King Kino: Fighting the "Cowboys" from Haiti to Brooklyn

Revolutionary Worker #924, September 21, 1997


by the Phantoms

I remember when I was a kid
A dirty thing that I witness in my country
There was never justice or freedom
Unless you were part of the (Ton Ton Macoute) regime
At sunset was the curfew
Because men in uniform wanted the street clean
So they could go around and steal.
Every normal family was in danger
They gonna terrorize the town.
Every Sunday afternoon
Kids are in the street playing
remember seeing so many guns
t was like a cowboy movie in the Wild West...
Even if we can't say what we saw
We'll never forget what we saw
Young boys and young girls just disappeared...
1992 Haiti
I left Phantoms and the police grabbed me
Now I'm in a hospital bed
The Cowboys did that to me
Help me sing
Raise your flag..."
Added verse, Brooklyn, New York,
August 1997


On August 9 the NYPD arrested Abner Louima in front of the Club Rendez-Vous. The cops stopped twice on the way to the police station to beat Abner. Then at the 70th Police Precinct station house, they took Abner into the bathroom and tortured him--shoving a toilet plunger up his rectum and then into his mouth.

A week later hundreds of people packed Club Rendez-Vous on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn. This is one of the very few places you can hear live Haitian music in New York City, and every Friday is Phantom night. A Haitian compas band, the Phantoms are extremely popular in Haiti, New York, Miami, Europe--wherever in the world Haitians have immigrated.

This is a special night. Midway through their set Phantoms' lead singer, King Kino, calls on the audience to light the candles they received at the door. "Yes, we're here for Abner," he says. The room begins to glow, and the band strikes up what sounds like the opening strains of a Clint Eastwood western. Everyone knows what's coming-- eventually the band breaks into the soaring compas tune "Cowboy." This song was first written in 1992 about the marauding army and paramilitary groups in Haiti. Singing in Creole, Kino has updated the lyrics for this evening, adding a verse on the beating of Abner Louima.

In the days since the torture of Abner Louima, both Club Rendez-vous and the Phantoms have been targets of a police force desperate to cover their tracks. The club's owners were issued a summons for "disorderly premise" at the club on the night of the torture. The summons claimed the cops had broken up a "brawl" inside the club at 3:30 a.m.--when the club was completely closed! What actually happened was that the police attacked people standing on the sidewalk outside the closed club, and it was there that the cops grabbed Abner.

On September 10 the cops offered to dismiss the summons, but the club owners' lawyer, Anthony Bramante, told the RW that they are going to proceed to have the summons heard in court in October--in order to further expose what the police were up to. Bramante said, "The summons is fraudulent in every way--in its allegations, in the way it was issued, and every cop who touched this summons has either been suspended, transferred or is under indictment... At the hearing we might get to hear a crowd of cops come in and plead the Fifth, or perjure themselves. And the summons can then get dismissed on its merits." He said the summons is also under investigation by the FBI.

In an attempt to slander the club, the cops have also deliberately fed the media the lie that the Phantoms regularly held "wild gay parties" at the club. Even the New York Times has revealed this rumor as false.

In the face of these shameless attacks, the Dejean family (the owners of Club Rendez-Vous) and the Phantoms have stood strong and proud behind Abner, exposing the police at every turn. King Kino and the band have been featured on national TV news speaking out against the beating of Abner Louima. And at the recent West Indian Carnival parade on Labor Day in Brooklyn, the Phantoms spoke out against police brutality from their float. The RW met up with King Kino at his apartment last week. What follows are excerpts from the conversation.


RW: Tell us about why you held an evening for Abner Louima at Club Rendez-Vous the week after the attack.

Kino: Well, Abner is a big fan of the band. People of Brooklyn know him as a quiet guy, he's always standing by the stage. He enjoys his music. He comes to listen to the band because of the message that we send. We send a positive message. This is a quiet guy always coming to talk politics with me about what's going on in Haiti...

I remember specifically that night I was talking to him out in front of the club after the party was over. On the sidewalk was two ladies having a dispute... That's when the cowboys [cops] come and start pushing people, kicking people, you know. I don't think these guys have any decency at all. It's incredible, I was sitting talking to Abner right in front of the club when the gate was down, the club was closed. I went to get my car, Abner was crossing the street, and the cops come.

Later when I see this thing on TV I could not believe it. When I saw Abner I did not recognize him. Then my phone started ringing--"Kino, did you see what happened to Abner?" My phone was ringing 24 hours for four days.

The cops called the owner of the club at about 7 o'clock the next morning. Then they give the club a ticket at 12 o'clock noon. If you're gonna give the club a ticket for something that happened at the club you do it at the same time that it was happening!

Next the cops try to accuse Phantom. Saying that we throw violent gay parties where people are fighting and hitting each other, having sex. This is the type of image they want to build for us...

We are not a violent group. We are a group that puts love and dignity in our community. We're always there with the community when they need us. And that really messed up our image in our community. People called up and say we never knew you were a gay band. I have no problem with the gay community. It's their lifestyle, they're happy with it, and what else can you wish for somebody than for them to be happy... And even if Abner was gay, which he isn't, that doesn't give the cops the right to do that to him. Doing it to gay people or straight people, doing it to white people, Black people, it's still the same thing. It's still wrong.

