Margarita Rosario: Fighting to Break the Blue Wall

THE RW INTERVIEW: A special feature of the RW to acquaint our readers with the views of significant figures in art, theater, music and literature, science, sports and politics. The views expressed by those we interview are, of course, their own; and they are not responsible for the view published elsewhere in our paper.

Police brutality in New York City has reached epidemic proportions. In the past two years the NYPD has murdered over 100 people, the majority of them Black, Latino and other oppressed nationalities. The RW recently spoke with Margarita Rosario, who lost her son to police bullets. On January 12, 1995 Anthony and his cousin Hilton Vega were shot repeatedly in the back by two New York City detectives--while the two cousins were face down on the floor. In a close vote, the grand jury decided not to indict the cops--without ever hearing testimony from a third man who survived the police assault. The detectives were bodyguards for New York's Mayor Giulliani during his campaign and one is also a boyhood friend of the mayor. Family members believe there is a coverup of the murders that goes all the way to the top of New York City government.

Over a cup of tea at the Rosario home, Margarita told the RW how she and her sister-in-law Carmen Morales, Hilton Vega's mother, founded the group Parents Against Police Brutality. They sent letters to the Justice Department to demand a federal investigation into the deaths of Anthony and Hilton. And they joined with other parents whose children have been murdered by the police--to fight for justice, including the family of Anthony Baez.

Anthony Baez was killed on December 22, 1994 by a cop named Francis Livoti. Livoti put Anthony in a chokehold after the Baez brothers' football accidentally hit his cruiser. Three of Anthony's brothers and his father witnessed his death. At the time Livoti murdered Anthony he already had a long history of brutality complaints filed with the Civilian Complaint Review Board. Livoti was indicted by a grand jury, but this first indictment was thrown out because of a typographical error! After repeated protests by Anthony's family, members of Parents Against Police Brutality and others, Livoti was re-indicted on charges of criminally negligent homicide, which carries a maximum sentence of only four years. Nevertheless, it is rare for a New York City cop to be charged at all in connection with a murder they have committed. There is no jury in the Livoti case--only the presiding judge will decide.

As we go to press, closing arguments in the Livoti trial have ended and when this issue hits the streets, the judge will have already given his verdict. Margarita, who is also an initiator of the October 22 National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, told the RW, "The community is watching this case very closely.... I hope if they don't indict this man, that people will react." Meanwhile, on October 9, some members of Parents Against Police Brutality will go on trial in a Brooklyn court--because of a sit-in last spring in the D.A.'s office to demand that charges be brought in connection with a number of police murders. On October 11, a federal grand jury is set to be convened to consider charges against the cops who murdered Anthony Rosario and Hilton Vega.


RW: I want to thank you for doing this interview, and I bring you from our paper our sympathy at the loss of your son Anthony and your nephew Hilton.


RW: We really hope there will be some justice--for all the lives that have been stolen by the police--and you know we all need to fight for that to happen.


RW: Tell us what happened when your son was killed.

MARGARITA ROSARIO: On January 11, 1995 Hilton and my son, Anthony, went to the home of Linda Rodríguez and George Rodríguez to collect some money for a marriage that had been performed to one of Hilton's girlfriends. He was given $50 and was told to come back, that all the money would be given to him the next day.

So the kids went off on the next day and this time they took Freddie Bonilla with them, my son's friend. At that point, according to Freddie, they entered the apartment and Hilton and George Rodríguez went down a few steps to a sunken living room. Freddie and Anthony stood at the foyer, waiting for Hilton to talk to George.

Seconds after that two armed men, two Caucasian men, came out of a dark room with guns drawn. They started yelling for the kids to go down on the floor. One of them went running towards the living room and continued to yell at Hilton to go down on the floor and the other one continued to yell at Freddie and Anthony at the foyer. Freddie said they all went down as quickly as possible on the floor on their stomachs. At that point immediately him and Anthony witnessed shots being given to Hilton's back. He said that him and Anthony could see Hilton's legs jumping as he was being shot at.

