On December 21, 1995, Iris and Ramón's 28-year-old son Anthony was murdered by police officer Francis Livoti. Anthony, David and two of their brothers were playing football that night in front of their house. The football hit Livoti's police car, which was parked on the street. Livoti jumped out of his car, attacked the brothers, and arrested David. When Anthony protested, Livoti put him in a chokehold and held him for at least a minute while the life drained out of his body. The Baez family had to struggle to even get Livoti indicted. His first indictment was thrown out because of a typographical error. The second time, he was only indicted on a charge of criminally negligent homicide, which carries a maximum penalty of four years. During Livoti's trial last month, the judge ruled that 14 prior complaints of brutality against Livoti were irrelevant. He allowed Livoti to waive a jury trial without comment. He ignored the testimony of members of the Baez family and six medical experts, including the city's own medical examiner. He ignored the testimony of the one cop whose story was consistent with the medical experts and that of the Baez family. Instead, he chose to believe the outrageous lies spun by five other police offiers--testimony that frequently contracted each other. The judge ruled that Anthony died of an asthma attack and found Livoti not guilty. Outrage swept the city as word of the verdict spread. There were protests at the courthouse and in the streets of the Bronx. Last week--as people across the country were preparing for October 22 National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality--the RW had the opportunity to speak with Iris, Ramón and David Baez at their home in the Bronx, New York.
RW: Tell us what happened on the night of December 22, 1994.
Ramón Baez: One of my kids, I think it was David or Tony, threw the football and it hit the police car. When my other son, Henry, caught the ball, he apologized to the police and the police accepted the apologies. And then they continued playing about a half hour and nothing happened. Then a throw from David hit Livoti's car.
Livoti came out from his car--he didn't come out as a police officer, he came as a gangster, a gangbuster, he didn't want them to play no more. He said, `Get the f--- out of here!' and such language and asked them what gang they were.
My son Ramon told Livoti, `We are not a gang, we are four brothers, we play together.' Then Livoti tried to pick Ramon to fight him--`Come on, hit me!' Ramon at that time was 21 years old. Ramon, that kid is straight like an arrow, never had trouble in his life, with nobody, not even in his school. Ramon was a clean-cut kid, no problem at all. Livoti wanted to fight Ramon because he was big, he was the biggest of the four. But David said, `What you doing, we came to play football, we don't want to fight nobody. Why you doing it for?'
That's when Livoti jumped on David; he treated him like a criminal.
David Baez: He arrested me and cuffed me, slammed my head into the front of my brother's jeep, slammed me down on the ground, picked me up by the handcuffs, started jerking me back and forth with the handcuffs. The handcuffs were cutting through my skin. He threw me in his car, went back to where my brothers were at to try to pick another fight, to show he was the `man,' I guess.
My brother Tony was asking him why I was being arrested--he said we know our rights.... Livoti didn't want to hear none of that. He jumped on my brother, started choking him. My other brothers were telling him to stop. Then my brothers were thrown to the ground. I saw all this happening, so I jumped out of the back seat of the patrol car. My father started coming down. Everybody was yelling for my father to come down. I was running towards my father and my brothers. Then I was thrown to the ground, hit, a police officer stuck a gun to my head, arrested me and took me from the scene.
My father was pleading with Officer Livoti, `Let go of my son, he's an asthmatic, why you killing him?'
I was taken away, hit in the precinct by other officers, then placed in jail for eight hours with no charges. In the precinct, they came up to me, smacking me, telling me I was going to Rikers, hitting me in my back, in my face. I was set free eight hours later with my brother Henry--who was arrested because he was basically asking the officers why there were doing that, that we all live in this house, we're not doing nothing but playing football.
Ramón Baez: Henry and Ramon were yelling `Pa, Pa,' and I see the panic in their voices the way they call me. I say to myself, `Something's wrong,' I went down. I see. I think it is a gang the way they took my family like criminals. That's what they do, like criminals. I see sometimes the way they do the young people in the street.
When I see this officer, Livoti, I told him, `Leave him alone, you'll kill him, he's asthmatic.' He knew my son was asthmatic, and he still wouldn't let him go. That's why I am so angry. So my son went down on the street. Livoti told me, `Your son, he's asthmatic, good for him.'
