New York City

Thousands Resist Police at Patrick Dorismond Funeral

Revolutionary Worker #1049, April 9, 2000

On March 16, Patrick Dorismond was murdered by police for the "crime" of being a Black man waiting for a taxi on the street.

On March 25, the authorities tried to rub salt into the wounds of thousands of people who came to pay their respects to Patrick at his funeral--they were confronted by at least 1,000 cops, many in riot gear.

Cops charged into the crowd, beat and pepper-sprayed people--and the people fought back in righteous rebellion! Metal police barricades were ripped apart and thrown to the ground. Rocks and bottles flew at the police. Garbage dumpsters were pulled into the streets to form barricades against advancing police lines. Running battles between youth and police went on for a few hours.


The mood in the city was tense leading up to Patrick's funeral. Less than a month before, the system had given the police a green light to kill when it found the four cops who murdered Amadou Diallo not guilty. Five days after that, the cops acted on the message and gunned down Malcolm Ferguson just two blocks from where Amadou lived and died. Then Patrick was taken out by an undercover narcotics cop--who tried to entrap Patrick into a drug buy. (See RW 1048.)

And once again the system jumped to give the cops a green light to kill. The mayor and the police commissioner released Patrick's "criminal" record to justify his murder--he had been convicted of the great "crime" of disorderly conduct! And they illegally opened Patrick's sealed juvenile records--saying that they were no longer private since Patrick was dead. They did not contact his family to apologize because, they said, Patrick was a "criminal."

Mayor Giuliani always defends the police, but this time his actions were so outrageous that even many of his supporters criticized him. Black and Latino elected officials warned that the anger among the people was deep and that the situation in the city was "explosive." High- ranking officials in the Republican Party anonymously told the New York Times they did not think the mayor was handling the situation correctly.

Newsday columnist Sheryl McCarthy wrote: "In New York City, we've now reached the point where police officers apparently feel it's all right to shoot people for the crime of talking back or for trying to finish a fight the cops started.... We're being told that, in a fight with an unarmed civilian, a cop is permitted to even the score by shooting him. `It's an issue of power,' says Michael Letwin, president of New York City's Association of Legal Aid Attorneys. `Police feel that any hint of resistance, not necessarily even physical, just someone standing up for themselves, is intolerable. They feel that violence is justified when anyone doesn't immediately do what they're ordered to do.' If so, then the officers we pay to keep our neighborhoods safe have become roving death squads, with absolute power over us."


Patrick Dorismond was only 26 years old. His father André Dorismond is one of Haiti's most popular singers. Patrick was born and raised in Brooklyn; he had three brothers and a sister--and two daughters, ages one and five. At a meeting in the Haitian community the Haitian Coalition for Justice was formed, which called for people to come to Patrick's wake and funeral. Two thousand people paid their respects at his wake. As it ended, his mother Marie told the crowd: "I want justice for my son. Without you all there will be no justice. I feel strong now. I want to stand for my son, for justice. If you help me I will make it."

The next day, Patrick's funeral began with a three-mile march through the Haitian neighborhood in Brooklyn where he had lived. At the front of the march, Patrick's coffin was carried in a hearse and his friends and family held a banner that read "Justice for Patrick." Along the way the march grew from a few hundred to over 3,000 people. The mood was a mixture of grief and defiance. Some cried while others expressed their anger at the mayor and the police.

The police disrespected and harassed people from the beginning to the end of Patrick's funeral. They flanked the sides of the march with "community affairs" officers. The people were angry that the cops were even there at all--they were the ones who had killed him for no reason. Some cops even had the nerve to reach out and touch Patrick's coffin. One newspaper reported that people chanted "Police out!" and "He's already dead! We don't need the police!"


As the march made its way through the streets to Holy Cross Church for the funeral service, thousands gathered in front of the church--where they were penned in on the sidewalks by metal police barricades. Parents whose children had been murdered by the police, including Amadou Diallo's family, had to make their way into the church through police lines. So did Abner Louima, a Haitian man who survived brutal torture and massive internal injuries at the hands of New York cops in 1998.

Nicholas Heyward, Sr., attended the service. His young son, Nicholas Heyward, Jr., was killed by a New York City housing cop in 1996. In a press release from the October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, he wrote: "I went to the funeral to pay my respects to Patrick Dorismond. And once again I was confronted by police. I was in the church before the service began and was ordered out by police who said they had to search the church. They put up steel barricades in the street and along the sidewalk. This was a funeral. I wasn't allowed to park my car near the church. Police wanted clear access and control of the area. If the police were there to `protect and serve,' who were they protecting? Not Patrick Dorismond. They'd already killed him."

When the march reached the church, it was stopped by the NYPD's metal barricades--set up to prevent them from moving into and in front of the church. One participant told the RW: "We'd been marching the whole way with only community affairs cops. All of a sudden we turn and there's all these cops there and all these barricades. They couldn't help but knock over the barricades because there was so many people there. People just kind of looked and picked up the barricades and knocked them down." The barricades were dismantled by the people and piled in the street. People who were behind metal barricades on the other side of the street ripped those down, too.