At that point Anthony began to protest about the treatment they were getting because they had responded--they had gone down on the floor, they had obeyed the orders that were given to them. Anthony proceeded to say, "What are you doing? We are not resisting. Why are you doing that, why are you doing that?" Freddie Bonilla says that he just froze. He did not move a finger as my son protested. So at that point Freddie said the cop that was behind my son and the other cop came and started shooting at my so n's back. Freddie said that Anthony's hand was laying on his right thigh--and when Anthony took his last breath he felt Anthony's hand drop from his thigh.

Someone must have called the cops because a phone call came through the radio saying is there any cops around there because there was shooting going on? The two detectives had responded immediately said, "Yes, yes, yes, we're handling it." But little did they know the uniformed cops were just a few steps away. So when the two detectives realized that they were so close, they tried to cover it up. Freddie said that they grabbed my son by his arm and flipped him over face up. When they realized that Fredd ie was alive, they told him, "You're lucky that we ran out of bullets." At that point the cops in blue uniform were knocking on the door and they had no time to eliminate Freddie. So when they came in--the guys in uniform saw my son face up and I don't know in what condition they saw Hilton...They said it was a shootout.... The medical examiner who did the autopsy on the kids said that the kids must have been shot in the front and there was an article printed in the paper saying that my son was shot in the front and my nephew.

I decided immediately that I was going to have a second autopsy, because I wanted to know what happened to my son. I did not believe what they were telling me.

RW: What happened when the two detectives came to notify you?

MARGARITA ROSARIO: Well, they were like as if they were doing some type of delivery. Just like a mailman coming to deliver mail. They asked if they could come in and I said, "Sure." And I said, "What happened?" He says, "Do you know Anthony?" And I said, "Yeah, that's my son." I said, "What happened?" He said, "Can we come in?" And they asked me if someone else was in the house, and I said, "Well, my husband is here." You know, he had just arrived from Puerto Rico a half an hour before that. So my husband came in and he sat down with them in the dining room and I said, "Is my son hurt?" And they said, "No." And I said, "Is my son in jail?" And they said, "No."

Immediately I felt this cold chill coming over me and I left the room because--I mean if anything else if he's not hurt or he's not in jail what else can there be, right? So I immediately left the room and waited a few minutes and then I came back in. I noticed that my husband looked very pale. I mean it was like all the blood had been drained from his face. And I said, "What happened?" And he immediately just blurted out, "Your son is dead." And I went crazy. I started yelling and running around and on e of the detectives asked me if he could use the phone. He went to use the phone at the hallway and I started saying to him, "Why, why do cops have to kill kids? Why?" And he turned around and he said to me, "Mrs. Rosario, I could assure you when the whole story comes out you're going to see that it was justified." That's what he said to me, okay? Now how did he know that this was justified, for him to talk like that? They were here maybe for 10 minutes the longest and then they were gone.

I decided that I was going to get a second autopsy and it was done by Barbara Wolf and we found out the opposite of what the police department was saying.... So, you know, we just went and just started doing things to have people help us because we were alone and we were fighting a police department who was corrupt and powerful and we were by ourself and we didn't know where to turn so we just used whatever means we had, whatever was available to us.

RW: I saw when I came here you had the big sign in the front of your house--Parents Against Police Brutality--and pictures of your son and your nephew. Tell me how Parents Against Police Brutality was formed.

MARGARITA ROSARIO: It was out of anger and pain that my sister-in-law and I were encountering. 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. We have to start a group so that we, the parents, could join together and you know just demand and go to the offices, just do it all together, you know, as a group." And that's when we decided that Parents Ag ainst Police Brutality would be perfect and we did it. We started up the group on July 7, 1995 and this was in memory of Anthony Rosario and Hilton Vega. It was like a birthday gift to my son that I was going to do.

