Revolution #92, June 17, 2007
Victory in Civil Suit Against NYPD:
Jury Awards Millions to Family of Malcolm Ferguson
"The struggle is far from over"
The following article was written by a member of the October 22 Coalition to Stop Police Brutality in New York:
On Wednesday, June 6, Juanita Young was awarded $10.45 million in a civil suit against the City of New York for the police killing of her son, Malcolm Ferguson, in March 2000. The Bronx jury of six issued a resounding “yes!” to the charges that plainclothes police officer Louis Rivera had used excessive force while stopping Malcolm, that his conduct had been a substantial factor in causing Malcolm’s death, that he had handled his weapon in a negligent manner, and that this mishandling was a substantial factor in causing Malcolm’s death. The six jurors also issued a resounding “no!” to the cop's claim that Malcolm had engaged in conduct that might have contributed to his death.
The award ($7 million for punitive damages; $3 million for the pain and suffering inflicted on Malcolm) is one of the highest dollar amounts ever awarded in NYC against the police. The verdict comes with people's memories still fresh of the death of Sean Bell – murdered by the police in a hail of 50 bullets on his wedding day last November, and the NYPD killing last month of Fermin Arzu. And it reflects the unremitting determination of Juanita Young over seven years to struggle to expose what happened to her son, as well as the support of people who are stepping forward to resist police brutality.
The City is planning on appealing this verdict. And the Bronx district attorney, Robert T. Johnson, still refuses to file any kind of criminal charges against the cop who murdered Malcolm Ferguson. So the struggle to get justice for the police murder of Malcolm Ferguson contines.
The court victory was greeted by people outside the courtroom as their victory also. Numbers of people, when they heard the news, felt they were finally getting some justice, and that not only Louis Rivera but the NYPD overall were paying at least something for what they do to people all the time. The jurors were smiling as their decision--which is almost certain to be appealed by the City of New York--was read. Margarita Rosario, mother of Antonio Rosario killed by the NYPD in 1995, led a chant outside the courthouse after the verdict, “What do we want? Justice. When do we want it? Now. And we got a little bit of it today!” One supporter left the courthouse and rode a bus downtown. He said he just couldn’t help himself as he stood up and said, “This was a great day for the people!” and that people on the bus were smiling and cheering as he explained what had happened. Workers in the shop where a statement by the Oct. 22 Coalition to Stop Police Brutality was being printed for a press conference the next day asked if they could keep copies for themselves.
The Ferguson family said in a statement following the verdict: “As we've said all along, this case is bigger than Malcolm Ferguson, its reach is beyond Louis Rivera and the officers who stormed 1045 Boynton Avenue on March 1, 2000. This case is about every person who has ever been demoralized and brutalized by police, and every police officer who wrongly believes they are not answerable to the people they serve. The law applies to everyone. And today, this jury of six men and women sent a strong message that a badge is not a pass to commit murder. The conscience of the community has spoken, and the answer is a resounding 'no more!'"
Malcolm Ferguson was killed one week after the verdict in the Amadou Diallo case was announced. Amadou Diallo was an unarmed man shot 41 times in his own hallway in the Bronx in 1999. The four cops involved all received a “not guilty” acquittal in March 2000. Malcolm lived in the same neighborhood as Amadou Diallo and was arrested for participating in a demonstration against that verdict. He got into an argument with Rivera on the day that he was arrested, and Juanita believes the cops singled him out because he had participated in the Amadou demo.
The story that Rivera gave at the time that he killed Malcolm was that he was doing a routine drug sweep, saw a group of young Black men hanging out, and ordered them to freeze. Witnesses say he did not identify himself as a police officer. When Malcolm ran into a building, Rivera considered this “suspicious” behavior, followed Malcolm with his gun drawn, got into a struggle with him on the stairwell, and then claimed the gun accidentally went off. Rivera's defense attorney repeated this story in court, saying Rivera was only doing what any police officer would do in that situation. What kind of a system is it where it's considered standard operating procedure for a cop to chase down and kill someone at his own whim? Since the cop murder of Amadou Diallo in 1999, 144 others--overwhelmingly Black and Latino young people--have been killed by the NYPD. The October 22nd Coalition and the Stolen Lives Project continue to document and expose these killings nationwide.
Juanita’s attorney, Seth Harris, punched holes in Rivera's story in court. Tissue samples proved that Rivera's gun had been placed close to Malcolm's temple when it was fired, that the force required to pull the trigger was not consistent with the story of it accidentally going off, and that Rivera's description of where he was during the alleged struggle on the stairwell was not physically possible. Malcolm was unarmed and, according to eyewitneses, there was nothing happening that could be considered suspicious activity.
Since her son's death, Juanita Young has been an outspoken and tireless fighter against police brutality. Many lawyers tell parents of those who have been murdered by police to stop protesting because it might “hurt their case.” But Juanita not only refused to stop protesting – she stepped to the forefront of the struggle. She speaks for the October 22nd Coalition and Stolen Lives Project and has been a victim of police harassment many times herself. She was arrested while participating in the Nov. 2, 2005, World Can’t Wait, Drive out the Bush Regime demonstration, and had to wage a court battle against an illegal eviction attempt by her landlord, an ex-cop. This victory gives Juanita and her supporters increased strength and motivation to continue to fight against police brutality, no matter what that takes. As Juanita said in her statement after the verdict, “The struggle is far from over.”
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