Sometimes there’s too much to blog and far too little time. I’ve been wanting to blog about this since I heard about it last week, but Vivir Latino and illvox and Racewire and a bunch of other folks have gotten to it already so I’ll refer to them. From VivirLatino:
Last Thursday, independent, radical, revolutionary, activist Hip Hoppers Rodstarz and G1, two brothers known musically and in the movement as Rebel Diaz [along with MC/vocalist La Tere], were walking in the Bronx, NYC when they witnessed an all too common occurrence. Police officers from the 41st Precinct were in the middle of a sting against street vendors, aggressively confiscating the fruit and vegetables of a street vendor. What happened next was a mix of the sadly uncommon and the everyday threat that is faced in many of our communities. Rodstarz and G1 didn’t walk by quickly or quietly, watching their extended community being attacked. They approached the officers to ask why the vendor was being treated in that manner and asked for their badge numbers. The police, who aren’t exactly keen on the idea of being monitored by the very same community they allegedly serve, turned their aggressions on the duo. After beating them and arresting them in front of over a dozen witnesses, they were taken to the 41st Precinct.
Within hours, over 75 friends, community members and activists gathered outside the precinct (1035 Longwood Avenue at Southern Blvd.) to sing, chant, drum and march for over 4 hours, demanding that all charges be dropped and that Rodstarz and G1 be immediately released.
The following morning more than 25 people gathered at the Bronx County Criminal Court for their arraignment. The men are charged with two misdemeanors: obstruction of justice and resisting arrest, and are scheduled for court on September 3rd, 2008.
Obstruction of justice and resisting arrest should really be renamed the Activist Charges, since they seem to be what all of us are threatened with whenever we’re arrested for either protesting or observing the cops and holding them accountable for their actions. The latter seems to particularly piss the cops off. I know this from personal experience, having been pepper sprayed along with other community members and seeing two friends being violently arrested for doing just that – questioning police actions, asking for badge numbers, taking pictures of their activity. All the charges against the two people arrested were dropped. Three members of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement’s Cop Watch were arrested while videotaping an arrest in Brooklyn in 2005. All charges against them were later dropped. When the cops went on a bike-confiscating frenzy in the East Village last summer, two people who dared to observe and question them were arrested. It happens over and over again.
Why? Because, as they’ve demonstrated on countless occasions, the NYPD has zero interest in being held accountable by the communities that they purportedly serve. In fact, even the threat of accountability seems to make them angry. So in response to peaceful observation and requests for badge numbers, they respond with rage, with violence, with threats, and ultimately with arrests on trumped up charges that are almost always dropped. It’s not about arresting people who are actually doing anything wrong – after all, observing the police is not officially a crime, though I’m sure they wish it were. No, they do it to scare us, make us too scared of arrest or other retaliation to hold them accountable.
And you know what? Sometimes their fear tactics work. Getting arrested is fucking scary, and even just getting messed with or threatened by the cops is daunting. Especially when I’m alone, I get nervous to stop and watch the cops. Not even question them, not even take pictures, and certainly not even anything close to intervening – I get scared of standing nearby and looking at them. And that fear pisses me off. When I’m with someone else, it’s easier; with a group, even easier. The fear makes sense – cops and the power they wield are scary – but we can’t let it stop us from practicing our civil rights and our civic duties in holding them accountable.
Another important issue raised by this incident: illvox posted a press release from VAMOS Unidos (Vendedoras Ambulantes Movilizando y Organizando en Solidaridad — Street Vendors Mobilizing and Organizing in Solidarity) expressing solidarity and thanks to Rodstarz and G1. The release gives some background on the NYPD’s frequently awful treatment of street vendors, often low-income folks, people of color, and immigrants – all vulnerable populations:
Street vendors experience state repression day to day as they deal with arrests, crippling fines, confiscations, beatings, and abusive treatment by the NYPD. Members of VAMOS Unidos are often incarcerated for 1-3 days, severely beaten, victims of theft by the NYPD, and endure humiliating treatment. Marcela, a flower vendor in the Bronx for seven years, was violently forced to the ground as the police yelled xenophobic comments. She was handcuffed and placed against her cart as police gave her merchandise away. She was then taken to jail where she was kept all day.
It’s important to remember that even while it might be scary for some of us to observe the police and hold them accountable, there are often people who are even more vulnerable than us; even if it’s scary, we have to do what we can to stand in solidarity with them. Big ups to Rodstarz and G1 for doing that.