A Muslim Cop's Trial

By Aviv, Rachel | The New Yorker, September 11, 2017 | Go to article overview

A Muslim Cop's Trial


Aviv, Rachel, The New Yorker


A Muslim Cop's Trial

After an officer questioned the force's tactics, his life began to erode.

After September 11, 2001, Bobby Hadid thought, I want to move this country forward. Becoming a police officer sounded like "paradise on earth," he said.

When Bobby Farid Hadid, an Algerian merchant marine, was twenty-three, he discovered that a pay phone in a train station near the Algerian shore was broken. He could call anywhere in the world free. He dialled the country code for the United States, followed by ten random numbers. Sheilla Jean-Baptiste, a young Haitian-American in New York, picked up the phone. "Hello, America?" Hadid said.

They both spoke French. They discussed their ages, their jobs, and their races. Hadid described himself as "light." Jean-Baptiste said she was black, and asked if that was O.K. She was eager to "make a friend from far away," she said. Hadid began sending her postcards and calling her from ports around the world.

They corresponded for four years, and in 1994 Hadid applied for a visa to America, where he hoped to find work. Two marines on his company's boat had been assassinated by Islamist insurgents, and he no longer felt safe in the shipping industry. He didn't know English, but he said that "it sounded like music to me: the rhythm, the way they pronounce the 'h' sound using their throats."

A week after arriving in America, Hadid, who was Muslim, met Jean-Baptiste at her parents' home. "He had one of the most welcoming faces," Jean-Baptiste said. "He wanted to know about every little thing--who, what, why?" Within a month, they married. To understand her husband's upbringing, Jean-Baptiste, who was Catholic, began reading the Quran.

Hadid rented a pushcart and sold hot dogs at Thirty-ninth Street and First Avenue. A few people mocked his accent, slipped him fake money, or threw buns at him, but for the most part Americans were "open-minded, funny, beautiful," he said. After working as a vender for a year, he was hired by Pitney Bowes to repair copy machines. On his days off, he drove a cab. At night, he lay in bed replaying the events of his day, thinking, What did I do today--did I achieve something?

On September 11, 2001, four of his colleagues at Pitney Bowes died in the attacks on the World Trade Center. Hadid watched the television for hours, crying. He thought, I have to protect this beautiful country of ours. I want to move this country forward, even if it's just by a millimetre. He enrolled at the training academy for the New York City Police Department, which was seeking Arabic speakers. As a child, he had hidden under his bed when he heard police sirens, but now the N.Y.P.D. sounded like "paradise on earth--the money, the shield," he said. He became an officer in July, 2002, at the age of thirty-five. On the wall of the couple's living room, in Astoria, Queens, he hung a two-foot photograph of the Twin Towers.

Jean-Baptiste was skeptical about his new career, but, she said, "I kept my opinion to myself." His friends were less discreet. "The N.Y.P.D. is against minorities," one told him. "Why are you going against your own community?" Hadid explained his reasoning by describing American traffic court. "Even the person who gets a parking ticket can confront the cop in front of a judge," he told them. "That's democracy, that's freedom. In this country, you can fight anyone."

Hadid thrived within the police hierarchy. The captains and lieutenants, whom he always called Cap and Lou, felt to him so superior that they seemed otherworldly. He was promoted from monitoring traffic at the foot of the Manhattan Bridge to translating and transcribing wiretaps, and then to the vice team. In 2005, he was one of only forty officers to receive a nearly perfect score on the department's language exam, earning the title "master linguist" in Arabic and French. A year later, he won a meritorious commendation from the commissioner for infiltrating a high-end prostitution ring. …

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