October 22:Remembering & Resisting Police Brutality
10-20-2006, 12:13 PM
October 22:Remembering & Resisting Police Brutality
by Lydia Howell
NOTE:Info for TC event at end of essay.
In 1977, I particpated in my first anti-police brutality march in my hometown of Dallas, Texas. Several hundred people--all of them African-American or Latino, except for me and my best friend who are white---walked silently in memory of Jose Campos Torres. Houston cops had arrested him for being drunk in public, took him to Buffalo Bayou (which when I moved to Houston I would find out was infamous as a place that police took people of color) and proceeded to toss the (HANDCUFFED) man into the water, while shouting "Swim, Wetback!"
The 20-something Mexican American man drowned, murdered for sport by those entrusted to "protect and serve" the public that pays their salaries. They were never charged with a crime. A civil rights complaint was filed and they were charged and eventually convicted for "violating civil rights". The judge sentenced them to each pay ONE DOLLAR.
In 1981, living in Houston, a friend and colleague, Fred Paez, Latino and openly gay, was shot in the back of the head, execution-style, (while HANDCUFFED) by a Houston police officer. Fred and I worked on a public affairs show at the Pacifica station KPFT and also worked on police brutality. Our aim was to build coalitions across the (false) boundaries of various communties---the GLBT community, African-American and Latino communities, feminists working on domestic violence. Some of us suspected that Fred was killed because of his acitivism. Nothing was ever done about Fred's murder.
Ever since that day, I've remained committed to challenging the business-as-usual of police brutality and State-sanctioned murder. Since August 1988, I've lived in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Within six months of moving here, I realized that police accuntability is no better "up North" (as Malcom X put it), than down South. There's simply more illusions here in what I often think of as Land O' Liberals.
Dozens of people--men, women and teenagers--- have been gunned down, choked or beaten to death by Minnesota police--most of them people of color. In just the last decade, the Minneapolis City Council has voted to pay out almost $20 MILLION in law suits to survivors or to victims' families. But, not a single officer has even been fired, much less charged with crimes, like assault or murder. Minneapolis voters in 1990 voted to create a Civillian Review Authority (CRA) as an alternative to a do-nothing Internal Affairs Unit. Until recently, the CRA was useless, too. Now, that they actually sustain some cases, the MPD Police Chiefs simply refuse to dicipline those officers. Most elected officials uphold, by either their votes or inaction, that law enforcement is above the law.
Most white progressives passively do the same.
When the Abu Graibe torture photos hit the media, I hoped that there would be a shock of recognition that rippled to the home front. Unfortunately, most white Americans uphold torture, brutality and murder done in their name, overseas and on our own streets, in the name of "safety". A few white progressives have organized to oppose the recent legalization of torture in the 'war on terrorism', but, even many of them fail to make the connection to the ongoing violence committed by domestic police forces.
Amnesty International has documented that brutality by police, border patrol and prison guards is "epidemic" in the United States. The dozens of abuses and murders I've worked on over the last almost 30 years are considered torture and human rights abuses under the United Nations' International Declaration of Human Rights--which the U.S. has signed.
The face of Tycel Nelson, 17-years-old (who could pass for 13)--shining and open is burned into my brain. He was shot in the back by MPD Officer Dan May in February 1991. Recently, May was almost given a retroactive medal for that murder. Only public outrage stopped that reward. Standard operating procedure for all cases of brutality and murder is to give the officer(s) TIME OFF WITH PAY, while an "investigation" is conducted--"investigations" that always exonerate the police. Such "suspensions from duty" certainly aren't any sort of punishment. In most jobs, time off with pay is called 'vacation' and so, could even be seen as a reward for brutality.
Who would Tycel be at 32 years old?
A few years ago, a Somali refugee named Abu-Jalani, father of two (a 2 1/2 year old and a newborn)--was gunned down with seven shots. he spoke little English and had a mental health history--suffering Post-Traumatic Streess Disorder, having survived the Somalia civil war. Other Somali people were at the scene and pleaded to be able to talk to him in his own language. Minneapolis cops refused and a few minutes later, shot him to death. His body lay where ke fell, in the street, for over 2 hours afterward, where I saw him. He got no more regard in death than he had in life.
Mr. Jelani's children will never know their father.
This summer, Demitrius Felder was suffering from deep depression and threatening suicide. His family couldn't get him to go to a psychiatric facility and called the Minneapolis police for help. Mr. Felder was African-American, became frightened by seeing police officers and immediatly tried to run away. He was shot three times and died. (Other UNarmed people with mental health issues have also been gunned down by police.)
What "crime" did Demitrius Felder commit? Being unarmed and running away, what "threat to public safety" did he pose?
These are just three of the human beings murdered by Minneapolis police. Similar stories can be told in cities and towns across America. The Department of Justice says that on average American law enforcement kill 350 people annually. Statistics for police brutality arte not kept by the DoJ. (For more stories google the Stolen Lives Project.) Not only are we NOT made safe by law enforcment officers that are above the law, we are actually LESS safe.
People who live in "high crime neighborhoods" are caught in the middle between gangs and brutal and untrustworthy cops. Like torturing Muslims and Arabs in the 'war on terror', police brutality ensures that citizens will NOT be likely to cooperate with law enforcment. The flip side of police brutality, that's talked about far less, is poor service from law enforcement in these same communties. As a white, working-class poor woman, living in inner city neighorhoods, I've been a crime victim and experienced total disrespect from police. The response to being mugged, burglarized and raped over the years has been "Look at where you live.What do you expect?"
These are just a few of the individual human beings lost to what is, in effect, State-sponsored terrorism against people of color and the poor here at home. It's a sad and frightening contradiction to the U.S. 'war on terrorism'.
This Sunday, I'll be with fellow activists, survivors of police brutality and families who've lost loved ones forver. We'll be remembering those murdered by police and carrying on resistance in their names.
Until law enforcemnt is no longer above the law, the claims that "America is the most free, best democracy on Earth" will only be empty PR and cruel hype. For some of us Al Queda terrorism, is not nearly as real as the daily threat of domestic terrorism by local police.
In MINNEAPOLIS/ST.PAUL MN: Sun. Oct. 22, 5:30pm, Walker Community Church, corner of 16th Ave. South and 31st St., south Minneapolis. Organized by Communties United Against Police Brutality (CUAPB). See their website and subscribe to their newsletter at : http://www.CUAPB.org If you've been a victim of police brutality in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota, call their Hotline: (612)874-STOP
NATIONAL CONTACT for the October 22 Coalition:
The October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation has been mobilizing every year since 1996 for a National Day of Protest on October 22nd, bringing together those under the gun and those not under the gun as a powerful voice to expose the epidemic of police brutality.
The Coalition also works on the Stolen Lives Project, which documents cases of killings by law enforcement agents nationwide. The second edition of the Stole n Lives book documents over 2000 cases in the 1990's alone. (available for $15 from Amazon.com or from the National Office.)
Research and collection of data in preparation for a second volume continues, and volunteers for researching or editing are welcomed.
Contact the National Office of October 22nd at:
Info@october22.org or 1-888-NOBRUTALITY
October 22nd Coalition
P.O. Box 2627
New York, N.Y. 10009
To donate funds, make check out to:
IFCO/October 22, and mail to address above.
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