They abused us. They wanted to put me in jail, one of the police officers out here. They wanted to handcuff me because I was there looking for help for Tony. He was on the street. He didn't move. I was looking for the sergeant, who was in charge here.
They didn't want me to go near Tony. Every time I tried to go near Tony, they pushed me around. It was something like unbelievable.... He was laying there for about 20 minutes; I was looking for a siren, looking for somebody to help. A lady cop picked up Tony from the street and put him in her car, she told me she took Tony to the hospital because of the way he was looking, eyes closed, no pulse, no nothing.
I walked to the precinct, Ramon was outside the precinct. I get inside and see the police officer at the desk, and we told the police officer, `Why didn't you stop Livoti? Why didn't you do something?' The police officer put his head down and he told me and Ramon, `I don't know, I don't know'--put his head down almost crying. He knew what happened. And when we went to the court, he gave a bunch of lies.
I was at the precinct waiting and waiting for Henry and David and what happen to them. We get a phone call from the desk. The officer told me I got to go to the hospital--to look at Tony, he has a 50-50 chance. We went to the hospital. At that moment I knew Tony was not good, I knew something bad was going to happen.
And then I found out he was dead.
I called my wife to give her the news, I called Tony's wife, called the family. They went to the hospital and then I went back to the precinct.... I said to myself I will do anything to get David and Henry out of the police hands because I don't want another son killed. I know they put a gun to David's head, I saw that.
I know my son. My son Tony was trying to tell him `I know my rights.' And when you tell a police officer you know your rights, that's a problem, especially if you're Latino. They think because we are Latino we are not intelligent people. But my son, Tony, was a well-educated man. I don't have the education that my kids have, I cannot speak the language the way they speak the language, but I worked hard for that and my wife, too. My kids all got education, and they treat us like criminals! That's why I get so upset when I speak about this case.
I get so upset because I know my kids. I know them. There were four kids never had problem with the police...for 20 years they played football in the street in front of the house. For 20 years my kids played there, not a single complaint against them. No one complained about that for 20 years and now this comes from nowhere.
Tony was a part of us--in the prime of his life. My family--for us life is not the same, we have many problems after Tony's death. We have problems with the Justice Department, with the police department. The only one we got is God, we got God and people in the community. We need the people to support us, all we need is for the community to get together--so this thing does not happen again.
I want this to stop concerning the Latinos, the Blacks, the entire city because I don't want nobody to get hurt, especially our kids. I want no more killing in the city of New York. The Jewish kids, I don't want any of them to get killed, the Italian, the Irish, I don't want anything to happen again, that's why we have to continue to fight. Because people in this city, we have our differences, but we have to get together to fight against the police brutality...
RW: In the midst of grieving for Anthony, you got started in the determined fight for justice for your son. Tell us about that.
Iris Baez: When they said Tony died of asthma, I said, `No, there's no way he could have died of asthma.' So that's when I decided to get a pathologist to check it out. So I called this lawyer and he got me a pathologist Christmas Eve. By that time the city still hadn't given me what happened to my son.
And the pathologist said it was a homicide. Then the city had to rule it a homicide. And from there on I got so mad about why it happened--and over a football.
I said--`No there's no justice here, there's no justice.' This cop either was racist or he had a chip on his shoulder, and he just wanted to take it out on the boys. So I said `No, I'm not going to go down fighting.' So my sister came, Patricia came, my daughter, and then we started saying, `No we have to do something, this can't go like that. So what we going to do?'
Then they said, `Let's make something out of this, make noise,' and I said okay. So we got cardboard, the kids started making signs, and we marched from here to the 46th precinct the day they were going to lay Tony out in the funeral. We were saying that they murdered my son.
We marched over to the funeral parlor where my son was laid out--it was to let the people in the neighborhood know that something was wrong, an awareness like. And we did it mostly every day that my son was laid out, and then we buried my son and I had to go back to Florida.
I came back the following month and we did a march around back to the precinct--that was January. We went all the way to the courthouse at 161st--that was our first rally. We were the family and a couple of people from the neighborhood that followed us, and as we kept on going, chanting things, people kept on joining the group. By the time we got over there, we had about 50. My daughter had a friend from when she used to be in school, so she said, "Don't worry, we are going to help you." Then she asked the Mumia Coalition to help us because we didn't have no money. So they helped us with our first batch of flyers and our placards. And it just escalated and we kept on and we kept on.
