Revolutionary Worker #891, January 26, 1997
From our New York Correspondent:
The past three years have seen a dramatic increase in the number of people murdered by the police in cities across the U.S. A wave of police brutality is sweeping the country. Last year, the international human rights organization Amnesty International released a report that found widespread police brutality and use of excessive force in New York City. But something else has arisen in response to this situation. A nationwide movement against police brutality has begun to grow. On the October 22 National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation, there were protests in more than 40 cities. In New York City, Parents Against Police Brutality has been one of the organizations that has been in the forefront of this struggle.
I first met many of the members of Parents Against Police Brutality in a dreary corridor in a Bronx courthouse. We were all waiting in line to get into the trial of cop Francis Livoti, who had murdered Anthony Baez for the "crime" of playing football in the street. Parents Against Police Brutality was formed on July 7, 1995 by Margarita Rosario and Carmen Vega in memory of their sons Anthony Rosario and Hilton Vega, who were murdered by the NYPD on January 12, 1995. In an interview with the RW (October 13, 1997) Margarita Rosario told me how the group began. "It was out of anger and pain that my sister-in-law and I were encountering," she recalled, over a cup of tea. "Every time I opened that newspaper there was an article downgrading my son and my nephew and uplifting these cops. So at one point I just told my sister-in-law, `We have to do something different.'... And that's when we decided that Parents Against Police Brutality would be perfect and we did it.... It was like a birthday gift to my son."
Throughout the month of October, I encountered members of Parents Against Police Brutality--from the trial and protests against the outrageous acquittal of the cop named Livoti who murdered Anthony Baez to the October 12 march for immigrant rights in Washington to the October 22nd day of protest and Refuse & Resist!'s "All Hallow's Eve" concert finale to the Month of Resistance. In an interview on October 27 Iris Baez, Anthony's mother, told the RW about how she had changed since her son's death, "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.... 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.' "
In November, I was invited to attend a meeting of the group where I got a chance to talk more deeply with some of the parents. It was held at Milta Calderón's house in Brooklyn. We sat and talked in the living room where Milta has a memorial for her son Aníbal Carrasquillo who was murdered on January 22, 1995. Aníbal's diplomas, certificates and family pictures are laid out on a card table draped with a plain white cloth. Milta's story, like those of the other parents, shows how the system backs up the police when they brutalize or murder people.
Aníbal Carrasquillo was murdered by a cop named Marco Calderón (no relation to Milta). The police story was that Officer Calderón thought Aníbal "looked suspicious" because he was "looking into parked cars," that he moved his hands to his waistband as if reaching for a gun and that he was shot as he turned to face Officer Calderón with his right arm and fist extended. But the medical examiner's office concluded that he was shot in the back. A grand jury did not return an indictment. The Brooklyn D.A. closed the case. When Milta took part in a demonstration at the D.A.'s office to demand that that he reopen the investigation into the deaths of Aníbal and Yong Xin Huang, she was arrested, along with Yong Xin's sisters, Quinh Vi Huang and Quing Lan Huang! Yong Xin Huang was a ninth grade honors student who was shot in the back of the head by a cop after he was thrown through a glass door on March 24, 1995.
At the October 22nd protest, Milta described the callous disregard that the police have for the lives of the oppressed: "Two detectives came to my house at three o'clock in the morning claiming that there was a young man shot. They asked me a lot of questions. When they told me that they didn't know it was my son I said that was impossible because my son had a photo I.D. on him so there was no way that they could tell it wasn't my son. What they told me was that the wallet they found was beside him. That's another lie, because my son was asthmatic and had two shirts on. There was no way his wallet would have come out of his pocket." They also repeated the claim that the cop shot Aníbal in self-defense. When Milta went to her room to get dressed the cops didn't wait to escort her to the morgue. When she came out, they were gone.
