the first punch.

Dorismond was shot by a bullet from Vasquez's gun. Vasquez claims the gun went off when Dorismond lunged at it.

Former detective Garel wonders why the officers didn't move on after their offer to buy drugs was rebuffed.

"Cops are taught to continue to be aggressive if you're an undercover agent trying to purchase narcotics," he says.

"If you push it enough, if you seem legit, then the sale will be made.

"On the other hand, they're told that, if the situation starts to escalate, they should move on. That's where the macho thing comes in. It's: 'I'm a man. You're not going to tell me what to do - especially if there's more than one officer. We've got to show you that nobody talks to us that way.'"

If that's how this wretched scenario with the shooting of Dorismund went down - and there are indications that it is - then we're at a dangerous place in New York City.

The police in Giuliani's police department are driven by quotas as well as by the constant need for new arrests, increasingly for more and more low-level crimes.

Add the quest for bodies to officers whose guns seem to be drawn on a whim and to go off by accident, and you have someone else dead on the street.

No one says being a police officer is easy, but if you can't handle the pressure, you should leave the job. You can't be allowed to shoot people for talking back.

Sheryl McCarthy is a columnist for Newsday, where this comment originally appeared.