Interview with Revolution:

2012 Case Against Bronx Youth: "The Conspiracy Was by the NYPD"

November 3, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper |


On June 4, in Harlem, New York, 400 NYPD cops carried out a raid in the General Grant and Manhattanville Houses. Using battering rams, officers in body armor broke down doors as helicopters whirled overhead. They arrested 40 people that the NYPD claims are gang members. This is not about fighting crime and violence. It is about criminalizing the youth and terrorizing whole communities. Many of those indicted and arrested were charged with conspiracy—conspiracy cases based on police spying—monitoring over 40,000 calls and spying on hundreds of Facebook pages. In 2012, the NYPD carried out early morning raids in the Bronx, arresting 10 young Black men who were then charged with conspiracy to commit all kinds of felonies. Most of them ended up copping pleas to crimes they say they did not commit. This case also used cell phone records and Facebook messages as so-called evidence of conspiracy. Revolution correspondent Li Onesto recently talked with a woman whose son is one of these young men.


Revolution: The Call for the October Month of Resistance to Mass Incarceration, Police Terror, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation talked about how Black and Latino youths have a target on their backs in this society. And the story of what has happened to your son and his friends really concentrates how the youth are being criminalized and set up for a future of going to prison. So let's start there with how your son ended up in prison.

This probably started with my son and his friends—they all pretty much are the same age, a year or two older or younger; they were like around 11 and 12 years old, they would be in the hallways in one or another's building, and they had this little dance group that they were forming at that time, and they would be getting arrested for things like trespassing, even though they lived in the neighborhood, it's a public street, it's a public building. They'd get arrested in front of a friend's building, for standing around dancing, for trespassing. And I never understood how you could get arrested for trespassing in a public street. For instance, one time he was with one of his friends and they were actually standing in front of his friend's building and they were both arrested. And we had to go in; the moms had to go in with their identification to pick them up.

This is when they were 11 and 12 years old?

Yeah, they were 11 and 12 years old. Another time they got arrested, I think it was at a Burger King, there was some kind of altercation that broke out in the Burger King and my son and his friends were arrested as well, and they were like 11 and 12 years old at the time and the police arrested them for vandalism. And my son kept saying mom, we weren't part of it, we weren't doing anything but the police arrested them and he had the mark of the handcuff on his arm and he was about 12 years old at the time. They arrested him for vandalism and when I came down to the precinct with his ID, they let him go. But when you come into the precinct, it's like, oh, he and his friends were vandalizing. But then they just make copies of his birth certificate and social security and then let us go.

So they got him in the system when he was only 12 years old...

Yes and it was always so weird to me, I always felt like they were setting them up for something. Because why would it be necessary to take copies of their birth certificate and all their identification just to let them go. And my son was telling me that the police were saying to them, "We're waiting for you to turn 16 years old." And I didn't know what to do at the time.

In the beginning I thought my son was actually doing things and I would reprimand him, I would be yelling at him, saying you can't be in these places, you can't do these things, I can't come and always be picking you up, that's not right. But he would be saying, but mom, we weren't doing anything. And after a while I started to believe him because they started to get arrested more and more often. Every time I turned around I was going to pick him up. I have a whole stack of these arrest papers that they give you when you have to go to court and then they dismiss it in the family court. They were starting to arrest him so often that he had to go to Spofford [Juvenile Center] for the night, and I'd have to go to family court and pick him up from there and they'd give me a pink slip for the corporation counsel, because they don't call them DAs for children—the corporation counsel decided not pursue it and it's thrown out.

How many times do you think this happened?

In the beginning we really thought our kids were doing bad things. I mean, why would you have police contact if you're not doing anything wrong? But it turned out that this was something that they were doing in the neighborhood to get information on our children, and they were telling them that they were waiting for them to turn 16. And sure enough, when they turned 16 and 17 years old, they scooped them all up in some big indictment, charged them as gang members and they're serving prison sentences.

So how did all these kids, including your son, end up in prison?

December 5, 2012, after the police had chosen the 10 of them, they came to our homes, they raided our homes at 6 am in the morning. They came in with those things they bust your door down with, they came with rifles and riot gear on, and it was like something out of a movie. I had never experienced anything like this in my life. They bust my door down. They came in screaming, "Get on the floor, get on the floor with your hands up." "Get against the wall," stuff that happens on TV. I was terrified. We were sleeping, we were all here sleeping, and we didn't know what was going on. I was disoriented, for a few minutes I didn't even know who they were or what was going on. It was the most frightening thing I've ever experienced in my life. They handcuffed us and made us stand in the hallway and we kept saying, "What's going on? Can I see a search warrant?" The police were in my house and they didn't show us a search warrant, we kept asking for it. Finally an officer said we would see it at the precinct.

How many cops were involved in this raid?

Oh my god, there must have been at least eight to 10 officers, with rifles with lights on them, lights going every direction.... My grandchildren sometimes spend the night, but thank god they weren't here. That would have been really awful for them. But it was awful for us. I have never been arrested in my life. I have never had handcuffs on. They had us out in the hallway, and our neighbors, because it was really noisy, the neighbors were looking out the door and peeking out to see what as going on, it was so embarrassing, we were standing out there in our nightclothes. They let us back in the house when a captain showed up and said we could come back in the house. They made us sit on the couch while they searched the house for I don't know how long, for at least for about an hour and then they took my son. They said they were arresting him and they were taking him. When we went to the precinct they totally ignored us, there was so much activity at the precinct. I didn't know that they had raided about seven or eight other homes besides mine.

They did this all coordinated, the same night?

