Reporter's Notebook

Life in Occupied New York:
The People Take the Streets

By Debbie Lang

Revolutionary Worker #999, March 21, 1999

After the murder of Amadou Diallo, the New York RW bureau organized a multinational team, including a French translator, to go out to different neighborhoods and talk to the people. The following is the fourth in the series of Reporter's Notebook as a result of this work:

This year people in New York celebrated International Women's Day with a major demonstration focused on police brutality and the murder of Amadou Diallo. Outraged at the system's refusal to arrest the cops who fired 41 times at Amadou, over 1,000 people gathered for a rally called by Women For Justice. Their leaflet said, "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."

As we gathered, many sisters sang along to the song "We Who Believe In Freedom Will Not Rest" and Bob Marley's "No Woman No Cry" which were played over the loudspeakers. People pressed against the NYPD's metal barricades to get a better look at the stage. Most of the protesters were women, of many nationalities and ages, but there were lots of men, too. The rally began with prayers from various religions in different languages. The favorite slogans were "Arrest the Cops!," "Keep the Pressure On!" and "Amadou!" One sister after another said, "When you touch a woman, you touch a rock!"

Young people took the stage first. Sister Aurora, a Black woman in her early 20s, read a poem she wrote for Amadou Diallo. In one emotional part she counted the number of bullets fired by the cops--up to 41--and the crowd joined in. A paper banner with the names of dozens of people murdered by the NYPD was unfurled, and the names were read call-and-response style. Then the names of political prisoners were called out, among them Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal. Shaka Shakur spoke from the Black Panther Collective. And Andre English represented the October 22nd Coalition Against Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation.

As the youth left the stage a member of Women for Justice took the mike: "The times now require relentlessly, unceasingly that we be in the streets. And it also requires, as we go back to our very neighborhoods where we live under siege and terror, that you must have in your mind what it is you're gonna do...When the death squads roll up on your street and you look down from your window and you see it's not your son, you're not just gonna close the window no more. Whatever you're doing, drop it! Run down the stairs if the elevator isn't working and stand in the street! Stand in the street for justice!"

Women came on stage with pictures of their children who had been murdered by the police, and many of them spoke. Margarita Rosario--whose son Anthony and nephew Hilton Vega were shot in the back: "There's many children whose mothers are not here today because they're not able to sustain the pain. They're not strong enough. But we will be their strength. We will fight for them!" Iris Baez, whose son Anthony was choked to death: "When they murdered my son I didn't know what I was going to do. But I knew one thing, that he did not go in vain. I knew that I was going to be in for the long haul in the struggle. I knew that we had to bring his name up and every other victim that came before him and after him." Milta Calderon pointed to a picture she held: "This was my son, Aníbal Carrasquillo, Jr., who was shot January 22 in '95, shot in the back by Police Officer Marco Calderon. My son was just 21 years old when they shot him... My son had a future and they just took it away, they ripped it away like nothing."

Yon Xin Huang was 16 when cops shot him in the back of the head. A statement by his sister Chin Xin Huang was read: "I want to say to the family of Amadou Diallo I am an immigrant like your son. Every day I struggle to survive, as I'm sure he did, in a country that does not treat our people well. And I am sorry he had to go back to your country in this way. My family still grieves the loss of my brother and will never stop missing him as I'm sure you grieve the loss of your son. I never knew your son, but I will always remember him and I will never stop fighting for justice for my brother and for your son."

Evadine Bailey's son Patrick was murdered by the same cop from the Street Crimes Unit who was one of the four involved in killing Amadou Diallo. She had this message for Giuliani: "I would like to tell him on behalf of myself, my son and all the others that his men have killed, murdered, brutalized. I want to tell him that all these children's blood are pouring down his head and going down to his feet... This was my only son, Patrick Bailey. I don't have another one. Mr. Giuliani, how would you like to lose your only son? What would it feel like? We are tired of crying. We have decided to take the tears away and fight. We are going to fight!"

Kadiadou Diallo, Amadou's mother, sent a taped message from her home in Guinea in west Africa: "I thank you for your sympathy and support [in regard to] the brutal murder of my son Amadou Diallo that has secured my family and myself a lot of moral comfort. Through your organization I would like also to thank sincerely all the people of all races and all religions that have fought with us to protest against the police brutality and claim for justice. My family and myself do appreciate the invitation to take part for the rally that will be held at the occasion of the International Women's Day on Monday, March the 8. I am very sorry that I won't be there, but be sure, my sisters, that I will be with you with my heart and soul. At this event, the International Women's Day, our thoughts are going to all the victims of all kinds of violence and segregation around the world. I wish that my son's blood and our tears will feed the battle for justice, liberty and freedom for everyone in the world."

As Kadiadou's voice faded hundreds of voices rose as one: "Amadou! Amadou! Amadou!" Sisters from countries in Africa, the Caribbean and South America took the stage and spoke briefly in English and French. The rally ended with speeches by activists from different political trends. Many upcoming protests were announced, including daily civil disobedience at police headquarters.

