There were just five seconds between when police officer Mark Dial got out of his police car and when he shot and murdered Eddie Irizarry Jr. on the summer afternoon of Aug. 14, in the East Kensington section of Philadelphia. Another state-sanctioned murder leaving a family reeling with anger and confusion and the Philadelphia community searching for answers.
These are not irregular circumstances. This is the role of the police – to protect property and the elite while suppressing working class and revolutionary movements and the senseless killing of colonized people throughout the world.
Eddie Irizarry Jr. was a 27-year-old Puerto Rican man who came to the United States seven years ago. His family, who affectionately called him Junito, describes him as a young man who enjoyed reggaeton, fixing cars and dirt bikes. He spoke and understood little English and struggled with mental health issues, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, according to his father and sister. His family noted that he was a good person, protective of his sister and helpful to his family. (Inquirer.com, Aug. 24)
According to police reports, Dial and a second police officer pulled Irizarry Jr. over for “driving erratically” and against traffic. In their initial report to the press, the officers claimed Irizarry parked his car and got out, lunging at Dial with a 3-inch pocket knife, only to later recant the story when witnesses and bodycam recordings showed that Irizarry never got out of his car. The bodycam shows he was sitting in his car with the windows rolled up when Dial approached the front of the car and rapidly fired six shots through the windshield and side window, killing Irizarry. (Inquirer.com, Aug. 17)
In the recording, police are heard searching the car for the knife. Dial has been suspended for 30 days, pending firing, for failure to cooperate with the investigation and failure to follow orders, not for Irizarry’s murder. But as can be expected, he has the full support of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP).
Family, community rally for ‘Justice for Junito’
The Irizarry family and multiple community groups rallied at Taller Puertorriqueño on North Fifth Street, on Aug. 31, with around 90 people calling for “Justice for Junito.” They demanded transparency in the handling of the case; the immediate release of all bodycam footage of all the officers involved in Irizarry’s murder; and an independent investigation to hold accountable all of the officers involved.
Speakers called for police to face the full extent of the law for their murder and for an end to the police violence wielded mostly against Black and Brown people, the most vulnerable members of our community.
Robert Saleem Holbrook, executive director of the Abolitionist Law Center, criticized the FOP for failing to respond to years-long calls for police accountability and justice: “The reason why we can’t get accountability is because the FOP prevents that. The FOP sues politicians that attempt to bring police accountability.” (Kensington Voice, Sept. 2)
The march through the Latiné community that followed grew to around 200 participants, many carrying white flowers and Puerto Rican flags. They stopped on East Willard Street where Irizarry Jr. was killed. A prayer was led by the pastor who presided over his funeral, and rally members paid respects to the family. Participants laid white roses at a temporary memorial set up at the site.
Chanting “No justice, no peace” and “El pueblo unido jamás será vencido” (the people united will never be defeated), demonstrators marched to the 24th District police headquarters, where they held a concluding rally, chanting, raising fists and calling out their demands before a group of lined-up police officers. Only bike lane posts separated them.
Irizarry’s family members took the mic to speak directly to the police officers. “For you to have the respect of the community, as police officers, you have to earn it,” said Eddie Irizarry Sr. in Spanish. Another speaker, Alfredo Santiesteban, gave a moving, emotional account of witnessing the murder.
The community demands answers for the murder of Eddie “Junito” Irizarry Jr. The state’s violence against the most oppressed and marginalized is a common occurrence in this country. The violence the U.S., its military and police wield on the working class and colonized people of the world is part of the fiber of this capitalist country. The militarization abroad is the same used against us here, and the people are demanding change.
Betsey Piette contributed to this article.