So ever since we started this group we have been contacted by other parents who have lost their kids through police brutality. Every time a parent calls us, we try to go to the rallies together, we protest together, we march together, sometimes we have breakfast together when we go to the Baez case. So its feels good that people are recognizing us as Parents Against Police Brutality as that group.

And, you know, I just remember when we busted into [District Attorney] Robert Johnson's office. That was excellent. That was beautiful.

RW: Was that to demand that Frances Livoti--the cop who killed Anthony Baez--be reindicted?

MARGARITA ROSARIO: Yes. Not only for the Baez case but also for my son's case because Robert Johnson had done a lousy job on my son's case.... We waited for the media and then we proceeded to go through the lobby and onto the next office. We were stopped by the detectives who guarded the entrance to the D.A.'s office. But we stood there.... We'd bang on the walls, we'd kick on the walls and we were just being very destructive, you know, which was the meaning, to be destructive and noisy. In the newspapers they said we were noisy and loud and rude, you know, which it was fine, you know? We didn't care, we made our point.... We demanded that Robert Johnson come out and speak to us. Well, you know, he was refusing to come and speak to us. Well, we said we weren't leaving until Robert Johnson come out and speak to us. I guess by being so loud and all that just annoyed the other workers and that finally Robert Johnson did come out, proceeded to speak to the Baez family. You know, they told hi m what their demand was. I, on the other hand, tried to speak to him and he told me that my case was no longer there, that what was I doing there? And I said I came here in support of the family and because you did wrong in my son's case. And I believe I called the man a worm. And it was printed in the newspaper. (laughter)

So this is the kind of work that we Parents Against Police Brutality are willing to do, to join together to demand justice, you know, regardless where it is.

RW: What keeps you so strong? How are you able to deal with this?

MARGARITA ROSARIO: Well, I think it's like I said, me wanting for the truth to come out, me wanting to get justice, is keeping me strong. There's other parents that are in pain. And if I give up, I'm giving up on them. So I know we have to keep each other strong so that we can see this through.

Like in the Baez case, what is this guy going to get? All this pain and suffering that these people have encountered--they have had to leave their home in Florida to move to New York and what kind of changes has Livoti had to do? Livoti hasn't really made big changes in his life. But the Baez family had to make drastic changes in their life. Financially it's draining them and emotionally. They had to move their kids from Florida from one school to another.

What's happening in Livoti's life, besides him worrying about his little butt? That's the only change that he's had. He's gone about his life like nothing. He sits over there, he smiles, he tries to look as good as he can in his little expensive suits. Mr. Baez and Mrs. Baez can't afford stuff like that. So they're over here struggling while he's living the good life. And for what?

Anthony Baez should never have been killed, that should've never happened. And this man Livoti had so many charges against him, and yet the judge threw all that out when it was brought up. So you know it just makes us so angry that even a judge is willing to cover up for these cops.

Me and Milta sat in on one of these trials, I think it was one time when the judge was joking a lot.... And this judge is joking while Mrs. Baez is sitting there in pain, you know? So that was really, really making me angry and me and Milta...we were like ooh, and restraining ourselves from getting off our seats--because how could he do that? And the cops are laughing.

RW: Have the police tried to threaten you? Have they harassed you?

MARGARITA ROSARIO: Oh, yes, I've been harassed. I remember receiving one phone call that I was threatened. I was called a "b*tch"; they said they were going to get me. That hasn't happened again, thank god. I remember this man calling me and telling me that why can't I accept what happened the way the cops are saying it? Why do I have to keep on opening my big mouth, he said. He said, "Your son got what he deserved," you know, so that was another phone call. I changed my number because of that t oo. And I was being harassed because of the sign behind my car that says "Anthony Rosario Killed by Cops."

RW: You were one of the initiators of the October 22 National Day of Protest Against Police Brutality. Can you talk about why you decided to be one of the initiators and what difference you think that day will make?

