Revolution #66, October 22, 2006
Interview with Nicholas Heyward Sr. on Oct. 22
“There’s So Many Innocent People Being Killed by the Police”
Carl Dix, National Spokesperson for the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, recently talked to Nicholas Heyward Sr., the father of Nicholas Jr. who was killed by a New York City housing police officer in September 27, 1994, in Brooklyn, NY. He is a member of Parents Against Police Brutality and of the October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation.
Nicholas Heyward, Sr. and Juanita Young (whose son Malcolm Ferguson was shot point blank by a cop in 2000), New York City, October 22, 2005
Carl Dix: Can you tell our readers about how your son Nicholas Heyward Jr. was killed?
Nicholas Heyward Sr.: Sept. 22, 1994, Nicholas, who was 13 years old, was playing with some friends of his in the Gowanus Houses in Brooklyn. They were playing in the stairwell of one of the buildings. It was first told to me that the officer was on a 911 call to the building—he responded alone, he went to the 14th floor where the children were playing. Stairwell was dimly lit, the officer heard a clicking sound in the stairwell; he fired into dimly lit stairwell, and he hit Nicholas in the abdomen. Nicholas died 8 hours later.
My son was playing with a toy gun, a plastic cork pop gun. It was called pop gun; it was one them plastic guns you put the corks into it. You cock it and you squeeze it, and the corks pop out of it. And it looks nothing like a real gun—It was plastic with orange stripes.
When my wife heard what had happened, she ran across the courtyard to the building, ran up 14 flights of stairs, to try to comfort her son. When she got to l4th floor, police would not allow her to see Nicholas. Asked her who she was, asked her for ID, “who are you, you can’t go behind that door,” and that kind of stuff. They rushed Nicholas out the other exit while the officer was talking to my wife, and they took Nicholas not to the hospital 6 blocks away, but they took him into Manhattan. He died there. The district attorney never presented the case to a grand jury, there was no indictment, he basically blamed the killing on a realistic looking toy gun and said that the officer feared for his life.
In a deposition done on the officer about 2 years after the killing, the officer stated that he was not on 9ll call, that he was just basically on routine patrol, that the stairway was not dimly lit, that he was able to see very well, and that things did not happen in a split second, which was all of Charles Hynes’ reasoning for closing the case and not presenting it to a grand jury. But still they never reopened the case or presented it to a grand jury…
I was messed up for quite a while, a few years. Didn’t know who to turn to, didn’t know where to go, didn’t know who to trust. And it’s real hard in the beginning even to speak out on what happened to your children. Even today it’s still kind of hard. I still get kind of choked up talking about my son’s case. After 12 years I understand the realities of death—there’s no coming back. Just don’t understand how they just allow this officer get away with killing an innocent boy. Even though today I know how the system is, the reality is that they just don’t give a shit. I still from time to time say how the hell do they just allow the cop to get away with this?
Carl Dix: October 22nd is coming up. This will be the 11th annual National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation. Can you give our readers what you see as the significance of this day and the nationwide movement that’s developed around the October 22nd Coalition?
Nicholas Heyward Sr.: I think it’s a very important event. Police brutality has been on the rise since 9/11. There are still innocent people being murdered out here in New York City and across the country. And I’m still fighting very hard—for justice for my son and because there’s so many innocent people being killed by the police, and so many people constantly justifying each and every killing, not only in New York but across this country. It’s very hard to convict the officer, even to have the officer be brought to trial.
It’s very important to let the people know what’s actually going on, what’s happening with police brutality, police murders, because there’s a lot of people who really don’t know what’s actually happening, what’s taking place, in New York City and across the country with all these killings.
So I think the October 22nd National Day of Protest is a major event for me, and a major event for a lot of the parents also. It gives an opportunity to present to the people the reality, of what happened in our cases—the cover-ups that happened in every single case involving police killing innocent people. I think that if you feel that what’s going on is wrong, if you believe that these things should not happen, you should be a part of this movement.
Carl Dix: When we began October 22 back in the mid ‘90s, we pointed out that there’s a nationwide epidemic of police brutality. This movement did a couple of things: one, it took people who were fighting cases one by one and brought them together and gave them a power they didn’t have by themselves alone. And the other thing that happened is that people who were unaware of the widespread nature of this and thought it was just a case of an isolated incident here and there, began to see that something much more broad was going on. So it both gave a platform for those families and loved ones who have been victimized by brutality and even murder at the hands of law enforcement, and it also brought to their side broader allies.
