Unfriendly fire on the E train

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THE latest incident of police 'friendly fire', in which a white officer pumped four bullets into a black colleague at a crowded subway station, has turned from being just another tragic mistake by New York's police into a bitter racial confrontation in a city already on edge with Rudy Giuliani, its new white mayor.

Black police are calling for a special prosecutor to investigate the case, saying they do not trust Mr Giuliani. The mayor has replied that the two policemen were just 'good cops doing their jobs'. And William Bratton, the city's white police chief, has accused the family of the shot policeman of 'grandstanding' in their quest for an outside inquiry.

The shooting occurred during the evening rush- hour on Monday on a crowded platform in the commercial area of mid- town Manhattan. Police received reports that two black youths, aged 16 and 17, one with a shotgun stuffed down his trouser leg and the other brandishing a pistol, were on the platform waiting for the E train. Two policemen challenged the youths.

The one with a pistol surrendered. The youth with the shotgun dropped his weapon and it went off, injuring a bystander. The youth ran into the train pursued by Desmond Robinson, one of the two policemen who had answered the call. He was in plainclothes but had drawn his gun.

An off-duty white policeman, Peter Del Debbio, saw Mr Robinson with his gun out and thinking he was a fugitive, pulled his own gun and shot him first in the chest and then at least three times in the back, according to witnesses. Mr Robinson's colleague then fired at Mr Del Debbio hitting him once. Mr Robinson is in hospital in a critical condition but is expected to recover.

The police are not supposed to continue shooting at a suspect once he has been put out of action - as Mr Robinson apparently was by the first shot.

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