Revolutionary Worker #1001, April 11, 1999
NEW YORK, NEW YORK. On March 31, the people won an important victory in the battle for justice for Amadou Diallo. The four cops who murdered Amadou were charged with two counts of second degree murder. If convicted of the most serious murder charge they face 25 to life in prison. Since 1995, the police in New York City have murdered almost 200. Only a very few of these cops have ever been charged with any crimes. In the past 15 years, none has ever been charged with murder. The struggle of the people clearly forced the system to indict these cops for murder.
Since Amadou Diallo was killed on February 4 a storm of protest against police brutality has engulfed the city. As the weeks went on and the cops still were not arrested, were not questioned, and were allowed to work at desk jobs, the anger of the people continued to rise. Giuliani continued to defend the police and refused to budge an inch. The growing anger of the masses of people, especially those who live most directly under the gun of the police--African-Americans, Latinos and immigrants--has forced its way into every newspaper, on television and radio, every day. There have been loud and angry protests at city hall and the federal building, prayer vigils and memorial services all over the city and over 1,200 people were arrested for blocking police headquarters over the course of 15 days in March.
The media began examining the role of the Street Crimes Unit, whose members murdered Diallo, and the police as a whole. The New York Times ran articles exposing the widespread practice of stopping and frisking people for no reason and the practice of racial profiling on the highways. They quoted one youth who said, "They don't pull over their car and say, `Good afternoon.' They throw us on the floor and pull out their guns." As the protests continued, more middle class people of different nationalities, including growing numbers of white people, joined.
The focal point for the protests during the last two weeks of March was police headquarters. Each day anywhere from a few hundred to a thousand people demonstrated while others blocked the doors and were arrested.
On Monday, March 15, the civil disobedience arrests of former mayor David Dinkins and Congressman Charles Rangel marked a dramatic escalation of struggle within the power structure set off by the Diallo murder. Dinkins had opposed Giuliani for some time, going so far as to endorse and publicly support the right of the National Day of Protest Against Police Brutality to march in the face of a ban against the march by Giuliani last October. Rangel had publicly accused Giuliani of instituting a police state in New York City. Clearly their motives were bound up with Democratic Party political aims. But the significance of their arrests was that it signaled that the city power structure was so unresponsive that it was necessary for bourgeois politicians to go beyond the normal channels open to their class to register opposition. When Giuliani responded by handcuffing both Rangel and Dinkins behind their backs and ridiculing their protest, a wave of civil disobedience followed.
Over three dozen members of Union 1199 went to jail. People's lawyer Ron Kuby and more than 50 other attorneys blocked the doors and were arrested. So was Carolyn Goodman, whose son Andrew Goodman was murdered by the KKK in Mississippi in 1964 during the civil rights movement. A dozen members of ACT-UP were arrested blocking doors at the Bronx courthouse. Even one of the mayor's staunchest Black supporters, conservative Reverend Floyd Flake, took part. Many famous people were arrested including actors Susan Sarandon, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, and Dick Gregory. Sarandon told the New York Times, "Safety at the expense of civil liberties is unacceptable. I'm here to protest racial profiling and a lot of other issues that have made it unsafe for people of color in this city."
Jesse Jackson, Kweisi Mfume, and almost every other Black and Latino elected official in the city and state were arrested. Even former Mayor Ed Koch announced his intention to get arrested if Giuliani did not meet with elected officials. Others included Earl G. Graves of Black Enterprise magazine and Ed Lewis of Essence magazine.
Religious leaders of all types brought their congregations. On one day 100 rabbis and rabbinical students chanted "Shalom, shalom, shalom!" and sang psalms in Hebrew as they were arrested. Jews for Racial and Economic Justice organized members for civil disobedience. Rabbi Valerie Lieber from Congregation Beth Ahavath Shalom told Amsterdam News reporter Herb Boyd: "As a Jew, I cannot sit idly by when there is protection for some at the expense of others."