Milta waited at the morgue five hours to find out if the person who'd been shot was her son. "When I went out to the morgue I saw his photo I.D. and it was my son. He looked like he was gasping for air. They had me look through a glass. I couldn't touch him. But what I want to say is the autopsy showed he was shot in the back, never in the front of his chest!... My son had no weapon. They let him die. They didn't call the ambulance to come. They blew out his face! And they made it a joke. We've got to fight! These cops are not going to get away with murder because that's what they're doing, they're murdering our children!"
The way the families have been treated brings home the reality that the problem is not just a few "bad apples" in the police department. In most cases, the parents have had to struggle just to get the authorities to investigate the deaths of their children. The Baez family had one indictment thrown out because of a typographical error. Only after repeated protests, including one inside the Bronx district attorney's office, did the D.A. finally indict Livoti again. Initially, the police told Margarita Rosario that her son and nephew had been shot in the front. To find out the truth, Margarita had to hire an independent medical examiner who concluded that they were shot while face down on the floor. Margarita Nuñez, who spoke last week at a memorial march for Frankie Arzuaga, announced that the corrections officer who killed her son Benjamin Nuñez on April 9, 1995 had finally been indicted after almost two years of struggle.
Lillian Flores' son Frankie Arzuaga was 15 years old when he was murdered by an NYPD sergeant named James Hand. Frankie was sitting in the back seat of the Honda when some cops came up on him and his friends in Brooklyn last January. They approached the Honda, but did not identify themselves. They just started grabbing at the door handles saying "open the door." As the driver of the car pulled away, Hand shot into the back of the moving vehicle. One of the bullets hit Frankie Arzuaga in the back of the head. He died a day later.
The cops didn't even report the incident in the police department's log of major incidents, which is distributed within the department and to reporters. This police murder would have remained hidden if Frankie's family hadn't contacted the local Spanish-language newspaper El Diario. The family wanted justice and demanded the cops stand trial for the murder. Last week, Newsday reported that the Brooklyn D.A. is quietly preparing to drop its investigation without indicting the cops for the murder of Frankie Arzuaga.
The only reason the case was even under investigation was because Frankie's mother and stepfather, David Muniz, have struggled to get justice. At the memorial march for her son on the anniversary of his death, Lillian Flores said: "My son, he was 15 years old. Today is the day, this time that he was going home when Sergeant James Hand killed him. He was a kid. He was thinking about what he was gonna do in the future. He always said `Ma, I would like to be a author.' Pero, the cops, no...they killed his chance to be that. They say we are the bad. No, they are the bad. Everything they do, they right. Everything we do, we bad. We have to be crying out there, screaming out there for justice for our kids that cops killed and they still is the cops out there, like nothing happened. But when one of them are killed by a kid, we pay for that and we go to jail for that.
"They think that because they said that they're gonna close the case, I'm gonna go and sit and say okay, go. No! My son is a person. He's a kid. I don't know how they--they don't have hearts anyway. They're dogs. Pero, like I said, my son is 15 and we're fighting for justice and I'm still gonna fight for justice and for the other mothers and we still gonna fight."
Vannessa Maldonado--whose fiance Charles Campbell was killed in early October 1996 in Dobbs Ferry by an off-duty NYPD over a disputed parking space--told the crowd, "We stand here together by the hundreds and these pigs better know one thing, tomorrow we be here by the thousands and after that by the millions. 1997, this is our year! These pigs are standing here, they laughing... You think this shit is a joke? It's not a fucking joke what I'm feeling in here! Justice will prevail. My man did not die in vain. I didn't spend eight years with a man that worked two jobs, a man that loved god, to see this man killed over a parking space! What kind of shit is this? A 15-year-old kid shot in the head and this motherfucker walks like it's a joke?"
