Life in Occupied New York: The Sisters Speak

by Debbie Lang

Revolutionary Worker #997, March 7, 1999

After the murder of Amadou Diallo, the New York RW bureau organized a multinational team to go out to different neighborhoods and interview people. The following is the second part of a Reporter's Notebook from the work of this team:

Since the police execution of Amadou Diallo on February 4, there have been protests, meetings and prayer vigils all over the city. Everywhere, sisters of all nationalities have stood side by side with brothers in this struggle. Many have been in the forefront of the battle.

When Kadiadou Diallo, Amadou Diallo's mother, first came to New York from Guinea, she broke down at the site of her son's murder. Within hours she found the strength to tell the world about her son. Her dignity and unshakable determination to get justice has inspired and strengthened many others.

At a press conference at the office of the National Action Movement in Harlem she told supporters: "Thank you very much, brothers and sisters. You have given me the courage to speak. It's not easy for me to stand and speak today. But all of you have stood up and we are all crying. We are all mourning this child."

She turned to Iris Baez and Margarita Rosario, members of the Parents Against Police Brutality which has been active in the struggle for justice for Amadou Diallo. Iris and Margarita's sons were also murdered by the NYPD. Kadiadou Diallo told them, "I understand how you feel, sisters. I lost a son, and you, too. We all are suffering. We are crying. But my tears will not come down again. Because I have seen all of you, and the whole world is crying with us."

Kadiadou has pointedly and repeatedly refused to meet with Mayor Giuliani. On the plane as she took Amadou's body back to Guinea, she talked to a reporter from the TV show Like It Is about Giuliani's announcement that the NYPD cops will now be issued hollow point bullets: "What make me really angry today is when I see the newspaper. The mayor is explaining how they want to change the bullets. I'm thinking what's wrong with him? Is he a human?... We are not hunting. I was surprised when I read it. I didn't finish. I just dropped the newspaper. And I said: I'm not the politicians, but I'm going to struggle against these people. That is my promise." Kadiadou had a message for people in New York: "They have to stand up--white, black, Spanish, all the brothers and sisters should stand for justice."

At a press conference for Mumia Abu-Jamal, a sister from the Women for Justice gave me a flier announcing a rally at city hall on March 8 "for Amadou Diallo and All Victims of Police Terror." The flier says in part: "Death Squads are terrorizing our communities and gunning down our sons, our children, our men. On International Women's Day, we invite all women to join us in the continued struggle against racism." According to the flier, the rally will be led by the mothers of victims of police brutality, including Kadiadou Diallo, Iris Baez and Margarita Rosario.

At a February 22 rally outside City Hall, eight people--six women and two men-- from the Citywide Coalition for Justice chained themselves together and lay in the street to demand justice for Amadou Diallo. Traffic was blocked for almost 30 minutes at rush hour. At the protest I spoke with Lucy Gonzalez, a member of Parents Against Police Brutality. Her son Jovan Gonzalez was severely beaten by a gang of racist white kids, including sons of cops. They have not been punished.

I asked Lucy about her own experience with the police. She said cops have disrespected and harassed her and her family over and over again. She described one incident, when Jovan was riding his bike in the park: "A cop wanted to play baseball in the area where my son was riding around. He thought my son was alone. He started yelling at my son at the top of his lungs that he wants to play baseball with his sons, for Jovan to get out of there and he shouldn't be there, that this is their park. And of course people came to get me and we got into a confrontation. I don't care if he was a cop. He was yelling at my son. This is a free place. This is a park. My son could ride a bike."

Most of the people we talked with who had been the victims of police brutality were men. For a lot of women, the main way the issue affected them was that they felt their husbands, sons, fathers and brothers could be beaten or snatched up by the cops and thrown in jail at any time, for little or no reason--or shot down like Amadou. A Black woman at the city hall protest told me, "Every time my husband walks out the door I don't know if I'm gonna see him again. That's what I feel and this is the life that I live. I have a 19-month-old son. But I always look at him and worry. Everything that I'm gonna put in him, the good things that I put in him to share with the world, is he gonna get a chance to share that? Or is he gonna end up like Amadou?"

Sometimes men told us stories about cops brutalizing women or situations where both men and women were victimized. In the neighborhood where Amadou Diallo lived, an African American man told us a cop attacked a girl on the block recently: "The girl was riding a bicycle. He jumped out of the car and he hit her here on the back, right? She fell off. He pulled her pants down. He didn't find nothing. I said, `Riot! Riot!"' The cop arrested him, and he was held for days.

The lower down among the basic people we went, the more we found sisters who directly experienced police brutality. At the February 22 Day of Outrage protest, I spotted a Black woman standing alone. She was in her 40s and had been a street vendor like Amadou Diallo. She told me the cops harassed her, stole her goods and took her to jail several times: "The cops would come up, they'd keep the stuff and talk to me, as a woman, like a dog, you know?... I didn't want to have any problem with them and go to jail. I have a job, and I can't go to no jail and bullshit around with that. So I just tried to avoid them. I have to expect them--but I don't have to respect them and how they treat poor people, treat people in general."

I met Hope in Harlem while our team was talking with immigrants in front of a West African restaurant. She's a tall, soft-spoken, reed thin African American woman with a beautiful face. She was wearing a turban on her head and I thought at first she was headed to a nearby mosque. But she had come up to check us out. Hope is homeless, pregnant and HIV positive. Like other homeless women, she's barely getting by since Giuliani has cut back social programs and shut down food pantries. I asked her about her reaction to the murder of Amadou Diallo: "I feel so sad because he was on his way from the store going home. He didn't even have no weapon or nothing and they shot the boy. And I feel that the ones who has shot him should pay."

Hope herself had plenty of experience with brutal cops. As she began to speak she started to stutter and had to struggle to go on. She pointed to a deep scar just under her right eye and said, "I was over at Times Square. They have people down there that sell drugs. I was not selling drugs. I was just down there. I was trying to find somebody to help me with some change so I can buy me some food. This cop came up to me, he started harassing me. It got so bad he flipped me down on the ground. He slammed my face on the concrete. I got the scar right here to prove it.... Another time I was getting on the train. A cop thought I hopped the train, but I didn't. He harassed me. I mean, he really harassed me real bad. He slapped me up on the wall. I got scars on my arm to prove it. These cops out here is so bad, real bad, real bad, real bad. And I hope some day that the cops will pay for everything that they had done to us Black people. Not only Blacks--Blacks, whites. I hope that they pay because I feel it's not right...

"This is outrage. You can't even come down the street without a cop thinking that a person is selling drugs. Because I'm Black I have to be selling drugs? Come on! That's not right. That's not right at all. It's not right. So some day we all come together and stop this police brutality."


This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
Write: Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654
Phone: 773-227-4066 Fax: 773-227-4497
(The RW Online does not currently communicate via email.)