An Ugly Day in Central Park

Revolutionary Worker #1062, July 16, 2000

I felt that I had to write to the readers of the RW about what’s been happening off the Central Park incident a few weeks ago.

One million people participated in the Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City on June 11, with a thrilling difference from years past: the two official themes this year were opposing the U.S. bombing of Vieques and honoring Albizu Campos, the famous radical Independentista. There had been intense controversy: government officials on the island were appalled that the parade would take a righteous anti-U.S. stance! Parade organizers held firm, and Puerto Ricans (and others) from the entire east coast as well as the island itself joined in this proud expression of Puerto Rican national identity.

Since then, "Puerto Rican Day" has become associated in the national media with something else.

As the parade wound up that Sunday afternoon, thousands made their way through the bottom of Central Park to the subways. The park was already packed with people enjoying the summer day and trying to get a breath of air in the 99-degree heat. Kids sprayed each other; there were water fights all over the place.

The painful images of what happened next have been seen all over the world. Dozens of young women found themselves surrounded by guys who drenched them with water, grabbed at them, pulled off their clothes, and sexually assaulted them.

But that’s not the end of the story. The women who went to the police—who were everywhere, with 4,000 posted around the parade—were ignored and ridiculed. The cops told them they were "hysterical," to go home and calm down.

In the last two weeks, a chorus of media and public officials, as well as some community leaders and women’s groups, have condemned the police indifference and demanded the cops more aggressively "do their job" and "enforce the law." So far, 29 young men have been arrested (most turned themselves in) and police say there are 17 more suspects, based on 30 amateur videotapes turned in to the police. Still shots from the videos have been printed in the newspapers and posted on a "wanted" website. At least three young men were released, two for lack of evidence and one when it was determined that he was shielding one of the young women, not assaulting her. Most of those arrested are held on tens of thousands of dollars bail.

There are echoes of the furor 10 years ago after the rape of a jogger in Central Park. There’s talk about a "ring-leader" and "conspiracy," even though most of these guys didn’t know each other. With the return of racist terms like "wolf pack" and "wilding," and the hypocritical championing of the female assault victims, those in power and their opinion-makers in the media are working to enlist broad support for the "more" and "better" policing that is jailing and killing our young people at record rates in New York City and all over this country.

Since the Central Park rape 10 years ago, many, many people had their eyes opened to the images of Rodney King’s beating. The uprising of the people in Los Angeles in 1992 burned a heroic statement into history, underlining Mao Tsetung’s great truth that where there is oppression, there is resistance, and a national movement against police brutality has changed the political equation. Instead of the families of police murder victims feeling shame at how their loved ones died, many have become courageous fighters for justice for their lost sons, daughters, fathers, brothers. Even as the system has moved harder to criminalize and imprison a whole generation of our youth, there is a new spirit of resistance arising.

But a lot of people wonder, why does something like these Central Park assaults happen? Who’s to blame? What makes these guys think it’s okay to do this? And what can be done to stop it?

People should cry out against what these young women endured three weeks ago. This is a woman-hating society, from top to bottom! The Chairman of the RCP, Bob Avakian, has said:

"One out of every four women in the U.S. will be the victim of a sexual assault during her lifetime. One out of four!, and the number is expected to rise to one out of three. Right there, even if this ‘way of life’ did not produce any of the other seemingly endless outrages and genuinely monstrous crimes that it does produce; even if what stands behind that statistic were the only thing seriously wrong with this system, that alone would be enough to rise up against it and not stop until it had been overthrown and something better put in its place."*

Roll back the film. The videos of this Central Park incident were giving me that "deja-vu" feeling. Then I remembered MTV’s week-long "Spring Break" broadcast and MSNBC’s special about the experiences of young women at spring break hot spots and beaches, and VH1’s piece about young women groupies and the backward popular culture that cultivates and exploits them. For the vile soundtrack, just listen to Howard Stern any day of the week.

Bingo! All of this was hauntingly similar to the Central Park footage. Young women drenched with water. Wet T-shirt contests that end with the shirts off. Young women surrounded by guys shouting at them, grabbing them, demanding they strip. New York Daily News columnist Jim Dwyer got this right: "Everyone just followed the official instructions on how to have fun if you are an American person, age 18 to 21…young faces coming right down from the TV screens where it all began and climbing right back inside, an All-American outing."

In the past 20 years or so, the number of rapes in the U.S. has stayed the same or even gone up, as the overall rate of major crime has dropped dramatically. Crude humiliation and degradation of women seems to be more and more part of popular culture. At the same time, this is not new and it permeates every level of society. The book Our Guys by Bernard Lefkowitz, about the 1989 rape of a retarded teenage woman by a group of high school football jocks in suburban Glenridge, New Jersey, is the stunning story of the routine and brutal assault of young women which was overlooked time after time after time, because these were "good boys just out for a good time" and, of course, they were local sports stars (one was the son of the police chief).

There are numerous and continuing stories of sexual harassment and assault of women at all levels of the military, including the assault of dozens of women at the Tailhook convention, and the rape and murder of local girls and women by U.S. soldiers overseas. Sexual harassment revealed in the confirmation hearing of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Rape and murder trials of the scions of prominent American families like the Kennedys. Recent exposure of rapes and assaults on major cruise ships.

