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Counting blows and learning to fear

I spent last evening sitting at my desk with my eyes closed, listening to a 40-second clip again and again.

I had already spent an hour transcribing 20 minutes of taped interaction between police Officer Andrew Karaskiewicz and arrestee Donald Randolph. Now I’d gotten to the main event — the moment where Karaskiewicz and possibly other officers beat Randolph.

They were out of camera range (the in-car camera was pointing at the back seat of Karaskiewicz’s car) so all I had to go on was the audio.

Was Randolph hit? If so, how many times? How long did the beating last?

I closed my eyes and counted sounds, trying to categorize and separate each one.

There were Randolph’s cries. The sound of punches. Something hitting something metallic. A car door slamming. A repeated whoosh that seemed to correspond with Randolph’s cries — as though Karaskiewicz’s microphone was picking up the sound of his arm swinging violently in a punching motion.

So how many times was Randolph hit? I couldn’t just go off his cries — he didn’t cry out very often, first of all, and there were occasions where he cried out more than once in response to what sounded like one punch.

So I listened again. And again. And again.

By about the fortieth repetition, I was completely depressed. You just can’t listen to that sort of thing for half an hour without beginning to see it — almost feel it.

I mean, these were REAL cries of pain. And it just went on and on. Blow after blow, as Randolph begged them to stop.

It left me sobered. I have written about the Schenectady police for five years now. I’ve observed them at their best and at what I thought was their worst. I’ve listened to police lie on occasion. I’ve seen a few of them shirk their duties, not showing up to work or not working once they got there.
I’ve heard some of them taunt, threaten and curse people, and on one occasion I watched citizens react by attacking the cops.

But until now, I had never, ever seen our police beat the living crap out of anyone.

A few punches, yes. A forty-second beating? No.

Frankly, I did not believe it had actually happened until yesterday evening. Surely, I thought, the story had been exaggerated by the victim. He came out of it with bruises — how bad could it really have been?

The reality sunk in — and was then hammered home — as I sat there counting blows.

You know, I dutifully wrote down every word the mayor said yesterday about how he’s getting rid of the “rogue” officers in the department.

I listened to Chief Mark Chaires’ speech about how beatings won’t be tolerated. Now that Karaskiewicz is gone, he said the public shouldn’t fear that police will use force inappropriately.

But now that I’ve listened to every second of that “unacceptable conduct,” I must admit that if I’m ever handcuffed and placed in a city patrol car, I’ll remember what I heard yesterday.

And a part of me will be fearful.

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June 4, 2010
7:26 p.m.

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