Black and Latino activists marched from City Hall to the United States Attorney Office to the Metropolitan Correctional Center prison to protest NYPD and federal anti-gang sweeps, which they alleged have devastated communities of color.
The rally—hosted by Free the Bronx 120, Coalition to End Broken Windows and Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee—marked the one-year anniversary of a raid conducted by 700 police officers and federal authorities at the Eastchester Gardens and Edenwald Houses in the Bronx, which resulted in indictments of 120 young men, many under the anti-organized crime Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. It was said to be the largest gang takedown in the city’s history.
A group called Free the Bronx 120 formed in response, which highlighted how authorities built their case in large part through the work of the NYPD’s social media surveillance unit.
“We’re gonna make sure we let the U.S. Attorney know that we’re not going to let them continue to put RICO charges that were designed for the mafia on 18-year-old kids who haven’t a dime to their name, many of them who are working two jobs and all of a sudden now, you wanna paint them like they’re Al Capone or Lucky Luciano,” Josmar Trujillo of Coalition to End Broken Windows said in front of the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “We know that the biggest gang in New York City is who?”
“NYPD!,” the crowd yelled in response.
Such broad sweeps, advocates argue, net the innocent along with the guilty—and cause the former to cop to crimes they never committed in order to avoid spending time on Rikers Island.
Trujillo accused the police of “conspiring against people,” and pointed to ongoing corruption investigations into the NYPD—which most recently saw former officers and an ex-Brooklyn assistant district attorney arrested in connection with allegedly expediting firearm licenses for various bribes.
“If you’re selling gun permits in exchange for trips to Israel, in exchange for prostitutes, in exchange for all types of things that they feel like they’re entitled to because they’re police officers and how you’re gonna come into a NYCHA development, how you’re gonna come into a low-income community of color and you’re gonna tell them that RICO applies to them?” Trujillo wondered.
The groups said that more than 1,000 people were arrested in more than 40 “militarized raids and takedowns” local and federal law enforcement agencies have conducted under the guise of fighting gangs. Mothers from Mothers for Justice and others discussed the trauma families face from “pre-dawn military style raids,” RICO and conspiracy charges and efforts to displace them from their housing.
Cynthia Turnquest-Jones, founder of Tha Brown Urban Mother Partnerships, said her group had held information sessions in the Grant Houses and that 12 of those apprehended were her students. Ramarley Graham, an unarmed Bronx teen who was fatally shot by a police officer in 2012, was “great friends” with another of her students that fell through a window to his death during a raid.
“Instead of you putting money into the schools to make sure that you don’t see them at the age of 21, you put money into surveillances so you can watch them from the age of 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20 and then arrest them,” Turnquest-Jones said.
Along the way, protestors yelled, “No justice, no peace! Fuck these racist police!” and “NYPD, KKK! How many kids did you kill today?”
Shannon Jones of Why Accountability, which started in the aftermath of the 2014 chokehold death of Staten Islander Eric Garner at the hands of an NYPD officer, told the crowd they needed some history before getting to “the police busting your door down at 6 a.m.”
In 1865—when slavery was abolished—”the African in the United States became a surplus population” and “now had to be compensated under the law,” she said.
“Through all of the things that all of us studious and esteemed people gathered here already know, those efforts to continue to have us incarcerated were through slave patrols…sharecropping, Jim Crow, de facto and de jure discrimination, Homestead Acts and GI bills to exclude the African from amassing and gaining wealth alongside white counterparts,” Jones said.
And she said this is continuing, giving the example of men on Rikers Island washing clothes and blankets for the Department of Homeless Services.
“This is the reason why the BX 120, they are part of a surplus population of Africans who are no longer useful unless they are working for free,” Jones continued. “You are working for free if you go to work every single day but your money is going to bail to bail out your child. You’re working for free.”
The NYPD, the mayor’s office, the speaker’s office and the U.S. Attorney’s Office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.