As terrifying as the Central Park incident was, it is not an exception. It was an ugly public display of the male domination and brutal sexual exploitation of women that is built into the capitalist system. In a thousand ways young men in this society are conditioned to treat women as sexual property. Date rape stalks the college campuses. And, for young males from the oppressed, the twisted logic of male domination— where being "a man" is based in large part on lording it over women—is fed by this dog-eat-dog society in so many ways that it would be the subject of another very long letter. So the mix of grab-me-some male domination, lynch-mob mentality, and crude anti-woman hostility that erupted in Central Park is not only as "American as cherry pie"—it flowed out of the social, economic, and ideological relations of capitalism. Central Park was an incident waiting to happen.

Neither is it surprising that the cops ignored these young women. For the victims, the response of the cops was humiliation on top of degrading assault. For the cops, the whole thing was a joke. Their job is to enforce the status quo, meaning to protect the propertied and powerful; and "cop culture" itself is a concentration of the oppressive social relations in this society—demeaning and dehumanizing and brutalizing those on the bottom. Remember Mark Fuhrman, the cop in the OJ Simpson trial who proudly revealed the ugly, brutal racism and male chauvinism of the LAPD. Several years ago, drunk cops from the entire east coast rampaged and molested women in the hotel lobbies at a police convention in Washington, D.C. And check out the way-over-average stats on wife-beating by cops.

Not long ago, rape victims were routinely disbelieved and treated with contempt by the police and courts. In some police departments, hostility toward rape victims is still institutionalized—see RW #1057 about the disappearance of one-third of rape cases by the Philadelphia police, many of them claims by Black women. As that article said, "This is yet another example of how bringing in the system and its enforcers to deal with problems among the people can only make things worse."

What is surprising, and sends up the "disgusting bourgeois hypocrisy" antennae, is that this incident made the light of day and the authorities claim to be horrified at the callous disregard by the cops of the women who were assaulted. NOT! There is another agenda being pushed here, and it’s ugly.

It’s a clue when the authorities and the media mouthpieces fret about "low morale" and "apathy" among the police. Police officials and the mayor were quick to blame a small increase in the murder statistics last summer on protests against police murder and brutality and, in particular, the curtailing of the most outrageous stop-and-frisk policies of the Street Crimes Unit, one squad of which had murdered Amadou Diallo. Now there are again claims that public exposure of police brutality is keeping the police from doing their job, and even that the cops wanted to avoid a potentially controversial "incident" involving Black and Latino masses.

Were the police "restrained" or "lethargic" in relation to the Puerto Rican Day Parade? News reports say 4,000 cops were posted in the area. They issued 686 summonses for violations like public drinking, almost twice as many as last year (in Giuliani’s New York, a violation means at minimum a court date, and if "your papers aren’t in order" you get arrested and processed through the system). 2,600 bottles and cans were confiscated at the Puerto Rican Day Parade, compared to 200 at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade (where people have actually been killed in fights and brawls). Participants in the Puerto Rican Day Parade were corralled and penned in. Is this a picture of "apathetic" policing?

In the past couple of years, a lot of middle class people have been getting a clear glimpse of what happens to those targeted by the police, and are questioning very basic assumptions about how things work in this society. How can a young African immigrant be killed on his front doorstep and the cops be found innocent? Why does young Patrick Dorismond, who told undercover buy-and-bust cops he had no drugs, end up dead? Why do executions continue, even as more and more of those on death row are found to be innocent and the death penalty itself is increasingly exposed as a racist and brutally oppressive measure in this society? Who are the real criminals?

The rulers of this system count on a large and mostly loyal middle class to keep their set-up stable. When a lot of the people in the middle start to see the true human cost of the enforcement of this country’s "way of life" and refuse to condone it, that’s very dangerous for the powers that be, and very positive for those on the bottom.

On the other hand, the roots of the oppression of women in class society are usually hidden. People are taught that problems between men and women are "personal" and can only be dealt with individually. This makes a lot of people, especially middle class women, vulnerable to calls to rely on the system and its enforcers to solve this, when it’s the system and its twisted values that are underneath the oppression of women in the first place. And if people really think about it—how could these brutal enforcers solve the whole range of problems that resulted in the ugly scene in Central Park?

There is a solution to the oppression of women and to all oppression, and it’s not the police. Proletarian revolution, uniting all who can be united against this system, can, must and will take up and wipe out all oppression, including the systematic oppression, suffocation, and mutilation of women, body and soul—and this is the only way that this can be done, because it’s the only solution that digs up the root cause.

The fact that young men from the oppressed themselves are infected with this system’s abusive outlook toward women and carry it out it in incidents like the Central Park assaults, is painful and difficult for the proletariat and the people. But, as part of our revolutionary struggle today and all the way through the seizure of power and afterward, the people can and must struggle over and transform how we relate to each other. We need to rely on ourselves and develop collective efforts to stop men from dogging and abusing women. If you’re dissing the sisters, you ain’t fighting the power.

Again, from Chairman Bob Avakian:

"We want a world free of any form of exploitation, oppression, discrimination, and degradation among the masses of people. We do not want, it is not the outlook of our class, and it is no consolation —let’s say for men—to have somebody to kick around and somebody to lord it over. Our class, the working class, is going to rise up and remake this whole world in our image and advance humanity to a whole new stage where nobody owns anybody or oppresses anybody in any form whatsoever! And if we are going to do this, we cannot break all of our chains but one; we cannot break all of our mental shackles but one. We have to break and smash and bury them all forever!"*

From a New York comrade

* Both quotes are from Bullets from the Writings, Speeches & Interviews of Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA

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