‘Stop police terror in poor communities’
Baltimore People’s Assembly demands justice
Published Jul 4, 2012 10:46 PM
One by one, or in pairs for support, victims of brutality and terror at the hands of Baltimore police came forward to tell their stories. The setting was the People’s Assembly hearings on police abuse, racism and misconduct held on June 30 at the historic Sharp Memorial United Methodist Church at Dolphin and Ettings streets.
Greta Willis tells People’s Assembly how
police killed her 14-year-old son.
WW photos: Heather Cottin
Organized by the Justice4Trayvon coalition, the assembly provided space for people to speak out against the attacks on their families and communities and also to gain strength from a shared consensus that the time was now to say “No more!” More people showed up to speak than time allowed, so their statements were videoed after the event.
The mood was set by the co-chair, the Rev. C. D. Witherspoon, head of the Baltimore Southern Christian Leadership Conference, who told the gathering of more than 150 people: “When we come together, we can make a difference. Today we are here to lift each other up. We didn’t just come to let off steam. We are here today to lay out a plan to bring about justice.”
Crowd welcomes call
for community control
Witherspoon noted that if we remain silent about these injustices, our children and generations to come will only inherit the problem.
Demand community control over police
Sharon Black of the All People’s Congress introduced 26 members of a People’s Advisory Council for community control over the police. The advisory council included a cross section of people from almost every community in Baltimore, including the homeless, Occupy Baltimore, unions and community activists.
Black noted that Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlins-Blake was holding a meeting at the same time that day with corporate CEOs to discuss the appointment of the next police commissioner — without any representation from oppressed communities. Several speakers called on the mayor to resign.
When Black asked people in the audience to stand up if they had ever experienced police brutality or abuse, or had a family member targeted by police, more than two-thirds of the audience responded. She called for a united march at the end of July of everyone impacted by police brutality and related issues, such as lack of jobs, closing of recreation centers and fire stations, and billions of dollars spent on war instead of community needs.
Workers beaten, arrested for demanding jobs
Ritchie Armstrong of Community Churches United described police attacks on unemployed construction workers who were demonstrating to demand inclusion of Baltimore residents in construction projects springing up around the city. Armstrong noted, “There is a lot of work, but only 2.5 percent of the construction sites employ Baltimore residents.”
Thomas Threatt, a construction worker who came to the podium with Armstrong, was beaten, maced and pepper-sprayed by police who attacked the peaceful rally of workers demanding jobs. Armstrong, Threatt and other workers were arrested and then charged with resisting arrest. Armstrong pointed to a banner in the hall with the slogan “We Need Jobs and Justice NOW!” noting that if we don’t act now, our grandchildren will be sitting in rooms like this still trying to deal with the system.
Mark and Greta Willis described the police murder of their son, Kevin, in August 2006 when he was 14 years old. Greta Willis had called police to break up a domestic violence incident, but an officer overreacted and killed her son. Unable to get justice through criminal courts, the family filed a civil suit against the officer. The city offered the family $10,000 to settle out of court, but they pursued the case, refusing to let the police sweep it under the rug.
Greta Willis noted that the city spent more than $250,000 for attorneys to try the case when “all we wanted was an apology.”
Youth harassed under stop-and-frisk
Other speakers addressed the city’s flagrant stop-and-frisk policies that specifically target youth of color — increasingly including young women. Dr. Marvin L. Cheatham Sr. of the National Action Network noted that more than 100,000 people were arrested illegally under this program. “Even when charges are dropped, [youth] walk away with criminal records, unable to get jobs. We need to wake up and get angry,” he concluded.
Several residents of the Poplar Grove neighborhood described almost daily harassment by police and numerous stop-and-frisk incidents targeting Black youth. In one instance a disabled man, David Yimm, was shot by officer Fred Murray, who, observers said, fired recklessly four times out of the passenger window of his cop car.
The threatened closing of four neighborhood recreation centers was addressed by teenager Catrell Goodman, who noted that his center “is all the kids have. If they take it away, we’ll be in the streets.”
Brian Easley noted that police agencies are required to report all cases of stop-and-frisk, yet they claimed 11 incidents in all of last year. “With six-to-one odds that you’ll be pulled over if you are African American, we know this is a lie,” said Easley. He added that Baltimore has paid more than $1.5 million to settle lawsuits involving misconduct of police officers engaged in stop-and-frisk.
Occupy Baltimore transgender activist Donna Plamondon described the widespread police stalking and harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer youth, noting that “If you file charges against someone who assaults you, you’re the one who ends up being charged with assault.” Plamondon ended her statement by reading the passage in which the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.”
A highlight of the hearing was an address by immigrant rights activist Victor Toro, who has sought asylum in the U.S. since 1984 after fleeing Chile, where he had been tortured. Toro, who has been active with the May 1st Coalition for Worker and Immigrant Rights, linked the struggles of the oppressed communities, unions, immigrants and the Occupy Wall Street movement, all of whom are being attacked in the streets and demonized by the capitalist corporate press, day and night.
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