Photo by Paul Clinton.
A startling story appeared in March in which New York gang members released a wanted poster showing two New York Police Department officers on Instagram. The poster featured pictures of Sgt. Mourad Mourad and Officer Jovaniel Cordova with the caption, "50z want these pigs heads."
Looking back, I remember that one of my early police heroes, Newark (N.J.) Police detective David Toma, had photographs of his face posted near the entrance of each doorway of any criminal establishment run by Italian organized crime in the 1970s. Detective Toma was the central character of a short-lived television series based on his exciting exploits, "Dave Toma" (1973-74), and the spin off, "Baretta" (1975-78). Toma busted some of the highest-ranking organized crime figures of that era. He did it with stealth and disguise, even at one time impersonating a Catholic priest. The mob feared this one-man wreaking crew and posted the pictures to prevent him from infiltrating their businesses. It didn't work.
Raised by his mother, who had been a Christian missionary, Dave Toma was indoctrinated at an early age to act with honor and total honesty. This sometimes rubbed the less-honest citizens, and even some of his fellow cops, the wrong way. Being a former U.S. Marine Corps boxing champ, he could take care of himself. It also won him lots of street respect from the community and even among the drug addicts and gang members. This real-life superhero is still working to combat gangs and drug abuse.
So these NYPD officers are in good company with Dave Toma. All this began for them on March 9 in an East Flatbush neighborhood when plain-clothes officers made a pedestrian stop on Kimani "Kiki" Gray. When Gray was ordered by the officers to stop and freeze, he instead drew his .38-caliber pistol. He was hit seven times by the officers' gunfire.
Gray's death sparked several days of violence and unrest in Flatbush. Angry about the police shooting, some residents trashed neighborhood businesses. The angry protesters greeted responding cops with showers of rocks and bottles. Some residents portrayed the young man as a promising high school student. In a letter to the community, high school principal Matt Willoughby wrote, "We believed in his potential from the day he entered our school."
But cops say Gray was a member of a Blood gang. He had been arrested in the past for grand larceny and inciting a riot. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly called the officer-involved shooting justified and reminded the media that Gray's pistol was recovered at the scene.
According to a March 19 article in the New York Post, law enforcement sources said that the Brooklyn teen and his friends were out that night to commit a robbery. Online videos and pictures have surfaced in which the teen pronounces his allegiance to the crew by making gang signs with his hands. A source said 50z is a Blood gang subset.
Whoever posted the police wanted poster showing the NYPD officers used the screen name "safjcrossfit." In addition to the photographs, the message called for any potential killers to "empty the clip on umm."
Responding with due caution to the posted threats to the officers' safety, the NYPD has beefed up patrols surrounding the threatened officers neighborhoods and provided both men with police radios for them to take home. Having been the victim of gang threats myself, I know that the officers must be unhappy with the safety restrictions that must be imposed by the department police brass. Officers Cordova and Mourad have been assigned to desk duty pending the completion of the shooting investigation and the identification of the suspects and resolution of the threats against their lives.
Like my hero Dave Toma, the legendary New Jersey detective, these New York officers should consider the threats from the bad guys and the gangs as a true compliment. It means they are making a real difference in our noble profession, protecting and serving the public. Even the gang members recognize that.
Handling Threats: "I'm Going to Kill You!"