Thousands of people surged into the street. The crowd was mainly Haitians, with immigrants from English-speaking countries in the Caribbean and a small number of activists mixed in. Haitians sang in Creole: "She had but one son and Giuliani's taken him away--now he must pay!" "Patrick's innocent--our blood is on their hands!"

Two men carried homemade coffins with the pictures and names of people killed by the police. Many signs compared Giuliani to Hitler. Others said "Who's Next?" The October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality's banner with the names of 100 people murdered by police around the country was on the fence of the church. People from the community collected money, bought copies of the book Stolen Lives: Killed by Law Enforcement and held it in the faces of police.

Haitian people spoke bitterly about the torture and murder their families had suffered at the hands of U.S.-backed death squads in Haiti called the Tontons Macoutes--and how they came here for a better life and got more of the same. Chants rang out: "Assese! Murderers!," "NYPD/ Policé--Tontons Macoutes!," "Giuliani Dwe Dechouké--Giuliani Must Go!" and "Haitians: Never Give Up!" An American flag was burned. One Haitian youth said, "That flag is why Patrick's dead--that's not his flag!" People shouted "Burn baby burn!" and as the flag lay on the ground smoldering, people stomped and spit on it.


Squads of hundreds of cops in riot gear with shields marched in. Police helicopters hovered overhead. When the hearse left the church after the service was finished people tried to follow it. It was then that the police attacked the crowd with no warning. A member of the October 22nd Coalition told the RW: "Suddenly people were shouting what should we do? What should we do? And then the police just rushed us. You saw them with their sticks and with those shields and they were just coming right at the people."

Police pepper-sprayed the crowd, clubbed and beat people at random. WBAI producer/reporter Errol Maitland was beaten and arrested while he was broadcasting live. The New York Times reported that one cop had his hands around the throat of a woman who was being arrested. A student told the Times she saw the police beat a woman for refusing to move onto the sidewalk: "She was just standing there and one officer just struck her over the head with his stick."

To the surprise of the police, people began to fight back. Rocks, bottles and metal barricades were thrown at the cops. Television footage showed pictures of women in dresses and men in suits pushing down barricades. In the chaos, police became the victims of their own pepper spray. They were forced to retreat temporarily--especially those that didn't have riot gear on to protect them.

One witness described what happened: "People who were part of the official funeral procession, with stickers on their cars indicating this, were trapped behind the crowd. So everything was stuck, blocked by police. There was a standoff for a while, then police charged into the crowd and arrested people. And people fought back. There was a running battle from there. Cops that weren't wearing riot gear were pelted with bottles and rocks. They brought in reinforcements, formed a military line and ran down the street. People were ahead of them, pelting them with stuff. The cops moved to clear the whole street. As this was going down, people picked up the metal barricades and set them up in front of the advancing cops. They created an obstacle course for the cops of metal barricades and dumpsters."

The news reported that groups of youth fought running battles with the police for several hours throughout the afternoon. There were also reports that windows were smashed in major chain stores along the busy streets.


Police Commissioner Safir immediately called people who fought the police "thugs" and "troublemakers." Giuliani praised the police for their "restraint." But there was widespread criticism of the actions of the mayor and police that day.

The day after the funeral a Daily News poll reported 72 percent think "the use of deadly force by the NYPD has gotten out of hand," 47 percent think the police commissioner should resign, and 67 percent thought it was wrong to release Patrick's juvenile record.

In the days following the funeral, many public figures called for Giuliani and Safir to resign, including union leaders, politicians, and others who had been long time supporters of the mayor. Clergy members from Brooklyn refused to meet with Giuliani until he apologized to Patrick's family. The New York Times even reported that some police were worried that the mayor's actions had "undermined community support."

The situation remains tense and the mayor continues to back up the police. Giuliani didn't attend Patrick's funeral but he did go see cops who were hospitalized after the fighting. A woman whose finger was smashed in police barricades at Patrick's funeral was arrested when she went to file a complaint against the police. She was forced to participate in a lineup and charged with felony assault against a police officer. Police tried to justify their murder and brutality once again, releasing statistics that crime was down 55 percent over the last six years.

Just four days after they attacked people at Patrick's funeral, cops ran into a crowded playground full of elementary school children chasing a "suspect" with their guns drawn. Police Commissioner Safir announced the NYPD would review its policy on when cops can draw their guns, and Giuliani announced cops need more training on when to draw their weapons. But the truth is the cops have been trained--and they've been sent a message that they can draw their weapons and shoot at any time.


At the end of the day after Patrick Dorismond's funeral the streets of Brooklyn's Flatbush section were littered with broken glass, rocks and garbage. Twenty-seven people had been arrested and six of them were in the hospital. But the hearts of oppressed people all over the country had been lifted by the righteous actions of the people who fought back against the police. A young woman active in the struggle against police brutality told the RW: "After the Diallo verdict we were hoping something was going to happen, people were really going to fight back. I feel like today the people won, you know? The youth, they were out in the streets. They were so angry. They were fierce. And they were saying we're not going to back down. People are not going to give up. And that's why I feel like this is a start..."

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