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Thursday, May 1, 2008

Local Protestors: "We Are All Sean Bell"



Roughly 75 protestors gathered last night at East 170th Street and Jerome Avenue to speak out against the acquittal of three officers who killed Sean Bell.

Chanting “We are all Sean Bell/ We are all Anthony Baez/We are all Amadou Diallo”—referring to victims of infamous police killings in the Bronx— Black, Latino, and white demonstrators joined together to protest last week’s verdict, and to demand changes in NYPD policies and conduct towards communities of color.

Protestors blocked traffic for a few minutes as Rev. Raymond Rivera, CEO of the Latino Pastoral Action Center—one of the main groups organizing Wednesday’s action—led the crowd in a prayer. A heavy police presence from the nearby 44th Precinct looked on, but officers from the 44 had met with event organizers Tuesday night and approved the action, so there were no arrests.

Following the blocking of traffic, the crowd gathered for a rally that lasted about 30 minutes. Speakers said that Bell’s killing was part of a larger pattern of police violence and harassment against African-Americans and Latinos.

Joel Rivera, director of the Greater Heights youth program at LPAC, listed the names of other persons of color killed by the NYPD, including Baez—a 29-year-old asthmatic Puerto Rican man who died in 1994 after being choked by police— and Patrick Dorismond—a 26-year-old Haitian-American man who was shot and killed near Madison Square Garden in 2000.

“I’ve never heard of somebody on Wall Street being accidentally shot reaching for their phone,” Rivera said. He added that one difference between the Bell shooting and many other cases of unarmed men of color killed by law enforcement is that two of the three officers charged in Bell’s death were themselves Black.

“It’s not about Black and white,” Rivera said. “It’s blue.”

Hector Soto, a civil-rights attorney, told the crowd it was necessary to speak out not only against police murders, but also against the daily harassment he said people of color experienced at the hands of police. He cited pervasive stop-and-frisks by the NYPD—a phenomenon which studies have shown overwhelmingly impacts African-Americans and Latinos—as an example of the “little disrespects” suffered by people of color, in addition to “big disrespects” such as the Bell shooting.

"Everybody has a story," Soto said, referring to experiences of people of color with law enforcement.

Youth comprised a large portion of Wednesday afternoon’s turnout; a good percentage of those in attendance appeared to be under the age of 25. Many wore black tee-shirts with red letters that read: “I am Sean bell/Amadou Diallo/Abner Louema/Your name here.”

Many of the younger protestors expressed feeling emboldened and inspired by the rally to
speak out against police brutality, and to raise their voice more generally on issues that concern them. “I definitely want to see changes out here,” said community resident Lucas Santa, 22. “It’s hard for the young ones.” Santa said police use of excessive force against unarmed men of color, as well as the flood of illegal weapons on the streets of his neighborhoods, were trends that needed to be halted.

Later, he said he felt he could play an active role in this process. “I believe if I speak out,” Santa said, “we could make changes.”

The theme of simultaneously fighting police abuse and violence within the Highbridge community was echoed by several speakers, including Rev. Rivera, who called on residents to stop the flow of weapons on neighborhood streets. “We say to the officers, ‘No more’” Rivera said. “We say to ourselves, ‘no more.’”

Twenty-year-old Nigel Patrick, a Morrisania resident who works at LPAC, said he learned of the acquittal of officers Cooper, Isnora, and Oliver through a friend’s text message; the friend told him to forward the news to everybody he knew. Patrick gave a long list of reasons he said police had cited in arresting him recently, including: “looking suspicious,” smoking cigarettes, and walking outside after 3am.

Asked by this reporter if he felt a particularly strong connection to Sean Bell’s death because he, like Bell, is a Black male in his twenties, Patrick replied: “I feel that everybody is connected to Sean Bell.”

Ethan Zatko, a 24-year-old Washington Heights resident, was one of several white protestors at East 170th and Jerome. " I was disturbed but not that surprised," Zatko said of the verdict. "I think it's another instance in a long line of unfortunate manifestations of systematic racism."

Zatko said it was crucial for demonstrators to carry forward the momentum of Wednesday's demonstration in the form of community organizing. In particular, he said that white activists had a responsibility to educate other white Americans about systematic racism and oppression carried out against people of color.

During the rally, onlookers lined East 170th Street, and a few could also be seen watching the proceedings from the elevated “4” subway station at 170th and Jerome. Some people discovered the rally as they walked by it, and were inspired to join on the spot.

Twenty-two-year-old Nikey Fowler, a University Avenue resident, said that witnessing demonstrators holding signs about Bell caught her attention. So Fowler brought herself, and her four-year-old son, into the rally. “I just felt like they got away with murder,” Fowler said of Officers Cooper, Isnora, and Oliver. “That’s exactly what I thought.”

She added that she had been so outraged by the acquittal of the officers that she began crying when she heard the verdict.

After the demonstration, Joel Rivera said he was pleased that a diverse group of protestors— including members of community organizations such as LPAC and Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, as well as local residents—had united to speak out against the acquittal.

Speaking to the Horizon on Monday and Tuesday, Rivera confided that organizers were consciously limiting how broadly they spread the word about Wednesday’s demonstration in order to reduce the element of unpredictability involved in the action.

“I could have made this something really big with thousands of people,” Rivera said, “but my concern is when you have those type of events, that it’s hard to have control of them.”

Rivera said he hoped Wednesday’s protest could serve as a springboard to “organize and mobilize Highbridge,” not only around issues of police-community relations, but also housing, education, health care, and employment.

3 comments:

  1. Where is all this outrage when a black man kills another man because of the color of his shirt or hat? Where is all this outrage when kids of color drop out of school and have to turn to the streets to make money? Where is all this outrage when a black man shoots a cop in the head in Staten Island? Black me have killed more black men than all of the police offices combined in this country why are people not taking to the streets about that? If you do not want the police in your neighborhood clean up your own back yard. The police are there because that is where the crime is. As a community they need to get together and figure out why the cops are there in the first place and do something about that. No one cares when a Black man kills another Black man as long as the shooter is not a cop, I guess it is OK.

    ReplyDelete
  2. This is a good post because it shows how ignorant and paranoid many New York coloreds are.

    For the upteenth time, Sean Bell was not killed because he was black. Sean Bell was killed because he threatened to kill some NYPD and then got into his car and tried to do so.

    No, Wall Street experts don't get killed by police while reaching for cell phones. Most Wall Street workers are law-abiding people and thus do not come into conflict with police.

    We are not all Sean Bell. Now maybe a lot of you NYC coloreds are Sean Bells. If so then you will get justice sooner or later - just like Bell did.

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  3. While the West Bronx Blog does not have the time or resouces to respond to each of these sorts of comments individual, it is important to make the following clear:

    Racist posts such as the one above-- by fromwembley-- are entirely inappropriate, and the West Bronx News Network not condone such comments.

    ReplyDelete

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