Revolutionary Worker #909, June 1, 1997
"There's an epidemic of police brutality. Those killed are denied justice and even dignity. Stolen Lives Project is collecting names and pictures of those killed all over the country to make a national LIST OF NAMES to be used in the fight to end this."
From a leaflet by the October 22nd Coalition Against Police Brutality announcing a community speakout against police brutality as part of the Stolen Lives Project.
May 17, 1997, St. Peter's Church in the South Bronx, NY: Over 50 people met in the basement of St. Peter's Church to hear parents speak out, parents whose children were murdered by the police and other victims of police brutality. The event, which was bilingual, brought together a mix of people you don't often see together--a group of students from Iowa, Black and Latino proletarians from the neighborhood, middle class activists from Refuse & Resist!, a group of mothers whose sons have been framed for murder by the police, attorneys from the National Lawyers Guild, members of the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade and an elderly white couple who were victims of police brutality.
Sister Sheba, from the New York Black Panther Committee for Social Progress and an activist with the October 22nd Coalition, emceed the event. It began with a welcome prayer from Rev. Larry Gotts, a white Lutheran minister who spoke about the need "to unite together to protect our children and our lives and to not let anything divide us in our determination to rid this country of police brutality and of the killings that have been going on."
On behalf of the October 22nd Coalition, Margot Harry welcomed family members whose loved ones have been murdered by the police. She explained how the Stolen Lives Project began and its goal: "Stolen Lives isn't just a matter of entering names into a computer. Stolen Lives is a call to the people who live with police brutality every day to come forward and tell what you know and experience every single day. Stolen Lives belongs to you. It belongs to those whose lives have been ended by the police--that cannot speak for themselves but we can and we will. And we thank the families who are here today, sharing their painful experiences and making this battle to stop police brutality a strong one because they are strong and standing up. And we want people who are middle class and others who have fame and fortune and believe in justice to stand with the victims of the police, and support the demand to stop police brutality and to take up the fight themselves. We want to bring together these different sections of society in such a way that it will force the issue onto the national stage. We have to put a national spotlight on police brutality and we want to have a big enough impact such that people living in Iowa or wherever can't say I didn't know this was going on. To do this, we need unity and a unity that won't bend. It's got to be strong, it's got to hold up under attack, it's got to grow and grow. We have to change where a lot of people stand on this question and we have to make police brutality a dividing line issue.... Stolen Lives is about telling the truth so that we can stop what's going on and we hope that this will lay the basis for a powerful national day of protest on October 22nd."
Nicholas Heyward, Sr. began by telling a story about an incident of police brutality that happened a few years before his son, Nicholas Heyward, Jr. was murdered. Nicholas, his son and his wife were standing in front of their building when the cops chased, caught and arrested a youth. Next, Nicholas said, the cop, "grabbed my son, he pulled his gun out and he put it to my son's head and he cocked the trigger. My son at that time was 12 years old. I informed the officer that Nicholas was my son and that he hadn't done anything and he was just out with us. The officer turned around and he pointed the gun at me and told me to mind my business." His son was arrested. When he was released he told his father he had been placed in a line-up and that one cop told him, "If you don't shut your mouth, I'm going to stick this gun up your butt and pull the trigger. Nicholas also informed me that the officer had told him that he would not live to be 15." When he was 15, Nicholas was playing with a toy gun when he was shot and killed by a housing cop. The Brooklyn DA refused to indict the cop and no justice has yet been served for Nicholas, Jr.
Nicholas Heyward, Sr. spoke with pain about the loss of his son: "Nicholas was my love, he was my life. He was an A student. He was also an honor student and I mean I'm going to do whatever I can and whatever I have to. I will speak out against police brutality. I am going to involve myself fully in the Stolen Lives Project and I also encourage any and all of you to get involved with what's going on with the Stolen Lives Project, to get involved with the Parents Against Police Brutality. Don't wait for it to happen to one of your loved ones. Nicholas was not the first and he will not be the last one to be killed by a police officer."
Iris Baez spoke passionately about the need to persevere in the struggle for justice even when the system backed up the cops at every turn. Iris' son Anthony Baez was murdered when his football hit the patrol car of police officer Francis Livoti. "In two years, I've seen corruption from the bottom all the way to the top, because inside the courts--you know what happened in my case, they threw out the case, then we had to sit in and then the D.A. brought him back and then the judge let him go.... You got to keep on fighting. You have to get involved, not for you, but for your neighbors, because it can happen to you. When my son was murdered in December, they left a void in my family that will never be fixed. They left a void in the kids, in the nephews, in the cousins, in the nieces. So this is a community and friends have to get involved. It's the whole community that has to fight to end this police brutality...."
Mrs. Baez talked about the pain parents feel when their children are murdered by the police: "When they do it especially to young youth, it hurts more, because that's the future of tomorrow. The youth is our future and if they start taking the youth away what are we gonna have for when we get old. And they say the kids are supposed to bury their mothers or fathers, but they're not. They're dying before the mother and the father. And every day we see people out in the streets because they hurt their sons, they murdered their sons. They don't let the kids go out because they're afraid that they might not come back.... We have allowed this to happen because we keep on turning our faces over and over and we allowed them to abuse us. When we stop this abuse is when we all get up and say we've had enough. No more."
Sister Sheba read a poem titled "For Manny and Too Many Others" in memory of Manuel Mayi, a Dominican honors student who was beaten to death by a gang of white racists, one of whom later became a New York City cop. Other members of the audience rose to tell their stories. Carmen Diodonet said her son, Dario Diodonet, was murdered by police, held up his photo and registered his name to be part of the Stolen Lives Project. Julio Mendez told how his brother was beaten to death by police.
Mable and Seymour Ostroga, an elderly white couple, told how police handcuffed and arrested Seymour because he was suffering from an epileptic seizure. Migdalia Vasquez spoke about the struggle for justice for her son Israel and three other youth from the Soundview section of the Bronx--Carlos Perez, Michael Cosme and Devon Ayers. The four were framed by police for a murder they did not commit and were recently sentenced to 50 years in prison.
Wayne Lum of the David Wong Support Committee described how Chinese immigrant David Wong was imprisoned for a crime he did not commit after a trial held in English with no translator. There were messages of support and solidarity from former WBAI journalist and current candidate for Bronx borough president Marina Ortiz. And Bruce Bentley and Matthew Snyder offered legal advice from the National Lawyers Guild.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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