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New York

Gay-bashing must end, marchers say

By Leslie Feinberg

New York

Angry and loud, gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans people and their supporters took to the streets here on March 15 to demand an end to right-wing violence and police brutality. Organizers estimated that 1,000 to 1,500 people took part in the demonstration.

The administration of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has tried to prevent any progressive protests in this city by denying police permits to march, picket or rally. Organizers of the Sept. 5 Million Youth March and the Oct. 22 rally against police brutality, for example, had to fight in court until the 11th hour to wrest permits from the city.

When lesbian, gay, bi and trans organizers tried to hold a political funeral Oct. 19 for Matthew Shepard without a permit, the New York Police Department unleashed a riot against them. Cops beat marchers and passersby, and commandeered city buses to facilitate their mass arrests.

Despite these efforts to intimidate the movement, organizers of the March 15 protest called for a political funeral for Billy Jack Gaither, the gay man who was murdered Klan-style on Feb. 19 in Sylacauga, Ala.

They announced they would not apply for a permit.

Ongoing protests against the Feb. 4 NYPD execution of African immigrant Amadou Diallo have put the Police Department and the Giuliani administration on the defensive. The national and international spotlight on the role of the New York cops made it risky for Giuliani to order the police to crack heads on March 15. On the other hand, a march without a permit would set a significant precedent.

So, caught in this catch-22 bind, the NYPD reportedly offered organizers a permit for the route of march they had been publicizing--right through the heart of midtown Manhattan during the evening rush hour.

`Whose streets? Our streets!'

When marchers first began assembling at Columbus Circle, police outnumbered them 10 to one.

Phalanxes of cops stood ready on every corner. Twenty-eight police wagons were parked across the street. Many more lined the route of march.

As the gathering for the march grew larger, cops blocked off a lane of traffic on Broadway.

Protesters poured into the street behind a lead banner that read: "Fight back against queer-bashers in blue."

"Stop the hate, stop the killing, fight back now!" they chanted. Although rows of cops separated marchers from thousands of working people on their way home, the din of outrage reached passersby.

The demonstration bristled with printed and hand-made signs that condemned racist as well as anti-gay and anti-trans violence. Placards bore photos of victims of bashing and police attacks.

"Homophobia's got to go! Racism has got to go! Police brutality has got to go!" protesters roared.

As they arrived at Bryant Park for the sched uled rally, the police made a key arrest.

Jay W. Walker--an African American activist and an organizer of the event--called for demonstrators to lie down in the streets. "Let your voices be heard," he said.

Cops immediately arrested Walker on a felony charge of "inciting to riot." He was whisked into a police wagon.

Demonstrators found the wagon he was in and surrounded it. "Racist, sexist, anti-gay, NYPD give us Jay!" they chanted.

Encircled by an intransigent crowd and media floodlights, the cops reduced the charge on the spot to "disorderly conduct." Moments later, to the cheers of those who had demanded his freedom, Walker was released.

"I'll tell you, at first I was afraid," Walker told Workers World. "Until I heard the sounds of my people outside screaming for my release. Then I felt warm and loved and I knew I was going to be free."

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