Right. They had a secret investigation going on. They were monitoring the boys' Facebook accounts and when they would arrest them, they would take their cell phones from them and they were going into their cell phones for conversations that they were having with each other and they put together this whole story where they decided they were a gang. They said they were guilty of conspiracies to commit murder, to sell drugs, to traffic guns, all this activity, that they said was supposedly going on. So they storm trooped the houses on December 5, 2012 and took 10 of these guys away. When we got to court, we found out that there was a secret indictment and they were being charged with all kinds of conspiracy charges. I have the grand jury indictment paperwork that we were able to get from the lawyer at the time. The DA painted them as if they were mobsters, something like John Gotti, as if they were organized criminals who were conspiring to further this gang activity by selling drugs and guns to supply this operation; that wasn't going on and he actually had no evidence that it was going on. What they did was take individual arrests that these kids previously had for possession of marijuana or possession of a firearm maybe a year or so before and they put this all together to make it look like this is what they were doing. These individual cases some of the boys had already went to court for, they made it a cumulative thing and said that it was in furtherance for the operation of a gang.

So they really didn't have any real evidence?

No. They didn't. Two of the boys went to trial. If it hadn't been such a serious matter, it would have been hilarious. The evidence that the DA brought up in court was from previous cases for minute grams of cocaine or minute grams of a burnt marijuana cigarette as evidence of possession of drugs—a burnt marijuana cigarette? This was his proof of drug sales.

There was no evidence against them but most of them were forced to cop a plea?

Yes, first of all they didn't know much about the legal system. You have these kids who have no experience, they have no money; it's not like we could pay for top notch lawyers to dispute any of this stuff. They all had a "criminal past." They were being told that they were facing eight to 25 years and that conspiracy charges were tough to beat and that more than likely they were going to be found guilty on something if they went to trial. And rather than face eight years or more, take a plea deal for two years or four years. My son was sentenced to two to six years. They were afraid, being young, being inexperienced, none of the parents had any experience in legal matters. We listened to these lawyers, we thought that was the best course of action to just take a plea deal and that happens a lot—all the time.

When my son and his friends were 13, 14 and 15 years old, the mothers decided let's just have group and meet with our sons because at this point they were getting arrested often and we didn't know what was going on and we were wondering what was happening to them. So as their mothers, we decided to have group and meet with them every couple of weeks, whenever we could on the weekends. We'd meet with each other and have them there, we'd talk, hang out, have finger foods, just hang out with them and see what was going on and see what kind of stories they would tell us. We became pretty friendly with each other. This was part of Commissioner Kelly's plan. He was like. "Oh, I'm not going after the big gangs anymore; I'm going after the crews." Because these kids make up names for each other, they have their little group that they hang with so they start calling each other by a name. It's the same stuff that we did—usually you name yourself after the block you live on, the housing project, whatever. So they made up names for their group, and I guess as part of their intelligence gathering these police were seeing this, "Oh these hoods are making up names and calling themselves crews and maybe we could say they are not a gang, but they're a crew and that's the same thing."

So this is when they went on their Facebook?

Yes, I don't even know how you get a probable cause for that. I guess to saying that they're a gang that's enough probable cause to go to a court and say we need to search these people's Facebook and their phones and that's pretty much what they did and how this whole indictment got underway.

I mean talk about conspiracies—this is a conspiracy by the police and the courts to put these kids away!

Yeah, the conspiracy was by them.

This does show the connection of how they were criminalizing these kids and then setting them up to put them in prison for years.

Warehousing them away in prison, that's what I call it. It's slavery in a different way, it's the same thing with the shackles and chains, behind bars and their lives are taken away from them. Now they have felonies, they can't work, they can't get educational grants, they can't get housing. What kind of life are they gonna have now? What's their future? They have no future now. At 17, 18, 19 years old, they have nothing left. It's horrible. And they are doing this, mass incarceration, in every city in the United States.

I know you're somebody who's been active with the Stop Mass Incarceration Network. Maybe you could say something about why you supported the Month of Resistance and what you hope comes out of it.

I'm just watching this go on and saying, this can't be America. This can't be how this is supposed to be. This can't be what is supposed to happening to our kids. Yes, something has to be done. And I don't know how I stumbled on the Stop Mass Incarceration Network, maybe I was at a rally. No, as a matter of fact, I was going to court with my son's friend, with his mom, the one that was going to trial. And Stop Mass Incarceration Network was out in front of the court protesting and I almost kept walking, but I wondered what's going on over there. So I went over and I saw the signs and I said, oh my god, there are people trying to do something about this. And I stopped and I asked for names and I gave them my email address and that's how I became a part of Stop Mass Incarceration Network. Because I said there are people who really do care, there are people who are knowledgeable about what's going on, they see what's happening, they know that this is wrong, that they are trying to criminalize all these young people but they want to make a change and I want to be a part of that because I have lived this. I have lived it with my son and his friends; I see it in the newspaper every day. And I want to be a part of what's going to happen to effect a change for these young men of color.

So that's why I am deeply committed to doing something with Stop Mass Incarceration, the Month of Resistance. I put palm cards on my desk at work and let people take them and explained it to them. I joined the West Indian parade and gave out cards to people and I said we can't allow for our children to be criminalized in this way. And I'm looking forward to October 22, when we all come together not just here in New York, Los Angeles, Ohio, Ferguson, everywhere this is happening—I mean they're murdering children now, it's beyond incarceration, they're murdering children, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis. They're murdering children. And I'm telling people we can't allow this. This is not the America we want to live in.

You were in involved in the October Month of Resistance and building for October 22, the National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation. Anything you want to say to others about this?

I just want to say we can't be idle, we can't be apathetic. We can't just look and say that that's somebody else that it's happening to. We all need to be involved. We all need to get involved and bring about this change. There's strength in numbers and we need these numbers, you need to get involved. You need to be a part of Stop Mass Incarceration and the struggle against police brutality because it's so important, it's vital to our existence.

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