Revolution #250, November 13, 2011
Interview with Freedom Fighter
"Taking action against illegal acts"
A special feature of Revolution to acquaint our readers with the views of significant figures in art, theater, music and literature, science, sports and politics. The views expressed by those we interview are, of course, their own; and they are not responsible for the views published elsewhere in our paper.
Burchell Marcus is the Director of Organizing Brooklyn Communities, Inc., a member of the October 22 Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation and a new Freedom Fighter in the struggle to STOP "Stop and Frisk." Revolution interviewed Marcus shortly after the November 1 action where 100 people marched and rallied at the 73rd NYPD Precinct in Brooklyn against stop-and-frisk and where 28 people were arrested for civil disobedience.
Revolution: I understand you're pretty familiar with this area, being a community organizer. Could you talk about this neighborhood, who lives here, what life is like?
Marcus: This community for the past 30 years or more has been predominantly African Americans and Caribbean Americans. About 45 years or so ago, it was predominantly white. As time went on, it became predominantly West Indian—East Flatbush, Brownsville and Crown Heights. In East Flatbush, people are just slightly above the poverty level. Brownsville, people are very far beneath the poverty level. East New York, it's under the poverty level. Bushwick is under the poverty level. These are communities that are under the poverty level because of the dynamics of having a minority community—the job market is tough on the minority communities. Many people are struggling and fighting day-to-day to survive. Some people don't even have food on their tables on many occasions. We have the soup kitchens run by churches that do help out a great deal. If you walk around our community you see a lot of churches that actually feed the people, and the lines are so long... The rents are astronomically high, the food in the stores are astronomically high, unemployment is very high. They created this mess so that they could impose their will on the people who are not privileged to live as good as they are. Because many of these officers live in predominantly white neighborhoods, most of them don't even live in Brooklyn; they live out in Long Island.
Revolution: What is the prevalence of stop-and-frisk in this neighborhood?
Marcus: For many years, before stop-and-frisk even came on the forefront, it was being done but people weren't paying that much attention to it. I remember as a young kid growing up in Brownsville. This was back in the early 1970s, coming home from school and the white officers would roll up to us and call us and search us and we were like, "Hey, what's going on?" They go through our pockets, our bags and tell us to go home, get off the street—that if they drive by and see us in the street, they'd lock us up—scare tactics.
Revolution: How many times would you say you have been stopped and frisked?
Marcus: I would say in my whole life, maybe about 15-20 times. And I've seen so many people, including grandfathers getting stopped and frisked. My older brother, who is about 62 years of age, riding, coming home from a soccer game—and they pulled alongside him and told him to get off his bike and he said, for what? Because he asked "for what," they drove the car into him and made him fall off the bike and then arrested him for disorderly conduct. This happened about two months ago.
We also had a march on the 73rd Precinct after they victimized my nieces and nephews. My nephew was bringing home the kids from church and he happened to go around a taxi that was parked in the middle of the street. And when he parked the vehicle the [police] van pulled up and the cops told him to get back in his car. And he asked them, "for what?" At the same time my sister was crossing the street and they told her to stand back. So she asked what the problem was. Before you knew it, one of the officers jumped punched one of my nieces—because she told him that she got his name and badge number and was going to call his superiors. We have a lawsuit pending against them. That day, the cops did incite a riot. They jumped the fence and went into my yard and beat up my nieces and nephews that were standing in the yard. They charged them with disorderly conduct, some of them with obstruction of governmental procedures, inciting a riot. There were people just standing in the streets, just watching and they got beat up, they got slammed into cars.
Revolution: So this is pretty typical of what goes on?
Marcus: Yes, I came on my block and there is a gentleman who lives across the street from me, he was sitting on the steps talking to his friend, he got up to go to the store, and the van pulled up, jumped out and searched him. He had maybe a little bit of weed on him, just a little...
Revolution: Which is... in New York State, it isn't a crime to have a small amount of weed as long as it isn't displayed in public.
Marcus: Yeah, and they searched him, if they didn't search him they would have never known he had it on him—the search was illegal. They locked him up, they charged him with possession of weed and disorderly conduct. And this "disorderly conduct" has been more prevalent than ever.
Revolution: That's like a catch-all, they use that for anything.
Marcus: For anything, and "resisting arrest"—whether you resist or not... They have indicated that they want to turn this country into a police state. That's one way of doing it, getting everybody into the data base so that when they do an action, they submit you to this national ID, as they were talking about long ago.
Revolution: Getting back to the STOP "Stop and Frisk" action, maybe this is a silly question since you just talked about all your experiences with the police. But what made you become a new Freedom Fighter in the struggle against stop-and-frisk? And what do you think is the effect this is going to have?
Marcus: Well, first of all, I joined the Freedom Fighters because I believe in freedom of the people, I believe your inalienable rights should not be trampled upon. I feel that we all do need laws to govern society because some people will try to infringe on your rights. But that don't mean that if you're innocently walking the streets or coming from work, or whatever the case might be, as long as you didn't break any laws, you shouldn't be subject to stop-and-frisk or subject to someone saying that they think you want to commit a crime. It's like saying these people are mind readers and they could do anything they want. No, they're infringing on your god-given rights. I follow the book and the laws of Moses and it clearly states that no one should infringe on anyone else's rights so no state government or any individual have that right to trample on the rights that were given to me by god.
Revolution: Why do you think this whole stop-and-frisk policy is only aimed at some neighborhoods?
