Reporter's Notebook: Police Brutality and Stolen Lives

April 3 March on Washington

Revolutionary Worker #1002, April 18, 1999

Washington, D.C., April 3--3,000 people from across the country gathered for a National Emergency March for Justice Against Police Brutality. The action was initiated by the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York City.

The call for the march said in part: "The police murder of Amadou Diallo, a 22-year-old unarmed immigrant from Guinea, West Africa, by four officers of the NYPD who fired 41 shots at Diallo, 19 of which fatally pierced his body, has provoked a firestorm of anger and outrage nationally and internationally. As tragic as the Diallo murder is, however, it is simply the tip of the iceberg of an epidemic of police brutality and misconduct which is wreaking havoc on Blacks, Latinos, Asians and other people of color, in the ghettos, barrios, reservations, and neighborhoods. All across this nation the families of victims of police violence are crying out, demanding justice because scores of young people of color are being terrorized and are dying needlessly at the hands of police authorities whom we have entrusted with the responsibility of protecting our communities. The crisis between communities of color and the police has become a National Emergency--the bitter harvest of more than two decades of misguided public policies which place more priority on massive and aggressive policing, tougher sentencing and more prisons over investment in social, economic and racial justice."

In New York, we gathered at 6 a.m. to board buses to go to D.C. A large group of parents whose children had been murdered by the NYPD were going. And there were people who'd been in the streets demanding justice for Amadou Diallo, activists, women and men of all ages and nationalities--determined to lend their strength to the fight against police brutality.

I rode with an organizer for the October 22nd Coalition who had copies of the Stolen Lives Project book listing the names of over 500 people murdered by police, corrections officers and Border Patrol agents nationwide. Many people on our bus were Black--and as we made our way down the New Jersey Turnpike, many of us expected a "profile stop" at any minute.

We talked with the people sitting around us--a Black woman in her 50s, an Irish immigrant, a Scottish immigrant and a Latina college professor. Some people bought copies of the Stolen Lives book--the professor got one to show her students at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. People asked when the new edition, with over 2,000 names, would be available. The RW was also passed hand to hand.

The buses dropped us off at the First Congregational Church where we formed up to march to the Capitol building. Walter Fauntroy of the Congressional Black Caucus and Ron Daniels, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, spoke at a press conference on the steps of the church. As dozens of families held up pictures of victims of police murder, Daniels said: "We are here today to let people know that as tragic as the Diallo murder was and is, these families suggest that it is a nationwide problem. You can go into any community in this country of any size--or even rural community where people of color and poor people live--and ask what are the critical problems, and within 10 minutes of the conversation people talk about police brutality. This is not new. It's been a problem. But now what we see is, people are resolved to fight back."

Families Demand Justice

D.C. in April is packed with tourists who come to see the cherry blossoms and the sights. Tourists on Pennsylvania Avenue this day caught a very different sight and got a real lesson--a glimpse of the reality of life in Amerika for those under the gun of the police, particularly Black and Latino people. The march to the Capitol was led by several hundred family members from many states. For over two hours in front of the Capitol building, the family members stepped to the mike to tell how the police stole the lives of their loved ones.

Amadou Diallo's father, Sekou Diallo, thanked everyone "coming from near and far, all colors and religions, to stand together to find justice for Amadou." The crowd sat riveted as each parent or family member told their story. Many people cried. When the parents broke down, people called out to give support.

Introducing the family members, Carl Dix from the National Coordinating Committee of the October 22nd Coalition said: "You're listening to people who have suffered a tremendous personal loss. But in the face of that loss they have persevered. They have stood up and they have raised their voice in a cry for justice not just for their murdered loved one, but for all of the victims of police brutality. We should remember that and we should be inspired by it."

Evadine Bailey pointed to a picture she held: "This is my son, Patrick Bailey, who was killed by Police Officer Boss, the cop that killed Amadou Diallo. My son was shot. He was handcuffed face down and he was left to bleed to death. Kenneth Boss let him die in his own blood. He was left there for over 40 minutes. The hospital was only about three minutes away." The D.A. refused to take any action. "He said he did not want to meet with me because I went on television and said things about him that he didn't like. I told him that my son's blood and Amadou's blood was flowing at their shoulders because they did nothing but help the cops to go out there and kill and kill and kill.... That was my only son. That was my baby. And the D.A. is not doing anything about it. He don't even want to talk to us."

Nerves Gammage's son, Jonny Gammage, was murdered by Pittsburgh cops: "No one was held accountable. They said there was not enough evidence--when the pathologist said that he was choked, asphyxiated. I want to know when they'll stop using the autopsy report to condone murder. They said that he wasn't murdered and we know he was murdered. He died with handcuffs on him. He was stopped. From the officers' own mouths they told exactly what they did. They had a chokehold on him. They had a baton round his neck and five police officers stood on his back, one on his leg, one on his shoulder, one on his neck. You tell me that wasn't enough evidence! The racket has got to be broken!"

