UNITE members join Charlotte Labor Day Parade
Recently organized members of UNITE garment and textile union marched in Labor Day parade in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Thousands march against cop brutality
Working people bring their fights for justice to Washington
BY KATHIE FITZGERALD
AND MAURICE WILLIAMS
WASHINGTON--They came from Valdosta, Georgia; Bridgewater, New Jersey; Alexandria, Virginia; New York City; Albany, New York; and other cities and towns from around the country. Thousands of people, some carrying signs with hand-painted slogans, others with pictures of victims of police violence, converged on the nation's capital August 26 to demand an end to cop brutality and harassment.
The march, which drew between 10,000 and 15,000 people, was the first nationwide protest called against police brutality. Initiated by Alfred Sharpton, president of the National Action Network, and Martin Luther King III, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the "Redeem the Dream" action was also a commemoration of the historic 1963 civil rights march led by Martin Luther King Jr.
Many saw the rally as an opportunity to garner solidarity for struggles in which they have been involved in their areas. Members of local coalitions against police brutality in many cities around the country were present, such as the People's Tribunal in Valdosta, Georgia; the Michael Anglin Coalition in Jersey City, New Jersey; and Enough is Enough in Annapolis, Maryland
A number of those marching, relatives of young people killed by cops, have been fighting for justice for years. Doreen Sheldon from Albany, whose son Corey was found hanged in his prison cell in 1991, said that although no charges were filed in her son's case, she was "keeping the case alive by participating here today to say the police are not judge or jury. They won't change if we don't fight for it."
Betty Harris and Stacey Bridges, mother and cousin, respectively, of Kenny Harris, were the center of an energetic group of about 10 people carrying signs and handing out flyers who spent the entire day telling anyone who would listen the facts about their case. Harris was a young Black man killed by the police in Alexandria, Virginia, during a routine traffic stop in 1997. Harris was pepper-sprayed, then shot eight times.
"The Justice Department review [of the case] said it was justified," Betty Harris said. "Why? When it comes to the police, there is no justice unless you have a video camera." Bridges added, "People ask me if I came here to ask for justice. I didn't come here to ask for justice--I came to take it!"
Joseph Antoine, a cab driver from Irvington, New Jersey, who was born in Haiti, came with his son Max, who was paralyzed in 1996 by local cops who gave him a brutal beating. Max Antoine recently defeated a frame-up attempt by the police who had assaulted him. Last December prosecutors were forced to drop the charges of aggravated assault against him, and he is now pursuing a civil case against the cops.
"When I heard about this march on the radio, I said it's very important to come here with Max," Joseph Antoine remarked.
Speakers at the demonstration included Abner Louima, who demanded "the government use its power...to end police brutality and racial profiling." Louima was sodomized and tortured by New York cops in 1997.
Also speaking were Kadiatou and Saikou Diallo, the parents of Guinean immigrant Amadou Diallo, who was gunned down last year in a barrage of 41 bullets by police in the Bronx. His death set off a wave of protests in the city. The cops were acquitted February 25 of all charges, including second-degree murder.
"My son was gunned down by four white policemen because of the color of his skin. If there is no justice for Amadou, justice is denied for all," said Kadiatou Diallo, his mother.
Death row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal also addressed the gathering via a taped statement. Other rally speakers included Sharpton, King, NAACP president Kweisi Mfume, and Dorothy Height, head of the National Council of Negro Women. Sharpton, the keynote speaker, called for a halt in federal funds to police departments found to be guilty of "racial profiling."
'Unions should take more responsibility'
"The unions should take more responsibility for actions like this. They have the numbers to really speak for the masses of people," said Maureen Lewis, a lab technician who came on a bus organized by her union, Service Employees International Union Local 1199. Lewis has been active in protesting the murder of Paul Maxwell, killed by Hempstead, Long Island, cops in 1998. She came because she sees police brutality "as a serious problem in this country that has to be brought to everyone's attention. People don't think this happens in suburbia, but look at this case."
Yusef Hanson, 31, a mechanic at United Parcel Service, scrambled to get on a bus from New York at the last minute when his bus from Queens was canceled. "I came to be counted," he stated. Hanson said he went through his first strike three years ago at UPS and this was his first social protest rally. He said he has begun to think more broadly about the world and politics. "It's great. I feel like I'm being awakened."
Like many of the protesters, this was Moses Smith's first national demonstration. The 32-year-old apprentice butcher from Newark, New Jersey, told the Militant, "I participated in a protest against police brutality in Newark. I came here hoping there would be some serious changes. I'm skeptical about all these so-called Black leaders. I've seen people preach but not practice what they preach."
Larry Rusche, Guy St. John, and William Dixon were part of a group of about 25 members of the painters union in Virginia, Black and white, participating in the demonstration. "We're fighting discrimination real hard," said St. John. "There's a lot of discrimination on job sites against Blacks and Latinos and union members." Rusche added, "We've been out on the Verizon picket lines. We went out every day and picketed with them--every day!"
While the crowd was overwhelmingly Black, whites and Latinos also came to protest. Ernesto Candado, 42, brought a Puerto Rican flag to the rally. "I had to bring the flag. Everyone is out here supporting what they believe is right. It's important to stick with it." In addition to standing up to police brutality, Candado said he was there to support independence for Puerto Rico. Several people from the Peace for Vieques organization handed out flyers for a September 22 march on Washington to demand the U.S. Navy stop bombing the Puerto Rican island of Vieques.
Elena Tate, a member of the Young Socialists, contributed to this article.