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Remembering David: A memorial of flowers and candles created by Shawn and Jody Brozowski on New Year’s Day. Photo: John Whipple

Death and Disbelief
Questions are many about why David Scaringe was killed by police fire

‘Unbelievable” may be the most common word used to describe the tragedy that unfolded late afternoon on New Year’s Eve at the corner of Lark and State streets in Albany.

David R.A. Scaringe, 24, was shot and killed as he walked into the intersection where Albany police officers Joseph Gerace and William Bonanni had opened fire on a car they were pursuing. The driver, Daniel Reed, 32, of Delmar, had been pulled over on State Street for driving erratically and having a stolen license plate, but then fled. When he found himself blocked in at Lark and State streets, he turned onto the sidewalk, and then gunned the car in reverse at Gerace, who was now on foot. Gerace fired seven shots before jumping out of the way. Bonanni fired once. Reed escaped, but was apprehended later that night. He has been charged with reckless endangerment.

The officers have been placed on desk duty while an internal investigation proceeds. The results of that investigation will be given to a grand jury.

It was later revealed that supervisors had ordered the officers to call off the car chase, but it is unclear whether those orders were heard or were lost in the transmissions between patrol cars involved in the chase. Nonetheless, police department policy still holds officers responsible for choosing to continue a chase that may endanger the public.

Friends, family, residents, and community leaders expressed varying levels of outrage and disbelief that officers would open fire in a crowded intersection in a pedestrian neighborhood on New Year’s Eve. “If I went shooting down a crowded street, I would be in jail. We don’t understand why these officers aren’t,” said Erica Miller, a friend of Scaringe’s from his college days.

Standing together: Friends, family, residents, and activists gathered at a Saturday night candlelight vigil for David Scaringe. Photo: Joe Putrock

“It’s hard not to think that at least one police officer acted irresponsibly,” said Michael, a relative of the family.

Lexa Juhre, a resident of the Center Square neighborhood, said the shooting showed “incredible weakness” and “a profound lack of judgment.”

“It’s astounding to me that a police officer shoots across a busy intersection on New Year’s Eve,” said Erin O’Brien, executive director of the Women’s Building. “How do we get to that point?”

The officers’ decisions to continue the car chase and to shoot have brought two related police department policies—on car chases and on use of deadly force—into question.

“Car chases should be limited to violent criminals,” said Jerome Skolnick, a professor at the New York University of Law and the University of California at Berkeley and author of several books on policing, including Justice Without Trial: Law Enforcement in Democratic Society and Above the Law: Police and the Excessive Use of Force. “More police are injured in car chases than from anything else, and they always pose a threat to bystanders. . . . It’s an aggressive thing to do.” Nonetheless, he said, “Cops love them,” especially “younger cops that watch cop movies and think they’re invulnerable.”

Many departments across the country have revised their policies to limit car chases to violent felons, but when Albany reviewed its policy in October 2002, it added no such limitation. Chief Robert Wolfgang has said the department’s investigation of the incident will also include another look at the policy. Police spokesman Detective James Miller said the review was natural. “The gravity of what happened obviously is going to raise a lot of questions in people’s minds,” he said. Nonetheless, he said, “at the moment there’s nothing indicating any problem with the policy itself.”

“They will review it, and they will change it,” predicted Skolnick. “It’s always after the fact.”

When it comes to the decision to shoot, many people are reluctant to second-guess an officer’s assessment that his life was in danger. But at the same time, many feel that this case clearly stepped over some line. “We try not to be judgmental of the police force because they have a job to do,” said Caroline Isachsen, a longtime Albany resident who spends a lot of time in Center Square, “but guns drawn at 4 o’clock is excessive. It’s for the investigations to bring to light whether their actions were justified or not. I think the community feels not.”

Dr. Alice Green, director of the Center for Law and Justice, recalled that she asked the Citizens Police Review Board to review the policy on use of deadly force after Jason Mayo, a young African-American man in the South End, was killed by a police officer on Christmas Eve 2002. Mayo was fleeing arrest, and was alleged to have pointed a loaded gun at the officer. Despite the numerous differences in the cases, said Green, if the community and the department had reviewed the policy at the time of Mayo’s death, the current tragedy might have been avoided.

Green said the differences in handling the cases are striking; the department is being much more sympathetic to the parents and showing more willingness to review the policies in this case, she said, in part because they “have a community that is outraged that’s very different than the ones they usually deal with.”

“I wouldn’t dignify that with an answer,” responded Miller.

