Philadelphia — March, a month dedicated to working women worldwide, began in this city with a demonstration at City Hall in solidarity with Aida Guzmán. It was also to protest the outrageous decision by a municipal judge to exonerate the police officer who attacked her.
Last September, the small, thin, 40-year-old Guzmán was attending a celebration at the end of the Puerto Rican Day Parade in north Philadelphia, home of the city’s Puerto Rican community, when, without any provocation, burly Highway Patrol Lt. Jonathan Josey hit her on the back and punched her in the face. She was knocked, bleeding, to the ground.
The attack was recorded on a cellphone and the video went viral. In spite of the outrage and clear evidence, which prompted several demonstrations organized by mostly Puerto Rican women, it took more than two weeks for the city to charge Josey with simple assault and dismiss him from his job. The Fraternal Order of Police as usual condoned the crime and even held a fundraiser for him.
In an attempt to erase the crime from the public’s mind, what had originally been broad media coverage gave way to complete silence. Activists who had organized demonstrations in the fall were kept unaware of trial dates.
After verdict, revelation about judge
Finally, on Feb. 12, the case was heard in Municipal Court. What happened illustrates the impunity that exists all over the U.S. when it comes to police brutality cases.
The trial against Josey was riddled with impropriety from day one. It lasted only three hours. There was no jury. The court was packed with over 100 police supporting Josey. Judge Patrick Dugan refused to admit the video as evidence, calling it “infamous.” Then, saying he “needed more time to digest this,” Dugan said he would announce his verdict from the bench on Feb. 26. (Daily News, Feb. 28)
Dugan’s verdict was “not guilty.” The courtroom again was packed beyond limit with police, who cheered the judge’s ruling, something not tolerated in any other courtroom. But this was a “family” reunion. It was revealed later that day that unbeknownst to Guzmán’s lawyer, Enrique Latoison, the judge is married to a police officer and is supported and endorsed by the FOP.
Judge Dugan’s spouse, Philadelphia Police Officer Nancy Farrell Dugan, attended both court sessions. Latoison told demonstrators on March 1, “When it was brought to my attention that his wife was a police officer, it was very surprising. I consider it to be a conflict of interest.”
Several law experts have commented about this. Lynn A. Marks, the executive director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, said, “At the least [Dugan] should have disclosed to the attorneys that his wife is a police officer, so they could decide if they wanted to bring a motion to recuse.” (phillynews.com, Feb. 28)
That would have been surprising in Philadelphia, a city infamous for police corruption and violence, particularly against Black and Latino/a people, and police influence through the FOP. This is the city that massacred the MOVE family in 1985 and has targeted Puerto Ricans and other people of color. This is a city where the police department receives between 700 and 800 complaints annually. (OpenDataPhilly.org)
Solidarity with Aida Guzmán
All these points were eloquently made by the speakers on March 1. Several dozen protesters, outraged at Dugan’s verdict, chanted slogans including “Dugan must go” and “We want justice.” At one point they stopped traffic on the busy street surrounding City Hall.
Solidarity with Guzmán was very strong, not only from Latinos/as, but from the African-American community as well. This was an important aspect, since the cop who attacked Guzmán is Black. Leaders from the African-American community, including Pam Africa from MOVE and the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, progressive attorney Michael Coard, Temple University Professor Anthony Monteiro and others, made clear the necessity to join together in a Black-Brown alliance against police brutality. The thoroughly multinational crowd also included progressive white women and men.
Aida Guzmán attended the protest with her lawyer. Speaking in Spanish and visibly moved, she addressed the crowd, thanking them for their solidarity. Her lawyer stated that since Josey cannot be retried in municipal court, they will take the case to federal court, adding that in order to get the court to take the case, the people’s participation is crucial.