Nerves Gammage explained how she and the family went through the whole judicial system--and was told each time there was "not enough evidence" to charge the cops. "But we're still fighting the fight. We're not giving up...Who gave them the right to be judge, jury and executor on that night? He wasn't a criminal. He wasn't a drug user. He wasn't a drug pusher. And even if he was, they didn't have the right to kill him."

Emma Jones from New Haven, Connecticut said a cop in a van chased her son Malik's car based on an "anonymous tip" about an erratic driver: "He went over to the driver's side of the window, banged on the window with the butt of his gun, breaking the window after hitting it four times, sticking his gun inside the window and shooting my son at close blank range in his heart. The medical examiner said that my son, Malik Jones, had 20 bullet holes in his body." The D.A. deemed the shooting "reasonable and justified."

Altagracia Mayi, whose son Manuel was attacked by a racist gang in Queens, NY, said: "A white gang killed my son. They chased my son for 16 blocks and they put a fire extinguisher in his mouth, his eyes and his body. One of the members of the gang is a police officer right now. He's working in the 44th Precinct in the Bronx."

Lucy Turull's son Jovan Gonzalez was beaten by a racist gang with ties to police in the Bronx: "Cops that murder our children belong in jail for life until they rot. They have to rot in jail because our children will never have the same life while these cops get out in a year, while these cops don't serve time. They belong in jail like the crooks and criminals that they are."

Milta Calderon's 21-year-old son Aníbal Carrasquillo was murdered on January 22, 1995 by a cop from the same Street Crimes Unit that murdered Amadou Diallo: "They knocked on my door at three o'clock in the morning and the nightmare started.... They said my son took a gun stand. But that was a lie because my son was shot in the back five feet away from [the cop] Marco Calderon.... Calderon did not get indicted.

Emu Getachaw is an Ethiopian woman whose brother Anthony Getachaw was murdered by D.C. cops: "Look at us! Look around! Look at the pictures of the victims! We come together to fight the system that allows many of our brothers and sisters to die at the hands of police officers."

Donna Dimoly from Los Angeles spoke for the Stolen Lives Project: "The Los Angeles Police Department sent the Cleveland Police Department all the way to Ohio to inform my parents that they had shot my son, claiming that it was an armed confrontation. A few weeks later when we received the autopsy report we found out he had been shot in the back. We were never allowed to identify him. They cremated his body. Even today, we know no more than what we knew then. The arrogant police officials have told us that it's a confidential matter and have refused to release the report. But I'm not here just to fight for justice for my son. I'm also here to represent the people from the Stolen Lives Project in Los Angeles and other people who have had their lives stolen....And I tell everybody keep the faith. We gonna fight police brutality!"

Many other parents, family members and victims of police brutality spoke, including:

  • Antonio Rosario, whose son Anthony and nephew Hilton Vega were shot in the back by NYPD cops. The Rosarios are still waiting to hear the results of a federal investigation begun four years ago.
  • A representative of the family of Yong Xin Huang, a 16-year-old Chinese immigrant shot in the head by New York police.
  • Reverend Richard Reynolds, whose cousin Adrian Reynolds was beaten by police and jail guards in Louisville, Kentucky.
  • Dorothy Copp Elliott, whose son Archie "Artie" Elliot was shot to death by cops in Prince George's County, Maryland, while handcuffed in a cruiser.
  • Pat Baez, sister of Anthony Baez, who was choked to death after his football hit a cop's car in the Bronx.
  • John Robelle Charles, whose father was brutalized by two New York police officers.
  • Brenda Howarton, whose son Daryl Howarton was shot by police.
  • Eva Geddings, whose brother was murdered by Washington, D.C. cops.
  • Jeffrey Beaufort, a victim of police brutality.
  • Willie Horton, Sr., whose son Willie Horton, Jr. was killed by cops.
  • George Morris from Chicago, Illinois whose 18-year-old son Kevin Morris was shot in the back of the head by police.
  • Ana Jorge, whose son Felix Jorge, Jr., was found dead in his prison cell with 15 yards of toilet paper stuffed in his nose and mouth.
  • Karen Ferrell, whose brother Kenneth Ferrell was shot dead by police in South Carolina.
  • Brenda King, whose nephew Brennan King was shot by police last November inside a stairwell in the Cabrini Green housing project in Chicago.
  • Broad Support for the Struggle

    This march was an indication of the growing movement against police brutality. Many have been inspired by the courageous struggle of the families for justice. And people from around the country have had their eyes on the demonstrations for justice for Amadou Diallo in New York City. The D.C. march drew 3,000 people even though it was organized in only 30 days.