RW: Weren't they also trying to cover their crime with this rumor--the cops told the nurse at the hospital that Abner had been involved in an "abnormal sexual act."

Kino: Of course. And the cops try to create a whole image for us that we have nothing to do with. Also, now the cops threaten me when they're driving by in their car, and when I was on top of the truck on Eastern Parkway [at the West Indian Day parade]. But I said on my microphone I'm not scared. Before I was born on this earth, I was dead. And after, I'm gonna be dead again. So by any means, when I'm dead I'm dead. I think the people that walk with the evil spirit, they're the ones who should be scared. I've got nothing to be afraid of. I'm here to do good. I have a contract to do good with whoever put me here.

RW: How do you look at the cops?

Kino: The way I see it, the cops are like a group of guys who are against the people. To me, it become no different than the Ku Klux Klan--racists that hate people, that think they have the power to hit you on the head, slap you in the face, kick you in the butt. They can do whatever they want... So, I look at them like a gang like that.

Still, there are good officers that put their life on the frontline in danger for all the decent citizens of the city. But too bad there are [cops] in some precincts who make you feel like cops are not people you should even care for... The men in blue, you don't know who to trust and who not to trust... If the top is no good, there's no way that the police officers are gonna be good. If the men on top cannot tell them and decide the proper things for them to do and not to do, their behavior will be based on the tolerance of their leader--which is the mayor Ghouliani and Ghouliani oversees the police chief. Even after Abner Louima they still went and broke somebody's legs not too far from their own precinct.

RW: And they arrested 110 people the night of the big demonstration on August 29.

Kino: I was there. I don't know why they didn't pick me up. They made eight attempts to arrest me that night. Then they changed their mind. I tell them, "I'm a taxpayer who is standing on the sidewalk that I paid to build. You are an officer that I pay taxes for, so you get paid to serve me." So they look at me and they think, maybe this guy is not that dumb. I tell the cop in the white shirt that was right in front of me that "I will be a pain in your butt until I'm tired of being a pain in your butt. The only thing you can do is shoot me in the back."

The same police brutality we had in Haiti since I was a kid was the same police brutality that I meet in 1997 in front of a club where I'm playing. So I make no differences. The same U.S. government that sent people to train people in Haiti for police brutality is the same government that has the worst police brutality. But I never heard a story that they put a stick in someone's butt in Haiti. They do hurt people in Haiti, you know all these things happen, but put a stick?? Mess up their bladder, their liver? Never heard that one yet. Maybe the same police force here that went to train Haitians in Haiti--if they are the example that police in Haiti are following, now they have the right to treat them [this way]. Same thing going on around the world. It's a bad game.

RW: Could you tell us more about the Phantoms?

Kino: Well, since we started this group, we're always the group marching with the Haitian people... I have been marching since Duvalier. In Washington, DC. I was young, very young. I think I was born a revolutionary. It's not something you learn in school.

RW: What is your music about?

Kino: My music is pure revolutionary song, and love song. We have a strong political message. We tell our community the proper way to behave, and to go to school and get an education because that is the key of life. And kids that follow our band--we always have a message for them so that they can go home with something in their mind, in their brain. Not only come and drink, smoke and dance. We set a direction for our community. We tell parents how to have a better communication with their sons and daughters. Prepare the kids for the parents and prepare the parents for the kids, and prepare both for this American community. Prepare both for the future.

RW: You have a song called "Cowboy," which was originally about life in Haiti, right?

Kino: It was the most popular song in Haiti. It was a song--a story from when I was a kid in Haiti. The army did not like the song, they shot people--people died for that song, for playing it. People cried for that song. That song was a revolutionary song in the country. Makes people cry, makes them laugh. It was funny. It was the song of the country.

RW: When did it come out?

Kino: Around 1992. Then I had to go into exile because General Cedras [who ruled Haiti after Aristide was forced out of the country by a military coup] gave my picture to the army--and told them if they catch me anywhere to shoot me. Don't bring him alive. He told me I couldn't come anywhere in that country. He didn't know things would change, but I said, "Trust me, things will change." After a couple of years in exile, I again put my foot down in Haiti--with all my family and friends.... "Cowboy" was the song. My first concert back in Haiti was on December 23, 1993, over 60,000 people at the concert. I didn't sing one word of that song. I just start the song, the audience picked it up and finished it.

RW: It seems to me that there's a special need people have for their artists to speak in an inspired way with them and for them and from them. Is that how you feel?

Kino: To me, art is an opportunity given by god, by whoever put me here, to do something good. If I am living and I cannot do something good for someone else, I am not living. If I have money and I am not helping other people with what I have, then it's a major problem. To me it's a challenge--things that I've learned I want to pass to someone else. It's an opportunity to take what I have or what I've learned to change somebody else's life. Tell them if they're going in the wrong direction--this is what I know, this is what you can do. To me it's a job, a duty that I need to do, so it's nothing to be proud of, understand? But I feel good because I'm doing what I'm here to do...

So whatever they want to do to me, it's not gonna change the way I think or what I'm gonna say. I was telling the cops that day at the parade the best thing is to shoot me right on top of the truck, since there were snipers all over the buildings. My life would be shot, but my life will be shot with what I have in my heart, with what I have in my mind, you can't take that away. I will die with it. They didn't change me. They didn't change anything at all. And there will always be another me like me out here in the world.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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