New York: Police vs.
the Puerto Rican Day Parade

Revolutionary Worker #1108, June 24, 2001, posted at

There are close to a million Puerto Rican people in New York City. Each June as the Puerto Rican Day parade nears, the rhythms of salsa music beat out from the windows of apartment buildings and cars while Puerto Rican flags seem to fly everywhere. Over 100,000 people usually march in the parade and several million more line the sidewalks to watch. People proud to be Boricua come from all over the U.S.--and from Puerto Rico--to take part.

Last year for the first time ever, the parade's official themes had an anti-U.S. stance--opposing the U.S. bombing of Vieques and honoring the famous radical Independentista Albizu Campos. This year the authorities tried to clamp down on the parade, which took place on June 10, and especially on any expressions of anti-U.S. politics. And they tried to cover their actions under the guise of preventing violence against women.

After last year's parade, groups of men surrounded women in Central Park--soaked them with water, grabbed at them, pulled off their clothes and sexually assaulted them. Women who went to the police for help were ignored, laughed at and ridiculed. Mayor Giuliani--who has publicly degraded and humiliated his wife in a bitter divorce battle--hypocritically said, "We don't want a repetition of what happened last year." He declared that a huge police presence was needed to ensure public safety--while the police who laughed at women's pleas for help haven't been punished.

As the RW pointed out after last year's parade, "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.... 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."

A recent statement from the Vieques Support Campaign (VSC) said in part: "Those youth learned how to behave towards women at an early age from a society that promotes violence against women from the top on down--from Bill Clinton and his personal escapades to the military brass burying incidents of gang rape of women within the armed forces, to the basic inequities that women live with every day, from unequal pay to job discrimination. The horrible incident also gave the opportunity for the Mayor and the notorious NYPD to continue their racist practices.... Giuliani doesn't care about women. His history of cutting city benefits that mainly aid women--child care, food stamps, not to mention demolishing public housing right here in New York City--prove that. Mayor Giuliani's attacks on the parade, and on Boricuas are racist and promote no justice for the women attacked."

In an attempt to limit the size of this year's parade and especially the size of contingents with anti-U.S. politics, city officials informed parade organizers that only 50 people would be allowed to march in each contingent. The 1199 Health and Hospital Workers Union was told their members would not be allowed to stand along the parade route with signs protesting the U.S. Navy's bombing in Vieques and that limits would be put on the size of signs that could be carried. When the VSC, ProLibertad Amnesty Campaign and other political organizations went to get their permits to march, they found their groups were not on the official list.

The week before the parade, signs of what was to come were evident in "El Barrio" (Spanish Harlem). Police occupied the neighborhood and rode eight to ten deep in vans. At the East Harlem Festival the day before the parade, police carried out a military-like exercise. Vendors and residents were stopped on the streets and searched. Police stood watch on rooftops, and an NYPD helicopter hovered overhead.

Six thousand police were deployed at the parade--the largest police presence ever. They had observation posts on rooftops. They shut down side streets leading to Fifth Avenue to control access to the march route. Bags and coolers were searched. Police issued plastic I.D. bracelets to marchers. If you didn't have a bracelet, you could be thrown out or even arrested. Police lined the parade route and grabbed spectators who tried to jump into the march. Fifty-three people were arrested during the day.

Despite this, the authorities were unable to stop a massive outpouring of anger at the U.S. bombing of Vieques. All over the parade route, people held up signs protesting the bombing. Elected officials marched with large pictures of three New York-based Puerto Rican political figures and Rev. Al Sharpton, who were arrested during protests on Vieques in April and May and are still being held in jail without bail. Many people booed Giuliani as he marched by.

The VSC, ProLibertad and other organizations opposed to the U.S. domination of Puerto Rico were determined to march. Over 100 people gathered before the police had even set up their perimeters. When a contingent of youth from the Latin King and Queen Nation arrived, the police refused to allow them to enter and made it clear they would arrest anyone who tried to pass. As people chanted "Let Them In!" the youth fell back--and snuck under the police perimeter in other places. Others did the same, and soon the VSC contingent had over 200 people. At one point police threatened to arrest Latin Kings who didn't have I.D. bracelets, but bracelets quickly changed hands and suddenly all the Latin Kings had one on.

The VSC contingent marched behind a banner that read: "U.S. Navy Out of Vieques!" Thousands of people on the sides joined them in the chant: "Vieques si, marina no!" ("Vieques Yes, Navy No!") The contingent was mostly Puerto Rican activists from various organizations. The VSC distributed their statement titled "U.S. Navy Out of Vieques and All of Puerto Rico! The Puerto Rican Day Parade and Central Park: Boricuas Unite to Fight Women's Oppression!" Members of ProLibertad carried pictures of Puerto Rican political prisoners. A multinational group of Blacks and Latinos held up signs that read: "People of Color Against Women's Oppression." A sizeable group of Palestinians, Arabs and their supporters marched with Al-Awda (the Palestinian Right to Return Coalition). Spectators looked intrigued when they saw the group's banner: "U.S. Bombs Tested in Vieques, Dropped on Palestine!" People grabbed up leaflets from the different organizations in the contingent. Supporters of the Revolutionary Communist Party marched with a banner upholding the liberation of Puerto Rico and denouncing the U.S. bombing of Vieques.

That evening police massed at several sites where people usually hold block parties after the parade every year. As people celebrated on E. 163rd Street in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx, hundreds of police--some in riot gear--moved in. They ordered people off the street and pepper-sprayed them as they were moving. One teenager was grabbed by the neck and slammed into a wall after she tried to protect her brother, who was being pepper-sprayed as he moved onto the sidewalk. Forty-two people were arrested. The head of a block association told the Daily News: "I saw children running, screaming and being maced, and people crying." The media reported rocks and bottles were hurled at the police.

The VSC declared in a statement: "No matter what the oppressors do in their attempts to silence the struggle of the Puerto Rican people, we will win.... Vieques and all of Puerto Rico, as well as the Puerto Rican Day parade, belongs to the people!"

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.)