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Somerville meeting reveals widespread racial profiling

Published Oct 14, 2005 11:38 PM

When local police assaulted five Black youth last April in this Boston suburb, they struck a rock of resistance. The five young men, all high school students, have endured, along with their families, unjust expulsion from school even before their cases are heard and have had to spend thousands of dollars for lawyers to rebut a racist frame-up by the police.

Somerville 5 youth and their parents
at Oct. 7 meeting.

But the community fightback organized by the Somerville 5 Defense Committee has resulted in the struggle against police violence becoming something more. A Community Speakout Against Racial Profiling and Police Brutality was held on Oct. 4 at the Somerville Public Library.

An overflow audience of people of color and working class whites filled the room. One by one the stories of racial profiling and police brutality and frame-up were told by youth and families.

The meeting was chaired by Bob Traynham from USWA Local 8751 Boston School Bus Drivers Union. A featured speaker was Brother Rodney X from the Nation of Islam in Boston, who spoke of the link to New Orleans. He stated, “Katrina was racial profiling of a whole people. All great movements like yours start small. The system of white supremacy comes out of poisoned minds and it can be stopped.”

The two sons of Carol and Ralph Ander s on were among the five youth falsely arrested on April 20. Their parents told the audience, “Our normal family life became a living nightmare overnight.... It [racial profiling] can happen to anyone. My sons’ story is another story for thousands, maybe even millions of young men of color in this country. We must unite and fight back and keep fighting.”

Somerville resident Jenny Rodriguez spoke out about how her husband was falsely arrested in 2000 in front of their children and charged with drug dealing. The family had to sell their house to pay for legal defense and subsequently had all charges overturned. The family is now suing the police.

A young Haitian man told how, of a group of 15 Haitian friends, he was the only one left who had not been arrested or deported in the past two years because of false police charges. A 17-year-old African American told of being expelled from nearby Watertown High School on unproven police charges and forced to search for months for a school that would take him.

According to police statistics, over 1,700 youth were expelled last year in Massa chusetts, merely on the basis of being charged with a felony. Of this number, 300 never went back to any form of school.

The mood of the room was summed up by Josephine Brown, president of Local 381 Laborers Union and one of only a handful of African-American union presidents in Massachusetts: “The prison system is a business, a pipeline from the streets to the jails. They make it easier for kids to sell drugs than to lead a normal life. We’ve got to fight back. Oppression anywhere is oppression everywhere!”

The meeting ended with organizing to picket Cambridge Superior Court and to plan future meetings.