MARGARITA ROSARIO: This is very important to me, to join other people that are fighting police brutality, because I mean I'm the parent. A lot of these people are not parents that have lost kids and yet they're doing it. So if I am a mother that lost my child why shouldn't I be--I should be on the front line protesting against police brutality, whether it is risking my life or not.... It feels good and I'm glad that I'm going to be there.... I hope it wakes up the commissioner and the mayor so t hey can see that we're serious about this and it is also to break the blue wall of silence that's been up for so many years....

RW: We'd like to know what Anthony and Hilton were like, because so much of the time the media dehumanizes the people who are killed by the police.

MARGARITA ROSARIO: I was happy with my three boys. Now I only have two, so of course it's an emptiness in me that will never be fulfilled. Anthony was somewhat shy, quiet, very homebody person--he had gone to Catholic school so he was a very respectable kid that respected elderlies. He had gotten into trouble once, and they tried to bring that out, also saying he had prior arrests. He was with Freddie that day, him and Freddie were arrested. They asked a Chinese man for the time, and the Chinese man didn't understand him and hit him with a bag, Anthony hit him back and that was the end of that, the man went his way. Anthony and Freddie went their way. They were picked up by the cops, thrown against a car and treated like criminals. I remember Anthony telling me, "You know, those people are so racist. I tried to explain to them and they didn't want to hear it, they just threw me against the car and threw me in there and arrested me." So anyway, that was one time that Anthony had been arrested and the only time that he had a problem with the police. They made it sound like this kid was a criminal, and you know he was no criminal. Anthony was a very good kid. He was always home and I was so proud of him because he was a very good looking kid. He was tall and I mean he was very, very good looking.

Hilton as a teenager had gotten into trouble with the law for stealing cars and he had spent some time and he came out. He was 21 when he was killed. He was already getting his life together, you know? He wanted to be different, he wanted to do better and he was working. Anthony and him were thinking about starting a business that my husband had dropped, a carpet-cleaning business, and these were the plans...for the future.

Anthony also had plans to marry his girlfriend, who was expecting a baby and she lost it after his death. You know, she was under a lot of stress. When we went into his room we found a magazine, a bridal magazine where him and his girlfriend had been planning what type of dress and outfit he was going to wear for the wedding. So that was very sad too to see.

RW: What would you say to people, whether they're parents of people who have been killed by the police or just people who want to oppose police brutality but are afraid? What advice would you give them?

MARGARITA ROSARIO: I think if they don't stand alone by themself, they should not have any fear, because there's people out here who are willing to support you, to stand with you and that gives you a lot of courage.... You should be courageous and stand for what you believe because this is mainly about what you believe is right, you know, and what you believe is wrong. I know what happened to my son was wrong because I raised that child, and I know what my son was about. So because of that I kno w that regardless of what kind of pressure I get, regardless what danger my life is in, I'm going to stand for that right--because it was my right and my son's right to live. They had no right to take my son's life or my nephew's....

My son died as a brave person because my son, from that floor, took a stand and protested against what they were doing. So if my son was able to do that, I am willing to do anything to stand up for his rights. And that's the way people should feel also. They should stand up for what they believe is right, not for what they believe is going to, you know, to secure them.

If they believe what the cops are doing is wrong, then get up there and fight. Don't be afraid. You cannot be afraid because this is what they want you to do. They want you to be afraid. We've been afraid for so many years, for centuries, and we haven't stood up to these people. I think that has to stop. That blue wall of silence, we have to bring that down completely....

My son is gone but I still have a younger son here who's 14 years old. So I have to fight for him too. And for other kids that are growing up.... I'm doing it for them too. It's for the future kids that we're concerned about. My son is resting in peace already. And I don't think he's really resting in peace until justice is done, you know. But I know that he's resting. So why not get up and do something for our future kids, our future generation so they don't have to go through something like this? We n eed to change the system. We definitely do.