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Harlem mourns Alberta Spruill

Community outraged by police killing of union worker

By Stephen Millies
Harlem, N.Y.

"Why did they have to kill her?" That's the question people in Harlem are asking about the death of Alberta Spruill. The 57-year-old African American died of heart failure on May 16--after police raided her apartment and set off a concussion grenade.

Spruill was looking forward to retirement after spending 29 years working for New York City. A member of AFSCME Local 1547, she was known for handing out bags of candy to neighborhood children.

None of this meant anything to the half-dozen Emergency Services Unit cops who broke down her door without warning shortly after dawn. A judge had issued them a "no-knock" warrant on the word of an alleged informant.

According to Newsday columnist Leon ard Levitt, it's customary for cops in these raids to throw residents to the ground, handcuff them and point guns at their head. That's enough stress to kill anyone, especially someone with a history of heart trouble like Spruill.

It was ESU cop Stephen Sullivan who fired his shotgun twice at Eleanor Bumpurs on Oct. 29, 1984, killing her. The elderly woman's "crime" was owing the New York City Housing Authority $417.10 in back rent.

Crocodile tears from billionaire mayor

Three thousand people came to Alberta Spruill's May 24 funeral at her church, Convent Avenue Baptist. Presidential candidate the Rev. Al Sharpton gave a eulogy.

Also making an appearance was the 63rd wealthiest person on earth, according to Forbes magazine, and 29th richest in the United States: New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly tagged along.

The only reason these two showed up was their fear that Harlem might explode.

The man from City Hall told the mourners, "We all failed humanity." Humanity has nothing to do with it. It's the police protecting billionaires who bankroll these bloody crimes.

Naming the M1 bus line after Alberta Spruill, as Bloomberg suggested, is not enough. Bloomberg's $4.8 billion would be enough to give $16,000 to each of Harlem's 300,000 inhabitants.

Marching through Harlem

On May 25, the day after the funeral, 200 people gathered behind Spruill's apartment house to protest her death. Sara Bailey, president of the tenants' assoc iation at 310 West 143rd Street, welcomed people to where Alberta Spruill lived.

It was a community rally, with a cook-out following a march. Nellie Bailey, leader of the Harlem Tenants Council, chaired the event.

People spoke about losing loved ones to police violence.

Juanita Young told the crowd how cops killed her son Malcolm Ferguson on March 1, 2000. Police had shot Amadou Diallo 41 times in the same Bronx neighborhood the year before.

Ferguson had protested the acquittal of the cops who shot Diallo.

A family friend of Georgy Louisgene talked of how the 23-year old Haitian was gunned down in Brooklyn on Jan. 16, 2002. Cops claim that he was "acting irrational."

Actually, Louisgene had asked residents to call police to "rescue" him after he was beaten. He got killed instead.

Viola Plummer and Omawale Clay spoke on behalf of the Dec. 12th Move ment. Plummer, who was National Chair person of the Millions for Repar ations rally in Washington, fired up the crowd.

Police didn't dare interfere when people took to the streets, not the sidewalks. They went down Malcolm X Boulevard and passed the Schomburg Library, the world's largest collection of Black history. Just as the U.S. military brass conspired to loot Iraq's museums and libraries, New York City officials plotted to destroy the Schomburg in the mid-1970s.

The closing rally was held in front of the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building located at 125th Street--the most famous in Black America.

Forty years before, on the same corner Malcolm X spoke to crowds. Across the intersection stood the Hotel Theresa, where Malcolm X first met Fidel Castro in 1960.

At this historic site Brenda Stokely--like Alberta Spruill a member of AFSCME--spoke. We have to do more than march, said Stokely, president of AFSCME District Council 1707. Daniel Vila told of plans to hold a community congress against police brutality in the summer.

"While grenades are thrown in occupied Baghdad by the U.S. military, grenades are thrown in occupied Harlem and other communities of color by cops," Johnnie Stevens of the People's Video Network told Workers World. "Mobilizing within the belly of the beast to stop the war against Black America is also the greatest solidarity we can give our sisters and brothers in Iraq."

Reprinted from the June 5, 2003, issue of Workers World newspaper

This article is copyright under a Creative Commons License.
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