Most of the members of Parents Against Police Brutality are Puerto Rican. They have joined with people of all nationalities in protest--like the family of Hessey Phelen, an Irish immigrant murdered by a New York City cop on January 22, 1996. Some of the parents are proletarians who have few resources. They've relied on each other and used whatever is at hand to wage their struggle for justice. Banners have been made from pillowcases. Fliers and leaflets are exchanged and those who don't have experience writing something like this are helped by others who do. They all have signs and buttons with the pictures of their children on them, which they wear and carry wherever they go. Family members of victims of police brutality of all nationalities have taken part in their protests. Their actions have attracted support from youth in the street organizations of the Latin Kings and the Ñetas, and hundreds of youth have turned out to the memorials and marches. And they have reached out and begun to link their struggle with others who are fighting against the injustices of this system, including revolutionary political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal.
The parents are determined that those who have been murdered will not be forgotten. They have begun to hold public memorials on the anniversaries of the deaths of their children where all the victims of police brutality and murder are also remembered. On the anniversary of Anthony Baez' murder, people came together for a football game in remembrance. Last month, Margarita Rosario had a mural painted on her house with the names of many of the victims of police brutality, along with pictures of her son and nephew. There was an official ceremony where the mural was unveiled attended by over 70 people, followed by a march to the 46th precinct.
The authorities have counter-attacked in response to the parents' struggle. The parents have been followed, harassed and given traffic tickets. Lillian Flores received a call from the police precinct on Mother's Day. David Muniz described this: "This cop, which he was a coward not to mention his name or his badge number, says, `Oh, so I guess Frankie was a piece of shit after all, you know,' and says, `Well, I guess his mother's happy that we give him a specific Mother's Day gift, you know? She doesn't have her son with her.'... Then afterwards he started screaming in the background, `Yeah! Frankie's dead! Yeah! Frankie's dead!' like he was having a party, you know? Like he really thought everything was all a game. You know, to him it didn't matter."
Most realize the risk they are taking in stepping out against police brutality and in their public speeches they urge others not to be afraid to die, to do whatever it takes to get justice. Estevina Cabrera, whose son Juan was killed in police custody on December 25, 1992 at the infamous 34th precinct in Washington Heights, and Alta Gracia Mayi, whose son was killed in 1993 by a white racist gang in Queens, are among the Dominican parents who have been outspoken and active in the struggle.
In our October interview, Margarita Rosario expressed concern that some Dominican families who are not citizens had been heavily threatened by police, and this has made it difficult for some parents to take part. The other parents try to find the ways to deal with this. Margarita Rosario told me: "They haven't been able to shut us up and that's important. Even if those parents aren't able to come out, we're their voices because every time we have a rally or something their sons' names are mentioned in those rallies and in the meetings that we have. We make sure that we continue to keep their story alive even if the parent can't.... We haven't stopped, you know. We have continued and continue to pound them and every time they think that they could relax and say it's over, that's when we turn around and boom, we hit 'em again."
Milta Calderón told another mother whose son was murdered recently: "We're here for you. We're Parents Against Police Brutality. I know at the beginning you're scared and don't know where to go. Try to get an organization to help you. Take my phone number and call me if you need help. I feel your pain. I know exactly what you're going through. Don't let these cops sweep it under the rug. Make noise. Let them know what they did to your son was not justified."
Across the country this past year, the parents whose children have been murdered by the enforcers of this system have played a very powerful role in the struggle to build a nationwide movement against police brutality. As Carl Dix, spokesperson for the RCP put it in a recent speech about the October 22 day of protest: "After these people spoke from the heart about the pain they suffered but also about their determination to stand up and fight to stop the epidemic of police violence--how can anybody tell you that police brutality is an isolated phenomenon? You have all of these people coming up saying the same things, different circumstances, but it comes down to the same thing: brutal murdering pigs are unleashed to vamp down on people and then the whole system backs them up when they do it.... After seeing the inspiring strength of people like Iris Baez or Cornelius Hall in San Francisco, whose son was murdered two years ago by cops out there, or the Guillén family in Chicago who lost a loved one last year at the hands of the Chicago police and many others--when you hear about them standing up and fighting back and you see the support their stand has brought forward--you begin to get a sense that there is a nationwide movement that's coming together."