    Diverse forces spoke at or endorsed the action. Messages of support came from actors Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Congressman Danny Davis of the Congressional Black Caucus, Kweisi Mfume of NAACP and Dick Gregory. Rev. Al Sharpton of the National Action Network spoke, and there were prayers and cultural performances in honor of victims of police brutality. Members of the following organizations or groups represented: National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights, October 22nd Coalition Against Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation; National Conference of Black Lawyers; Lakota Nation: National Lawyers Guild; Refuse & Resist!; Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence; National Black Police Association; Lesbian and Gay Anti-Violence Project; United Committee to Save Nigeria; Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice; Black Cops Against Police Brutality; National Action Network; National Council of Churches; NAACP; Asian American Legal Defense & Education Fund: Howard Law School and Howard University students; Umoja Party; New York PoliceWatch: National Urban League: Women for Justice.

    Richie Perez of the National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights said: "I want to talk about putting police in jail. That's what we should be talking about. A movement that is afraid to break the law is never going to get justice....And that's what we gotta do, my people, is take it to a higher level, because I'm tired of crying and burying our young people. And we belong in jail or we belong in the streets until we get justice."

    In his talk, Carl Dix said, "These many voices that we hear here today are just the tip of the iceberg. There are hundreds and thousands more families who have suffered the same kinds of losses. That is why we in the October 22nd Coalition say that we're up against a nationwide epidemic of police brutality and police murder.... We won a tremendous victory in New York with the indictment of those cops. But we gotta keep fighting and it's gonna be up to us. There ain't gonna be no saviors who come and do it. We have to take this struggle up to stop police brutality for ourselves, for the people that you will hear here today, and to stop there being many more victims of police brutality."

    Pam Africa of the International Concerned Friends and Family of Mumia Abu-Jamal stepped up to the podium as people shouted "Free Mumia Now!" She said, "If we could have stood together and stopped the murders of each and every last man, woman and child, son or daughter who was talked about today, would we have done it? The answer is yes, and I know it... Malcolm X, we didn't know the plot, we didn't know the plan. Martin Luther King, the exact same thing. Nobody knew that they was gonna drop a bomb to kill John Africa and 11 MOVE men, women and children. But you do know that this government is planning to kill Mumia Abu-Jamal--and we say we'll be damned if they do!" She called on everyone to mobilize for the Millions for Mumia demonstration in Philadelphia on April 24.

    One Mother's Story

    On the march to the Capitol, I had a chance to speak with Dorothy Copp Elliott about the police murder of her 24-year-old son Artie. In many ways, the story of the killing of this Black youth concentrated what has happened to countless other victims of police brutality and their families. Dorothy is a high school teacher. Artie's father is a judge. Dorothy said her son was "a very, very fun loving young man, very, very protective of his mom, loved his brother, a typical young man...just beginning to live his life, really."

    "My son was leaving his construction job that day as they usually do on Fridays about two o'clock. They stopped along the way and they had some drinks like the white collar people do when they have their happy hour. And he was acutely intoxicated. The police officer pulled him over because the car was weaving. [He had] no shirt on because that was the way he had worked on the job that day, and he was wearing tennis shoes, no socks. He got out of the car, cooperated with the officer. He was subsequently searched. No weapon was found. He was handcuffed with his hands behind his back, placed in the front seat of that police cruiser with the windows rolled up, seat belt on and the door locked."

    A backup officer arrived on the scene. "As these two officers stood talking very close to the car, they allege that our son was pointing a handgun at them--with his hands still [handcuffed] behind his back. They claimed that he could reach his hands around from behind him to the side, actually point a gun out of the window." The cops shot at Artie 22 times and hit him with 14 bullets. They were never charged. Dorothy told me one of the cops who killed her son murdered a young white man named Michael Donald Reed 20 months later. This cop has been moved around to different precincts and is still on the job.

    Like most of the parents who took part in the protest, the Elliott family appealed to federal authorities when they didn't receive justice on the local or state level. Dorothy said, "We got as far as the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. All of our motions were dropped or denied except summary judgment, which means they did what they did in the line of duty. And these three conservative, white racist judges, declared that the police officers were justified in doing what they did." Harvard Law School Professor Lawrence Tribe took the case to the Supreme Court--but "they declined to hear the case without comment."

    For six years now, Dorothy and her family have continued to fight for justice. Every month on the 18th, the anniversary of the day Artie was shot, they go to the busy intersection where it happened, put out flowers and talk to people. As we approached the steps of the Capitol building, Dorothy began to sob quietly and told me, "It was my birthday the next day. My son had been planning for my birthday that evening before with a friend of his. So he didn't live to see his 25th birthday, and he didn't live to see me celebrate my birthday."

    Dorothy had some thoughts about what people needed to do in the fight for justice and against police brutality: "Keep doing what we're doing but agitate more, be much more aggressive... We need to apply pressure. We need to let them know we're not taking it anymore."

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