As the numbers of people arrested rose, new public opinion polls of voters showed a huge decrease in the mayor's approval rating among all nationalities. More than two-thirds said they disapproved of the mayor's support for the police. Sixty-one percent of whites said they don't believe Giuliani treats people of different nationalities equally. In a column in the Daily News Denis Hamill wrote, "Where once we feared the criminals, Rudy has created a city where good citizens fear the cops. People being detained for not having bells on bikes; old men fined for feeding pigeons. I recently wrote of a Bay Ridge citizen being dragged from his shower and paraded naked into the street in handcuffs for a ludicrous charge that was tossed out of court. Last summer, I watched my own wife snapped into handcuffs over a parking ticket because she dared tell a surly cop that she thought she had a bad attitude. A thousand points of darkness like this, condoned by an autocratic mayor, create a climate where cops think it's okay to rape a prisoner with a stick, or fire 41 bullets at an unarmed immigrant."
Many ruling class forces began to voice concerns that public outrage against police brutality was so widespread and the distrust of the system was so deep among Black and Latino people that it could lead to "another L.A.,"--referring to the 1992 rebellion after the cops who beat Rodney King were acquitted.
Proposals to "reform" the police department were put forward. Four separate investigations were launched, in addition to some already underway, stemming from the torture of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima in 1997. The Justice Department and State Attorney General Eliot L. Spitzer organized investigations of police searches. There were calls for the resignation of Police Commissioner Howard Safir, who left the city twice during the crisis, once to attend the Academy Awards. New York Governor Pataki, who himself has spearheaded a reactionary police state and budget cuts program on the state level, publicly criticized Giuliani. For the first time since he was elected the mayor felt compelled to meet with Black elected officials who he previously snubbed.
The system has been forced to indict the cops and this is an important victory. In the face of this, the police department continues to justify their actions. In an attempt to pull middle class people in particular to sympathize with the police, the police department released figures claiming that there has been a rise in shootings because cops are intimidated by the protests and criticism. A "story" aimed at justifying the actions of the cops who shot Diallo was leaked to the press. The PBA (police union) spent more than $150,000 on ads denouncing the demonstrations at police headquarters (in which they noted that some protesters were carrying signs supporting political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal). And the Street Crimes Unit cops were given a raise of $1,500!
Many organizations and coalitions have called for more protests against police brutality in the coming months, including a daily action outside the Brooklyn federal courthouse where the cops who tortured Abner Louima are now on trial.
On March 31 as the cops who killed Amadou Diallo were formally charged, over 500 protesters demonstrated outside the Bronx courthouse. The cops were charged and released on $100,000 bail each.
This situation poses a challenge to the basic people: how does our movement against police brutality keep growing, while making sure that the interests of the grassroots people don't get sold out? Different classes are putting out different solutions. And the power structure is debating how to make adjustments so that their enforcers can go on enforcing the inequality and injustice of this system.
As we said in RW 1000:
"The main thing is, we're gonna have to step up that struggle--and fight in a way that relies on the people and defends the interests of the people. This means struggling in a way that brings to light the epidemic of police brutality--and puts the system on notice that the people will not tolerate this. It means showing that the people have right on our side. It means fighting in a way that recognizes those who have been murdered by the police and gives their friends and families a national spotlight to tell the truth about how they were killed. It means fighting in a way where the militant youth can join with others in powerful resistance. It means linking local efforts against police brutality, putting them in a national context and drawing national attention to them. It means uniting all who can be united to stop police brutality, repression and the criminalization of a generation. This has been the orientation of the October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality and others. And in this way we can reach out to millions of people and keep it real.
"Fighting our way also means turning our neighborhoods and schools into militant base areas of struggle against the system and its enforcers. We need to organize our people to stand up against these brutal enforcers and not allow them to ride roughshod over the masses. We need revolutionary collective solutions to social problems that rely on the people--and NOT police intervening in all aspects of the people's lives, like a police state."
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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