Green is calling on the review board to follow the investigation closely, and she would like to see a community process to discuss the situations in which officers should draw their guns. Miller said the department’s priority at the moment is completing the investigation.

Meanwhile, some other community members are hoping to start a more broad-based conversation about the nature of safety and the role of policing. “[We thought] the police should be able to hear . . . that it wasn’t that people all of a sudden wanted to throw rocks at cop cars; people had ideas about how things should change,” said O’Brien. “It was a serious wake-up call to the citizens of Albany. . . . But from conversations I had with police at the vigil, I think it was a wake-up call for the police as well, that things can go terribly wrong. Hopefully we can find a common ground out of that.”

O’Brien is hoping for a grassroots forum for communication between residents and police. But the initial response she received from Chief Wolfgang was that they weren’t interested, because “they did enough talking,” reported O’Brien. Still she remains hopeful that some sort of productive dialogue can emerge. “If the police feel that they’re doing that in other ways, maybe that’s OK,” she said. “Maybe the community needs to talk first, and maybe once they see what we’re doing, they’ll come.”

But even as they talk about change, area residents and community leaders are also conscious of trying not to overly politicize a young man’s death. “This isn’t the time to further a political agenda or platform,” said O’Brien.

Shawn Brozowski, whose knee was grazed by a bullet during the incident, and his wife Jody called a vigil for Saturday evening. Approximately 150 people showed up to memorialize Scaringe, an engineer who graduated from Colonie High School in 1997.

Jody Brozowski introduced the vigil by thanking the police for blocking off the street to accommodate the large number of people, something she had initially had been told was impossible.

Wendy Dwyer, a peace activist from Canaan, showed up at the vigil with a sign, but quickly realized that this was not the time for such approaches, she said. She kept the sign rolled up under her arm and joined the other mourners standing with candles. “This never should have happened,” she said.

—Miriam Axel-Lute

We protest: Mark Dunlea leading the People’s State of the State rally. Photo: Joe Putrock

Which New York Do You Live In?
Advocates and Gov. Pataki deliver differing versions of the state of the state

One was inside in the warmth of the Assembly’s chambers while the other was outside in 19-degree wind chill at the Capitol’s State Street entrance. One group came in suits, the other armed with signs. It was State of the State time, and for the 16th year in a row, Wednesday’s State of the State address from Gov. George Pataki was preceded by one with a more street-level perspective.

On Tuesday, local advocates held the People’s State of the State address in anticipation of both the governor’s speech and this month’s forthcoming budget proposal. Hunger Action Network co-hosted the rally, which was attended by activists and representatives from Citizen Action, Capital District Area Labor Federation, Civil Service Employees Association, Hunger Action, Albany County Greens, Statewide Senior Action, and Statewide Emergency Network for Social and Economic Security. Though the rally was punctuated by poems, songs and chants, speakers leapt directly into issues beyond the political tidiness they anticipated in the governor’s address.

After last year’s budget wrangling—including the legislative overrides of the governor’s vetoes—cuts to social services and education funding were deep, and this year New Yorkers and the programs they rely on remain needy.

In his remarks at the rally, associate director of Hunger Action Network Mark Dunlea said that more than 900,000 people a week use food pantries and soup kitchens in New York state, and that Hunger Action recently found that the use of their pantries and soup kitchens has risen 21 percent in the last year. He added that according to the United States Conference of Mayors, “about 40 percent of the adults using these programs have a job, but they’re not making enough money to make ends meet.”

Advocates at the rally called for serious investment in social programs as well as a significant and long-overdue raise in the minimum wage to help boost the state’s economy.

“The counties are literally screaming about the fact that they can’t handle the growing Medicaid costs,” said Ron Deutsch, executive director for SENSES.

In his speech, the governor agreed that the state is “faced with a Medicaid program that is quickly outstripping our ability to afford it,” and expressed how the state and local governments are in dire need of relief.

In this year’s freedom-themed State of the State address, the governor offered 45 legislative initiatives for this session, including a reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws, expanding the state’s antiterrorism measures, energy reform, introducing initiative and referendum to the state’s political process, and further boosting the state’s high-tech programs.

A decade’s worth: Gov. Pataki at his 10th State of the State address. Photo: Martin Benjamin

Pataki also reminded everyone that in 2001 he called the “school finance system a dinosaur” and asked for a new formula “that is fair, simple and sustainable.” After a court order in favor of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity that said city schools were disproportionately underfunded, the state has until the end of July to redistribute school funds more equitably, particularly to help urban schools. The governor called this “an historic opportunity to answer that call and, indeed, we must do so by July 30th.”