Some speakers at the rally called for revolution. Some put forward other solutions to end police brutality. Everybody agreed it was time to unite, stand up and fight back. I thought about this strong desire for unity and remembered a statement given to the press by Galen Sherwin, who was at the March 8 demonstration. Galen is president of the National Organization for Women, New York City chapter. She said in her statement: "It is hardly a coincidence that one of the few details the police have leaked to the press about the killing of Ahmed [Amadou Diallo] is that he was a rape suspect. This was a calculated attempt to divide the people. While we do want improved responses to the problem of violence against women in New York, we cannot allow the NYPD to act as a lynch mob.... This was a racist incident and the mayor's failure to acknowledge it is unacceptable. Women in New York of all races must join together in decrying this incident. We must end violence against women AND we must end racism. This is NOT an either/or proposition. To Giuliani and to the NYPD, we say: NEVER at this price; NEVER in the name of women; NEVER again!"

Hip Hop Generation in the House

Conrad Muhammad of CHHANGE (Conscious Hip-Hop Activism Necessary for Global Empowerment) called for a "hip hop generation" demonstration at city hall on March 10. The Student/Youth Network of the October 22nd Coalition united with this and issued a call for kids to walk out of school and go to the protest. Radio stations started to report the call for walkouts. It got to a point where schools chancellor Rudy Crew and Mayor Giuliani were compelled to tell students to stay in school. Students were furious--they remembered that last year Giuliani let them out of school to go to parades for the Yankees and astronaut John Glenn. A girl from LaGuardia High School told cable TV station NY1: "If they have a right to shoot some guy 41 times, we have every right to just leave school!"

Over a thousand converged on city hall chanting, "It Don't Take 41 To Kill A Man Without A Gun!" and "Whooo! Whooo! That's the Sound of the Police! Whooo! Whooo! That's the sound of the beast!" Youth represented from high schools, middle schools (junior high) and colleges around the city. A handful of elementary school kids came with their parents or with older brothers or sisters. The high school kids had to deal with the police right when they walked out--because Giuliani has put the NYPD in charge of security inside the city's public schools. One group of high school kids were stopped and questioned by a cop on the way to the rally. He took their names and broke a sign they'd made from the cover of New Yorker magazine--a drawing by Pulitzer-winning cartoonist Art Spiegelman, showing a cop aiming his gun at silhouetted figures of a man, a woman and a kid at a carnival "shooting gallery." At one school, the principal and assistant principal told students where the demonstration was and advised them on how to get past the police.

Two figures from the earliest days of hip hop, D.J. Cool Herc and emcee Afrika Bambata, were in the house. Young rappers were there, too, including U-God from the Wu Tang Clan. (Wu Tang Clan's ODB was shot by the Street Crimes Unit in January.) Some of the others who spoke: Rev. Herbert Daughtry; Ron Daniels from the Center for Constitutional Rights, people's lawyer Ron Kuby and Rev. Jamal Harrison Bryan, the National Director of the Youth and College Division of the NAACP. Leslie Nelson represented International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu- Jamal. By the response to her speech it was clear lots of kids were closely following the battle to stop the execution and free Mumia.

As the crowd cheered wildly, members of the Crips, Bloods, Latin Kings and Zulu Nation stood together on stage in a show of unity. A representative of the Zulu Nation said: "When you see gang members, you not seeing Bloods, Crips, Kings and Zulus--you seeing them blue coats out there with the badges and the guns. You got your head gang leader who's no other than Adolf Hitler Giuliani. We all got to unify, because if we don't unify, yo, we will be enslaved." Conrad Muhammad told the youth, "Brothers and sisters, this is not a Black thing because we recognize the universality of the hip hop generation. Black, brown, we got to stand together as one. Black, Latino, Asian, white, we will all stand together to work against racism. We're gonna fight all of the forces that seek to destroy the hip hop generation."

Miles, a high school student from the Refuse & Resist! Youth Network, said: "Police brutality has become such a growing epidemic, not even just here in New York City but in Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami and everywhere in between and primarily against young people of color. But it's going even broader than that. In addition to police brutality, our generation is being criminalized. They're building prisons, they're cutting schools and they've got plans for us. But we shouldn't get discouraged--because they only criminalize and go after people who they're scared of... Everybody be strong and the future is ours!"

Time to Speak and Be Heard

Before the rally started I got a chance to talk to some of the kids there. Almost everybody had been a victim of some type of police brutality. A Black student from Brooklyn College Academy said, "I came to represent because it's a shame that I have to live my life in fear of whether I'm gonna get shot by a cop." A sister who was listening to me do an interview called out, "You're not safe in your own community no more because of the cops."