Marcus: The people who are actually running this government or corporation are predominantly white so what they do is they protect their own, their people, they feel that white people should be superior, and that's where the Ku Klux Klan comes in. They're white supremacists. And they have put people in high places in order, where they can make decisions that would effect what they're trying to do as far as governing and ruling over all people. And by doing that they are able to enforce their will upon people through the laws that they make— like it said in the Constitution that a Black man is 3/5 of a man. And that still stands according to them. We need to go back and have a referendum and an amendment to the Constitution to change that...
Two years ago, the [police] inspector that is in now came into the precinct and immediately he started putting up roadblocks in our community. He came in and claimed the community was out of control and there was too much crime going on and he said he was here to change all of that. So three or four times a week, at different times, in different parts of the community, we would get roadblocks where you have the cops pulling people over and searching the cars.
Revolution: Where is the probable cause that they can stop someone and search their car. Isn't that illegal?
Marcus: It is illegal. But apparently he doesn't know the Constitution, he doesn't know the law. We just had a forum in the neighborhood where he publicly said that as long as he's commander in the precinct, I'm quoting his words, he will continue to enforce stop-and-frisk because he believes it is the right tool to use to bring down crime, to stop the shootings. And I reminded him that stop-and-frisk does not stop crime because on his command, in one week, we had 13 shootings in his precinct, I'm talking about within two days. And for the week, we had something like 21 shootings. So that shows that it didn't work. Many of the officers come out and they don't stop-and-frisk the people who are committing crimes, they stop people coming home from work, people who are going to school, trying to do the right things. And I let him know, it's not working, it needs to stop, it's unconstitutional and illegal and it must stop. And he asked the audience by a show of hands, who believes that stop-and-frisk should continue and who is for it. No one put their hands up.
Revolution: How many people were there?
Marcus: About 200 people and no one put their hands up.
Revolution: How did you build for the November 1 action of civil disobedience against stop-and-frisk?
Marcus: Even before I got the fliers I was going through the community, explaining to people that we're getting ready to do a march on the precinct around stop-and-frisk because it's illegal and unconstitutional. I got on the buses and trains. When I got the fliers it was a greater impact because it had the information that would open people's eyes.
Revolution: Did most people on the trains know about stop-and-frisk?
Marcus: Yes, they did and they're very upset about it, people are complaining about it. They're calling for the removal of this inspector from the precinct, for stop-and-frisk and everything...
I feel that if someone breaks the law, they should be punished—and these cops are breaking the law every single day and they are not being punished, they are not even getting a slap on the wrist. They are just not being punished. They are killing our young men and women, including our grandmothers and grandfathers, like Eleanor Bumpurs. One of my nephews was shot and killed by a police officer in his own house. He was 19 then. This happened in the '90s. He was shot and killed in his house. He and his girlfriend had an argument, he was living with his mother at the time, and after the argument she just called the cops. The cops came; they were standing at the door. He was standing eating a mango in the kitchen. And the cop told him to put the mango and the knife down. And he said, man I'm in my house you need to leave my house and he refused to put the knife down, and he kept eating the mango. And they shot him, they shot and killed him. And they claimed that he attacked them with the knife and knowing this young man, he's not a violent person to begin with. His girlfriend first made the statement that he did nothing wrong, he didn't attack them. And they silenced her. They told her that if she said another word she would be charged with his murder...
Revolution: When the march, rally and civil disobedience happened at the 73rd Precinct, did people from the community join in?
Marcus: Yes, we had a great number of people that come out. At first they were kind of scared because they were afraid of retaliation from the police. But they came out anyway and most of them joined us after they saw that we were really serious about taking action against this illegal act by the police.
Revolution: Were they looking to see what the new Freedom Fighters were going to do?
Marcus: Yes, some of the people were coming and they were standing across the street from us and then when they saw all these cops they were like leery about coming over to join. But when they saw us gathering in mass numbers, then they came over and made it even better. And when we walked over to the precinct the cops didn't even give anyone a chance to commit civil disobedience, they went ahead and started arresting people. So it's like saying that, hey look, you all don't have to commit no crime, we can arrest you.
Revolution: What's the word on the street since this happened?
Marcus: The word on the street is that we need to do this at all the precincts...
Revolution: People liked this...
Marcus: Yes, they want us to march on all the precincts. And so I said, if you want us to march on all the precincts, then you have to help me rally the people and bring them out in record numbers so that we can send a true statement not only to them but to the Justice Department to let them know that, hey look, we're not going to tolerate this illegal act. We are law-abiding citizens who are going to work, paying taxes and doing everything right. We have no reason to be stopped. People are driving their cars, going home and being pulled over by the cops. If you didn't break the law why are you being stopped in the first place? People are being dragged out of the cars and the cops are searching their cars and ripping their cars apart and all kinds of stuff. I've seen it with my own eyes. And so when is this going to stop? If it's a revolution they want, they'll get a revolution. We are not going to stop, we are going to do this until it winds up being a massive revolution where this is concerned, this is going to propel people to really open their eyes and say look...
I'm very outspoken. I don't bite my tongue for anyone. And I believe that as long as you're trampling on the rights of human beings, I will continue to speak up. The only thing that you can do to silence me is killing me and even so, even if you kill me, it won't make a difference because I have educated enough people and enough people understand that killing me will not stop the movement, it will not stop what's happening because of the people I have educated—they will continue to spread the word and get the message to people and it will grow and grow. And as a matter of fact they will make it worse for themselves if they harm me or do anything to me. I am not afraid to die and I will continue as long as I live to stand up and fight for the rights of human beings.
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