While it’s clear that the state needs to come up with money to cover these costs, among others, it remains unclear how that is possible. Deutsch pointed out that when the state faced financial crisis last year, it was able to pull from temporary sources, such as the tobacco settlement, to ease the blow. This year those sources are exhausted.

Pataki said he would deliver the budget to the legislature in under two weeks. Fighting over it will likely be fierce again.

“We want to make sure that the governor doesn’t balance the budget on the backs of the poor, the sick, the elderly,” Deutsch said at the rally. Legislative leaders have come out saying they’re not interested in tax increases, much to Pataki’s delight, but Deutsch thinks that more regressive fee increases, like those implemented last year on things from fishing to driving, are hardly the best option. Some solutions the advocates cheered for included the closure of corporate loopholes that allow multistate corporations to remain off New York’s tax rolls, raising the bottle deposit, and collecting sales tax on remote purchases like catalog and Internet sales. None of these measures was mentioned in the governor’s speech.

“Big service cuts and reimbursement cuts can’t take place without hurting people who are poor and vulnerable,” stressed Mark Hayes, the state and federal issues organizer for Housing Works. “It’s not acceptable for our elected leaders to assume that such hurts are inevitable.”

At the start of his speech, Pataki also hinted at a bid for reelection by asking his potential opponents if they were comfortable, saying he might “be here longer than you think.”

—Ashley Hahn

Where the Dems Get Their Energy

President George W. Bush would tell you he’s pro-environment (perhaps he means that he likes that it’s there for the taking). Since Bush has managed to gut popular environmental protections on almost every front, speaking green is a no-brainer for Democratic candidates. So is recognizing America’s need to diversify its energy sources and stop its reliance on foreign oil. But what those things mean is somewhat different for everyone.

In 2002, a bill was defeated in the Senate that would have required the United States to have 20 percent of its electricity supply generated by clean, renewable sources by 2020. Many of the current Democratic candidates are now running with this 20-percent-by-2020 idea, including Wesley Clark, Howard Dean, Dick Gephardt, John Kerry, and, to a lesser extent, Joe Lieberman.

Clark has used the strongest language, saying energy independence is a matter of national security. Dean, Gephardt, Kerry, Dennis Kucinich, and Lieberman have all stressed that America needs to become energy independent via a combination of alternative, renewable fuel sources and better fuel-efficiency requirements and incentives. Kucinich is the only candidate who has called for the expansion of public ownership of utilities.

Dean has stated that America’s environmental welfare is inextricably tied to the health of our economy and our citizens. Similarly, Edwards, Gephardt, Kerry and Lieberman emphasize that new energy sources present significant opportunities for job growth. According to Kerry, 500,000 jobs could be created by his vision for increased research, development and implementation of efficiency and alternative fuel sources.

“Developing new energy technologies can create thousands of good new jobs,” wrote Kerry in a 2002 article for Time magazine. “Renewable energy can be generated, transported and consumed in America. And we can export our technology. I don’t think we should take a backseat to the Germans or the Japanese in creating clean energies no American soldier will ever have risk life and limb to protect.”

The League of Conservation voters gave Kerry a 96-percent lifetime score—better than Kucinich—for his strong environmental voting record. Kerry likens his environmental plan to a new Manhattan Project. More appealingly, Gephardt’s is called Apollo 21, in homage to Kennedy’s revolutionary space program.

Gephardt has formulated fairly specific plans for sensible environmental policy, though he has failed to vote on any significant environmental bill in the last year. Lieberman takes pride in his environmental record, as he pointed out in the debate on Jan. 4; however, his idea of energy independence seems to include exploring more drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and a natural gas pipeline from Latin America.

All of the Democratic candidates except Carol Moseley Braun and Al Sharpton have come out against drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Clark, Dean, Edwards and Lieberman have talked about harnessing biomass energy, yielded by burning garbage and agricultural waste. In 2000, Dean created the Biomass Energy Resource Center in Vermont to promote biomass heating systems in both private and governmental buildings. Also as governor, Dean started a clean cities coalition and the first “efficiency” utility in the nation, and implemented tougher emissions standards.

—Ashley Hahn

No Cold Feet Here

On New Year’s Eve, Daniel Davis and Anna Itov said their vows on blades at the Empire State Plaza ice-skating rink, the location of many of their first dates.

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