A Puerto Rican student from East Side Community High School said: "I was at the Puerto Rican Day parade where people want to represent for their country, whatever island. And the cops go against that and they want to stop it. So they beat 'em down. They hit this dude with the nightstick." He talked about the time he was playing in the snow with a Black friend and a couple of cops--one white and one Black--stopped them for "disturbing the peace." When his friend spoke up, the cops called him a "n****r boy." The Puerto Rican student told the cops, "How can you call him a n****r boy when you're Black yourself?" The cop's answer was, "You ain't shit. You ain't nobody."

I spoke with a Black student who goes to LaGuardia: "My uncle, he was arrested by police cause he was out at about one o'clock in the morning. For a grown man, you could be out any time you want--there was no reason for him to be locked up.... Sometimes it's time to be quiet. Right now is the time to speak and be heard."

Mike is a white student who goes to Stuyvesant High School, considered one of the most "prestigious" public schools in the city. He explained why he came to the rally: "It's the way he was murdered. I mean 41 shots, that's a lot of shots. And I don't think they treated him like a person. I don't think they saw him as a person. That's what was most disturbing about it." Mike hasn't been physically assaulted by a cop, but he told a story about what happened when he went to the Yankees parade last year: "I went up to the cops to ask them a question. And the cop, I thought he was gonna pull a gun on me. He started yelling at me for no apparent reason. He told me to get the `f' away from him.... They don't show any respect. They see themselves as higher, a lot of them."

Jonsi Smith came with a group of her friends. Her 24-year-old brother Justin Horton Smith was beaten to death by the police in Tulsa, Oklahoma last year. She told me, "They have people pulling over on the side of a dirt road and getting beat to death, and that's really disgusting. Just because a cop gets a shield and a gun, they think they have all the power in the world." She described her reaction to the murder of Amadou Diallo: "That blew me away because he was unarmed. How can you shoot an unarmed man? ... They didn't even have their badges taken away. They gave the cops new guns. That's ridiculous!...Police brutality, it really has gotten out of hand. I mean it's always been out of hand--like down south, all over America and with the KKK being a part of a lot of police departments... I'm glad to see that people are taking charge and protesting and marching. Because rallies and marches, they add up and something will happen. Something will change when people take a stand."

About 20 kids came from East Side Community High School. Two Black students from East Side told me, "It's messed up because he didn't do nothing wrong. Even if he did do something wrong, 41 shots. You can stop a man with one bullet. Why 41? Even if he was a suspect it doesn't matter. They had to go through procedures. They had no probable cause, no nothing. This was just a man in front of his house, you know? ...We can't be violated anymore. We're so-called minorities--we need to be heard. That's it. Look how many young faces are out here....They called us Generation X and now we gotta do something to voice our fears. It's time for us to be heard."

Danny from East Side told me this story: "My cousin's light skinned. I'm darker than him. We got pulled over in a car because me and my cousin play fight. And the cop was like, `Oh, I thought you were trying to rob the driver of the car.' And he searched me, this and that. He has no right to do that." Danny had a strong opinion about the idea that more Black and Latino cops will make things better: "I ain't gonna feel safer because an officer's Puerto Rican or Black. I ain't gonna feel safe. They gonna do the same thing. It don't matter what color cop it is. It matters who's behind the cops...Even if it's not me I'm gonna support the next man who has a problem with the cops or the system. You know, a lot of people say, well we hate white people or this and that. It's not white people that we hate. It's the system that they're running. We need to change that system. Whether it be forcefully or peacefully, we just need to change it."

Maryann, a 15-year-old LaGuardia student, heard about the walkout on the radio that morning. "I feel that the police have been totally unfair and it was brutal what they did." I asked what she thought it would take to get justice for Amadou Diallo: "If it takes more than this, there is a problem. There is definitely a problem. Then we'll just keep going. We will, because we want this over with. We'll do it. Kids will have to do this."

Various programs and solutions were out at this rally, and the youth were checking out with these questions. A lot of speakers told the kids they need to vote, and during the rally Conrad Muhammad passed voter registration forms through the crowd. Other speakers talked about the need for revolutionary change.

At one point in the rally, Andre English from the Student/Youth Network of the October 22nd Coalition took the stage with Sister Aurora, who said, "Red, white and blue ain't my fucking colors! Red, white and blue ain't our colors...Fuck the pigs!" She pointed to the crowd: "You are the leaders, you, you, you, you, you, you. This is my war. This is our war. I'm not taking it no more! Revolution! Revolution! Revolution!"

Carl Dix, RCP national spokesperson for the RCP and a member of the national coordinating committee of the October 22nd Coalition, told the youth, "The only thing that's gonna make them back up on giving a green light to these cops to brutalize and murder us is us raising hell. That means you've got to take to the streets. That means you've got to go back to your schools and to your communities and organize people. That means people gotta be ready to defend themselves and others when the police come at 'em foul. We gotta be ready to do all that, sisters and brothers. We say it's gonna take a revolution to end all this bullshit once and for all."

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