I’m looking at the Call for October 22nd this year. And it just runs down people killed by the police all across the country. So it’s still going on. Especially since September 11, it has been a struggle to continue the fight against police brutality. So October 22nd and the mobilization around it is trying to keep the reality of police brutality out there in front of people.
Nicholas Heyward: I really can remember when I first heard of October 22nd, and actually it was in an article that appeared in the Amsterdam News. It was talking about organizing the National Day of Protest, and this must’ve been in 1995 or 1996. The article was basically saying that there’s an epidemic of police violence that was going on in New York City and across the country. And at that time I wasn’t doing much of protest at that time. I didn’t know there was anything I can actually do.
October 22nd helped me and the families to organize. Back in the ‘90s, the early ‘90s we were strong. I remember the Baez family, the Calderon family, Frankie Arzuaga, a bunch of us, there was so many parents and there was so many killings that was going on. I mean one behind the other. Anthony Rosario and Hilton Vega. All these parents were fighting hard for their children but they didn’t know what was going to come out from all of this rallying and all of this protest. But the thing was we found out is it had given us an opportunity to speak to the people on the realities of what happened. ‘Cause when they kill our children they constantly covering the stories up, making it look justified and trying to justify each and every case. And it’s painful enough for a parent having their son killed by those supposedly protecting them, and then to have them lies coming … it’s just too many cover ups in cases involving police killings. Lots of these cases, the innocent person don’t even have a weapon.
After 9/11 it’s almost like police brutality had heightened and got even worse. It was like a shock wave to a lot of the parents because 9/11 happened in 2001 and I just remember October 22, 2000, we had so many parents out there on October 22, 2000. After 9/11 there was just maybe a handful of parents that just came out. The reason for that, I spoke to lot of the parents, and I myself, I felt regardless of what happened 9/11, police brutality did not die on 9/11. And I wanted to continue to organize the parents to come out for the October 22nd National Day of Protest. And some of them just wanted to stay in at that point on October 22, 2001. A lot of them were fearful of retaliation from the police. This is what they told me on a personal level, that they were fearful of retaliation from the police on that day. The reality for me is that police brutality still exists and needs to be exposed so I continue to speak out on what was taking place.
Carl Dix: After September 11th there has been a lot of talk about police as heroes. And any criticisms of them are considered unjustified. This movement to stop police brutality takes on an added significance because following September 11th, George Bush said, “People have to sacrifice to keep this way of life in effect.” And when you look at this way of life, you see that one of its built-in ingredients is a green light to the police to brutalize and even murder with almost an assurance they won’t be penalized.
Nicholas Heyward: You know, Carl? I never looked at police officers as being heroes, even before my son was killed. Never looked at any police officer not even close to a hero.
You can’t consider yourself a hero if you’re going around killing innocent people, lying and covering up. Even in the course of our rallies and demonstrating, you can observe the officers laughing amongst themselves. You can hear them talking about the rally and stuff there. These are parents speaking about the children that they lost, and here the police are in the background laughing. Heroes to me are… Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks—people who stood up for a cause, for freedom, justice and equality. And that’s not something the officers are doing. The police are just here to arrest and brutalize people for violating a law.
When they come into this community that I live at, they’re not trying to help youth or seniors or anything like that. They’re looking to see if you’re breaking the law, and if you are, they’re going to lock you up, bust you upside the head. It ain’t a thing where they are trying to educate anyone, they’re not trying to helped anyone. They’re not trying to be of service to anyone–not in this community, and I don’t think they do that in any community. So as far as looking at an officer as being an hero, I have never looked at an officer as being a hero.
Since 9/11, this whole situation with police brutality has heightened so much, that it is more important today that October 22nd continues to demonstrate and bring out the reality of what’s happening. If you are someone who has fought against or spoke out against police brutality in the past, it should be essential for you to be at October 22nd National Day of Protest.
Carl Dix: People will be taking to the streets on Oct 22, 2006 in dozens of cities all across the country. If people want to get information about what’s happening in their part of the country, they can go to the website—which is www.october22.org, and there’s a phone number…
Nicholas Heyward: There’s a toll free phone number they could call which is 1-888-NO-BRUTALITY
Carl Dix: And on the bottom of the Call for Oct 22, 2006, it says, “Join the Struggle! Fight Back! On October 22nd, Wear Black!”
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