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Victory as Tito Kayak walks free

Published Oct 23, 2005 10:11 AM

The hearing room at Manhattan Criminal Court was packed on Oct. 11 with supporters of Alberto DeJesus, commonly known as Tito Kayak.

On June 13 Kayak had attempted to climb up a flagpole at the United Nations and raise the Puerto Rican flag. That day the UN Committee on Decolonization was meeting and would hear testimony on the colonial status of the Puerto Rican nation and the continued contamination of the small island of Vieques caused by the U.S. Navy.

The U.S. wanted to criminalize Kayak’s action. The district attorney hoped to give him 90 days in prison. But this hearing came soon after the cowardly assassination of independence fighter Filiberto Ojeda Ríos in Puerto Rico by an FBI hit squad. The Puerto Rican community was angry and activated, and came out in large numbers to the Manhattan court.

Kayak’s hearing had been scheduled for 9 a.m. The state changed rooms, times and judges, trying to break up the support. The hearing was postponed until 11 a.m., at which time it was moved from the second floor to a small hearing room on the 16th floor. More police were called in to intimidate the crowd of supporters, which had grown to over 50.

Almost four years earlier, Tito Kayak had served prison time in New York and then in Puerto Rico for having hung the Puerto Rican and Vieques flags from the Statue of Liberty in November 2001.

However, the large presence in the courtroom this time, and the recent massive protests over the murder of Ojeda Ríos by the FBI, made the state back off. They lowered the charge to a class B misdemeanor on trespassing and sentenced Kayak to either 60 days in jail or a $500 fine, to be paid by Dec. 14.

By that night, his supporters in New York had raised $400 of the $500 needed to pay the fine.

Kayak’s attorney, Martin Stolar, a civil rights lawyer and supporter, said this was a victory for the people. He had argued that Kayak had the right on First Amend ment grounds to express his sentiments, and that what he had done was not criminal.

In Kayak’s closing comments to the judge, he had raised his left fist in the air and said, “¡Filiberto vive!” He continued, “You can put me in jail but there are many Puerto Rican women and men who will follow in fighting for a just cause. Do you know what the saying on my shirt, ‘Bieké o Muerte,’ means? Well, they do,” looking at the supporters behind him in the room, “and they will fight from their hearts as I do for our liberation from colonial occupation.”

After the first postponement, the people and Kayak had gone outside and raised the Vieques and Machetero flags in front of the court building.