Reporters Notebook
New York: Thousands March Against Police Brutality

Revolutionary Worker #1003, April 25, 1999

The struggle of the people against police brutality has grown so strong since the murder of Amadou Diallo that a major crisis has developed in New York City. Tens of thousands of people have been involved in protests. Officials openly worry about the possibility of a major rebellion. Over 1,200 protesters were arrested at police headquarters--including nearly every Black and Latino elected official in the city and many on the state level. There is intense infighting among different sections of the ruling class which has created new openings for the people.

On April 15 the largest demonstration yet took place, organized by local and state Democratic Party leaders calling themselves "New Yorkers for Law, Order, Peace and Justice." This coalition put forward a program to "reform" the police department. Their "10 Point Diallo Action Plan" calls for independent prosecutors and investigators for police brutality and corruption; training cops in "racial and cultural sensitivity," more minority and women cops; pay raises and benefit increases for cops; an end to the infamous 48-hour rule that gives cops time to get their lie together after killing or beating someone; an end to the use of hollow point bullets; and Justice Department monitoring of police misconduct around the country.

As the RW has written: "Say it plain: the problem is police murder and brutality, repression, and the criminalization of an entire generation of Black, Latino and other oppressed youth...this is about mad dog cops who are trained to murder with impunity in every city and state in this country and who are backed up by almost all their fellow cops whenever they do, backed up by the mayors and the courts, and not only that, backed up by Clinton himself! There have been thousands of police murders just since 1990, most of which have been covered up. These are not isolated incidents of `a few bad police officers,' and these are not `unfortunate accidents'--these are STOLEN LIVES, and there must be no more."


Over 10,000 people marched from the Brooklyn courthouse, over the Brooklyn Bridge, to the federal building in Manhattan. The most striking thing about the April 15 demonstration was the many different kinds of people who took part. Actor Ossie Davis emceed. Speakers included entertainers Harry Belafonte and Dick Gregory and Hugh Price of the National Urban League. Black scholar and author Cornel West was there. Heading up the march were Saikou Diallo, Amadou Diallo's father, and many other parents whose children had been murdered by the police. There were thousands of union members and members of different religious groups from across the city. Many nationalities and all ages were represented. Community groups, taxi drivers, housing and animal rights activists, anarchists, Dominican and Haitian groups all took part. A lot of people at this demonstration were middle class or better-paid unionized workers. Some were activists, but others had never been to a protest before.

There were contingents from the National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights, the October 22nd Coalition To Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation, ACT-UP, National Action Center, Refuse & Resist!, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, Brooklyn Green Party, National Action Network, South Asians Against Police Brutality, Audre Lord Project and the Black Radical Congress. A group from Hunter College Student Liberation Action Movement held up a stuffed pig and chanted: "Pigs, pigs, pigs can't fly. Shoot that swine right out of the sky!" The Irish Coalition Against Police Brutality carried signs comparing the NYPD to the cops in Ulster, Northern Ireland.

Many white people at the march said they felt a particular responsibility to take a stand against police brutality. A woman from Hunter College with the Social Workers Action Coalition said, "I don't have the same experience as men of color in New York City who I think are more the targets of racial profiling in New York and other parts of the country." She came to the march because, "Giuliani is a tyrant and his really disruptive, oppressive and racist policies need to be challenged. And people need to come together like they are today to resist them and demonstrate that we're not going to put up with it anymore."

Activists linked the struggle against police brutality to other battles against the system. In particular, there were hundreds of signs opposing the execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal.

People had a real sense of optimism, an understanding that their struggle has begun to change the whole atmosphere in the city. Grace Tubman, who works with the Free Mumia Coalition and Refuse & Resist!, said, "I've seen people who just usually don't come out for these kinds of demonstrations... It's extremely heartening because I think that people are beginning to see that so, so many people are concerned and that it's almost like you're out of it if you're not taking part in these demonstrations."

There were many Jewish people at the march, including a large contingent from Jews for Racial and Economic Justice. A young man marching with the contingent talked about his reaction to the murder of Amadou Diallo: "Shocked, horrified. I kept thinking how can you fire 41 times without noticing that the guy doesn't have a gun? How can you fire 41 times at all?" He had a message to people in the Black and Latino neighborhoods: "Don't give up hope. Not everyone is like that, and the rest of us are starting to notice what's going on. Sorry it took so long." A young woman with the contingent added, "We don't want this done in our name and we want to reach out and work against this abuse together."

A Black woman in her 40s said, "I'm glad to see a lot of people of different ages and ethnic backgrounds--Jewish, Koreans, all people. I'm very happy to see this because it gets to a point where you have to say enough is enough.... I'm here in support of everybody that is going through an injustice. I'm here in support of these families that have cried and grieved, those families that came to the forefront to try to tell us what was going on... Diallo is the last and ultimate sacrifice. It is the last and ultimate wakeup call that we will get."


The struggle continues. On Monday, April 19, the Stolen Lives Project will hold an event at the Washington Square Methodist Church to add the names of Amadou Diallo, Tyisha Miller, Brennan King and other recent victims to the list of those whose lives were stolen by the police. The new edition of the Stolen Lives book, due to be published in June, will have more than 2,000 cases and circumstances of lives stolen by law enforcement in this country. No More Stolen Lives!

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