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Monica Shay, ¡Presente!

Published Jul 18, 2011 8:58 PM

Monica Shay and Paul Shay.

Monica Shay was a revolutionary who spent four decades fighting for poor people. She was known as “Kathryn” to her neighbors and other activists, including members of the October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation.

Monica Shay died on July 7 after being shot five days earlier, along with four other family members in Montgomery County, Pa. Her comrade and partner, Paul Shay, was severely wounded. His nephew, Joseph Shay, was killed. Two-year-old Gregory Erdman was killed, and his mother, Kathryn Erdman, was wounded. They were all shot in the head by a gunman who was later killed in an alleged shootout with police.

Steve Yip, Juanita Young, Nicholas Heyward Sr.,
and Margarita Rosario outside the Shay home
on July 5.
Photo: Jed Brandt

Many people were horrified by this bloodshed. Activists gathered at two vigils on New York City’s Lower East Side to remember Monica Shay and the other massacre victims.

On July 5 people came to the Shays’ home on East 10th Street. Among those who took part was Juanita Young, whose son, Malcolm Ferguson, was killed by a police officer on March 1, 2000. Five days before his death, Ferguson had been arrested for protesting the shocking acquittal of four cops who had shot immigrant worker Amadou Diallo 41 times.

Nicholas Heyward Sr. came to the vigil. A cop killed his 13-year-old son, Nicholas Heyward Jr., on Sept. 27, 1994, as he played with friends in a stairwell in Brooklyn’s Gowanus Houses.

Allene Person was there. Police killed her 19-year-old son, Timur Person, on Dec. 13, 2006. This was less than three weeks after cops fired 50 shots at Sean Bell, killing him.

Margarita Rosario attended. Two New York City detectives, who had been volunteer bodyguards for Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in the 1993 mayoral campaign, killed her son, Anthony, and his cousin, Hilton Vega, on Jan. 12, 1995. Both young Latinos were shot in the back 22 times while they were on the floor.

Mourning loss of dedicated activist

These parents knew Monica Shay as someone who was always there for them, whether it was on a picket line or in a courtroom. The parents and grandmother of 11-year-old Briana Ojeda — who died from asthma on Aug. 27, 2010, after a cop stopped her mother from rushing her to an emergency room — never met Monica. But they too were choked up.

Monica was an organizer and writer. She directed the Arts and Cultural Management Program at Pratt Institute.

On July 9 friends gathered at Tompkins Square Park. Activists recounted how both Monica Shay and Paul Shay stood with homeless people as they fought against being driven out of the neighborhood. They told of how Paul Shay, a skilled plumber, helped squatters while giving jobs and skills to the unemployed. Pratt students described how Monica Shay encouraged them. Everyone marched around the park in their honor.

Steve Yip, October 22nd Coalition activist and supporter of the Revolutionary Communist Party, spoke about his comrade:

“Raised in a progressive Quaker family in Pennsylvania, Monica traversed the tumultuous 1960s participating in anti-war marches and supporting liberation struggles. She visited then-revolutionary China in 1971 while still a college sophomore. She witnessed the achievements of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, which was a watershed for her. She joined with peasants in the fields, trained in acupuncture, and witnessed the political struggles there over the correct road to build a socialist society.

“Monica was someone who had a big heart and big love for the people. She dedicated her life to serving, and struggling with, the people to build resistance against injustice and oppression. We have lost a precious comrade. In this case, under tragic and senseless circumstances. And her loss is indeed weighty and heavy. But the goals to which she dedicated her life remain more urgent than ever. A void has been created, and the challenge is out there for many to take up and to fill this void.”

Monica Shay, ¡Presente!