Ding Dong Bruce Smolka’s Gone

Newsday is reporting that NYPD Assistant Chief Bruce Smolka has filed for retirement. Smolka is reknowned for his needlessly aggressive tactics in breaking up peaceful political demonstrations, his disregard of basic civil rights and his all-too-frequent abusiveness towards women. In one infamous video he was caught kicking a female demonstrator in the head at a May 2003 sit-in.

Newsday reports:

Smolka made the announcement last week, surprising police commanders
gathered for a meeting at police headquarters, police sources said. The
32-year veteran will work his last day in less than a month, then go to
work for Ron Perelman, head of Revlon Corp., sources said. Smolka’s retirement comes as his reputation would appear to be set in
stone: Rank-and-file police officers adore him – one told Newsday he’d
take a bullet for him – while civil libertarians and many of those who
have taken part in recent demonstrations say he is short-tempered and
overly aggressive.

The story goes on: 

Smolka emerged as a key figure in the protests during the RNC. More than 1,800 people were arrested. The New York Civil Liberties Union has filed two lawsuits challenging
those mass arrests, and Smolka is in the middle of giving a deposition
regarding police tactics, according to lawyers involved in the case. Meanwhile, a separate lawsuit is nearing trial in Manhattan Federal
Court, as Cynthia Greenberg has accused Smolka of repeatedly kicking
her in the head and cursing at her while trying to arrest her during a
2003 Manhattan rally in which demonstrators protested the U.S.
government’s immigration policies.

In 2005 the editors of the New York Press selected Smolka as number 17 on the year’s list of the Fifty Most Loathsome New Yorkers. I wrote up the entry. Here is the longer, unedited version:

smolka.jpgLast Friday the NYPD smashed yet another Critical Mass bike ride
seizing 50 bikes and arresting 37 people for the crime of assembling in
Union Square Park on two wheels. It was a continuation of the crackdown
that started during last summer’s epic 5,000-rider Republican National
Convention event. Despite a federal court order declaring the NYP’s
actions illegal, it doesn’t look like the cops are going to let up. As
the weather gets nicer and the rides grow in size, the confrontations
are likely to get worse.

Architect of the Critical Mass
crackdown is NYPD Assistant Chief Bruce Smolka. A little background:
Before turning his attention to cyclists, Smolka was the commanding
officer of the NYPD’s infamous Street Crimes Unit. It was his officers
who, in February 1999, pumped 41 bullets into Amadou Diallo,
an unarmed
African immigrant guilty of nothing more than standing in the hallway
of his own apartment building. Though the incident nearly sparked race
riots and ultimately led to the disbanding of the Street Crimes Unit,
it earned Smolka a promotion. Today he runs Patrol Borough Manhattan
South and is chief for all of Manhattan below 59th Street.

The
new job combined with the exigencies of the post-9/11 era has given the
30-year NYPD veteran the opportunity to practice his doctrine of
overwhelming force and disregard of First Amendment rights on a bigger,
more public stage. In February 2003, Smolka illegally ordered
horseback-mounted police to charge into a group of peaceful anti-war
demonstrators.
In April, he confronted a group of about 100
demonstrators in front of the midtown headquarters of Carlyle Group
with three times as many officers outfitted in full riot gear. "We were
swept off the street like fleas," Ben Maurer, an activist arrested that
day, told a journalist on the scene. "I was illegally arrested, just
for yelling at a building."

But it wasn’t until 2004 when
Smolka was appointed co-chair of site security at the Republican
National Convention that he really hit his stride. Responsible for
securing midtown and everything moving in and out of Madison Square
Garden, the Chief could often be found standing on his perimeter, head clean-shaven, blue eyes squinting, chin jutting, arms folded
across his chest like an urban Patton. A hands-on kind of guy, never
afraid to dive into a crowd of demonstrators, Smolka personally oversaw
the illegal arrest and detention of hundreds during the convention.

Smolka’s
civil liberties violations didn’t stop once the Republicans left town.
Perhaps humiliated by his inability to predict or control the humongous
Critical Mass ride of August, the chief seems to have made it his
mission to completely destroy the ride. He continues to unleash his
wrath and the full force of the NYPD on cyclists the last Friday of
every month. Internet bulletin boards that post his photo inevitably
fill up with messages or recognition like, "Hey, Smolka is the asshole
who very deliberately threw me in the street then told me to get out of
the street."

Justice may be catching up to Smolka. At a December
8, 2004 federal court hearing on Critical Mass, civil liberties lawyer
Steven Hyman skewered the chief before federal judge, William Pauley.
The day’s highlight was Smolka’s attempt to argue that seven bikes
lined up on a New York City street are a "procession" requiring a
permit while seven motor vehicles clogging the very same street are
simply traffic.
Judge Pauley didn’t buy it. He ruled that the NYPD acted
improperly by arresting and seizing the bicycles of Critical Mass
riders and he denied the NYPD’s request for a federal injunction
preventing people with bikes from assembling at Union Square Park on
the last Friday of the month. By the judge’s ruling, bikes have just as much right to be traffic as
cars.

For anyone who has followed Bruce
Smolka’s career, Judge Pauley’s verdict was not a surprise. The upside
of being arrested in a Smolka street sweep is that you have about a
100% chance of being exonerated when your case finally comes before a
judge.

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