And now we're fighting for all the victims.
RW: What kind of person was Anthony?
Iris Baez: When Tony was a kid, he was friendly with everybody and all his classmates loved him. There was one particular teacher, a Spanish teacher, that called him the lover boy of the class.... They were amazed the way he diffused situations in class, so mostly he was a diffuser in the classroom. They used to call me and say this girl going to steal your son away, he's adorable. Everywhere he went he left an impact. He was just always hugging me, always kissing me...and that is the way he was, he was a playful little boy.
And as he kept growing up, he loved his sports. When he graduated from high school, I got him a car, and in that car he had two baseball gloves, a bat and ball, football, two bases, that's all you see in his car--he had golf clubs, ping pong. He would go to your house and take the stuff off of your table and start a ping pong right there. That was Tony wherever he'd go.
If you had any problems he would be there for you. And the good thing about Tony was that you told Tony something, it stayed right there. He could go to the other person that you had the problem with and make that person tell him things, and he would make that person talk to you and not knowing that you had talked to Tony. The funny thing is there was a couple that had broken up and Tony worked it that they went back together, and to this day, they have two kids, they say we're together, we have a family, we have our home, thanks to Tony because he intervened in our life at the time we needed that intervening. So he was always there.
One time he was the pastor in the church. You know that once a year the children of the church can play elders of the church or the minister. He was the minister of the church, and he was trying to imitate our pastor. It was so funny that whole week that he would imitate our pastor. And like our pastor had a problem with his ear so he would go `Excuse me, excuse me.' The way Tony imitated him to the last, every point of him he would imitate and people just loved him. He always had a smile for everybody, regardless of who he was, that was Tony.
He went to be a camper at a church camp in Pennsylvania, he went every year and went he got to be 16, he became a counselor. That's how good he was. And they noticed he had a gift with kids in diffusing situations. They also put him in charge of the staff. They started the Anthony Baez scholarship fund at the camp.
He met Maribel there.... He wanted everything by the book. He wanted the marriage first, then have a nice job, then the house came, then they start their family. He had just gotten a good job, $25 an hour for this job and in Florida that was a goldmine there, and he said, `Okay, we're going to start looking for a house.' So we had seen a couple of houses on that December while we were Christmas shopping. Then he came down (pause) to bring the gifts to the kids.... He loved children, he was always surrounded by kids.
He was special, he is special.
RW: You said you have a mission to wake people up about police brutality and murder. How has your life changed since your son's murder?
Iris Baez: When my son died and I started going out in the streets and people started approaching me about their problems, then I said, `Well, my son didn't die in vain.' Maybe me going out in the street, me hollering and carrying on is to help other people to the light, to bring them to the light, that we have a big problem in this city. And that we going to have to go out in the streets, like an awareness to show the people that something bad is happening here, and we're just too quiet. And we're letting everybody stamp on us and do what they want, and we can't say nothing. This is not the way we should live....
I have become stronger. He has given me courage to just do things I never would have dreamt I could do, like talk in public, yell, shout, you know, I never thought I would do anything like that. This has given me the will to live, the will to keep on fighting for other victims, for the parents, because some parents keep it inside and don't do nothing and just dry up and die because of their sorrow. We can't let the sorrow put a blanket over us. We have to say `no.'
My son was worth a lot, my son was life itself and he loved his life, so I can't let that happen to anybody else....
RW: Why do you think the October 22nd National Day of Protest is important? And what difference will it make?
Iris Baez: October 22nd is wear black. It's like a day of mourning for the people of this city and everywhere--for victims that have died under police brutality. Everybody knows somebody that either got brutalized by a cop or died under a cop. Everybody have a friend--all those people should wear black on that day and make it a day of mourning in city hall and across the nation really. I want to get it across.
I see it as a day to unite people and I see a day we should make it every year, make a day of mourning for all the victims around the world.
RW: You believe that all of that is not going to just stop?
Iris Baez: Oh no, this is for the long haul....