16 June 2014 — Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
“I woke up, opened my bedroom door and there was a gun in my face. Nobody knocked on my door. My son was not in the apartment. They told me, ‘Shut the fuck up’ and put my hands up, put handcuffs on me, smashed my face into a wall. They never told me what they were there for… They wouldn’t let my seven-year-old grandson come out of the room, who was in there screaming. They told me they will ‘get to him later.’ They tore my house up….”
—A woman resident of a Harlem housing project
5:30 am: more than 400 heavily armed men break down doors, put guns to the heads of grandmothers and toddlers, pull a teenage girl out of bed and handcuff her face-down on the floor at gun point, in her underwear. Women try to hide their sons. Dozens of young males, age 15 to 30, are dragged out of their homes in chains while the commandos destroy the belongings of their families, laughing and talking about what they are going to have for lunch.
The scene reminds you of different places and times in the history of this country and in places where the U.S. has marauded around the world: slave-catchers hunting down escaped slaves… KKK lynch mobs snatching, hanging, and mutilating Black youth and men… U.S. troops busting into homes and rousting families in Afghanistan or Iraq…
But this time the place was Harlem, New York City, and the date was June 4, 2014. Over 400 NYPD swarmed the Grant Houses and Manhattanville Houses and the Manhattan Ave. buildings in a pre-dawn raid complete with helicopters buzzing the area. Several other, smaller projects were raided at the same time.
Speaking at the June 13 People’s Press Conference and Speak-out called by the NYC Revolution Club and the Stop Mass Incarceration Network, one woman said her son—who has sickle cell disease and had just been released from the hospital—was kicked in the scrotum and cuffed. He was hospitalized again, this time chained to the bed. Police Commissioner William Bratton popped into her apartment, said “good morning” with cold-blooded cheer, and then strolled through the buildings to survey other ransacked apartments.
Behind the June 4 raid are two indictments announced by the Manhattan District Attorney, charging 103 individuals with 145 counts, including conspiracy, attempted murder, assault, and criminal weapons possession. The charges are reportedly based on four years of monitoring of over one million Facebook posts, hundreds of hours of surveillance video, and over 40,000 recorded phone calls from Rikers Island.* This massive surveillance operation produced what officials are touting as “the largest indicted gang case in NYC history”—based not on any physical or even (notoriously unreliable and easily manipulated) eyewitness evidence, but solely on boasts and threats in Facebook posts and phone calls. Imagine any other population being demonized, criminalized, and rounded up based upon Facebook posts and tapped phone calls!
As Revolution said last week: “Everything they say—and do—is in the service of keeping this monstrous system going, and they need to win as many people as they can to not only go along with this and accept it, but to assist them as well. Some people who are genuinely and deeply concerned about the very bad things some of the youth are into are torn, thinking that even though they don’t trust the police, that maybe such raids and arrests will do some good. BULLSHIT! Come on people. We need to confront the reality of the situation we’re in…. For the NYPD and police departments across the country, lying is as natural as breathing—from their ‘testifying’ on the witness stand, to cooked-up evidence and coerced false confessions, to framing people on false charges. Lying is essential to carrying out their duties as protectors and defenders of this unjust, rotten system.” (See “NYPD Terrorizes Harlem Neighborhood—Seizes Dozens of Youth.”)
Speaking about the Harlem raid at a June 11 press conference, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said that he is for “gang intervention” programs to “turn around some of our younger individuals who’ve had some trouble and help them veer away from that path.” But then he came to what he called “the bottom line”: “Commissioner Bratton and I have talked frequently. I understood that this was coming, and I absolutely approved and supported it, because for those two developments, they are a lot safer today because of this action. And you’re going to see a lot more of these kinds of actions wherever we are in a position to put together the evidence to do that kind of full sweep.” (Emphasis added)
De Blasio was elected six months ago amid a wave of anger among a very wide section of people, of all nationalities, about New York City’s extremes of wealth and poverty, vicious inequality in the school system, and NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy that massively targeted Black and Latino young men who were committing no wrongdoing at all, at a rate approaching 700,000 stops a year (almost 2,000 every day). Stop-and-frisk was widely exposed and opposed by civil rights lawsuits and by a campaign of powerful resistance, including civil disobedience, initiated by Carl Dix and Cornel West. The blatant injustice, illegality, and immorality of stop-and-frisk—and beyond that, the whole situation with the mass incarceration of Black and Latino youth—was threatening to shred the legitimacy of the police, courts, and the system’s whole apparatus that enforces grotesque inequalities through the facade of “war on crime.” All this has posed a lot of necessity on those in power to make some changes in the way they carry out their repression.
Very significantly, de Blasio’s first appointment in office was William Bratton as police commissioner. Bratton was one of the architects of stop-and-frisk when he was NYC’s police commissioner in the mid-1990s. Later he was police chief in Los Angeles. As Revolution has pointed out: “[Bratton] inherited a system of gang injunctions [which made it a crime for two or more youth to gather in an outside area] that was started under LAPD Chief Daryl Gates in the latter part of the 1980s. Bratton used these gang injunctions as a way to institute his ‘zero tolerance’ policing in Los Angeles. The gang injunctions became a more palatable way to round up Black and Latino youth and incarcerate them because it was presented as dealing with gangs that were seen as the main problem on the streets of Los Angeles, not only by those who rule the city but also by broad sections of people.”
Under Bratton’s program, “in the name of ‘community based policing and protecting the community from the gangs,’ whole communities were targeted by the police in the name of stopping the gangs—with thousands, especially Black and Latino youth, stopped. It was all combined with meetings with church and community leaders to enlist their support and the insistence that the pigs get out of their cars and make a show of treating people with respect.” (Revolution, December 16, 2013)
Bratton was brought in as the new head of the NYPD because of this history and “expertise.” And the June 4 raid in Harlem was a big “coming-out” bash for the de Blasio-Bratton policing strategy. But what they are doing—and what the police do generally—is not in any fundamental way about stopping crime. Now, in the form of “anti-gang” actions, the system is working to enlist those who are genuinely concerned about the future of the youth and the shit that so many are drawn into—to enlist them into supporting what is actually an escalation and intensification of the criminalization and persecution of our youth.
A woman whose son was one of those swept up in the raid spoke to this reality when she said at the June 13 press conference/speak-out, “They want to stop this whole generation. They’re going to arrest them, or they’re going to kill them. And then the next generation, there’s not gonna be one, because it’s going to be eliminated.”
At the same press conference/speak-out, Carl Dix from the Revolutionary Communist Party addressed the question that many people raise—but aren’t these youth into some really bad shit? “Now, we do got to talk about this question of crime. Because some of our young people do get caught up in it. But why does that happen? It happens because they system ain’t got nothing out there for them. Where are the jobs? They’ve disappeared from our communities. Educational system is being geared to fail our youth. Then the cops come and treat them like criminals if they get caught up in something, or even if they’re near something that they didn’t even get involved in.
“So to the young people: don’t go out the way they want you to. Do not fight each other. Do not get caught up in killing each other. That’s what the system wants us to do. We’ve got to get out of that, and get into something that’s about something. And I’ll tell you this: to deal with problems like this—because this is built into the fabric of this system… there’s a slow genocide, like the sister talked about, a whole generation of Black and Latino youth that this system has in its crosshairs… they’re slowly taking them out, warehousing them in prisons, brutalizing them and gunning them down—it’s going to take revolution, nothing less, to deal with it once and for all. And people need to get with the movement for revolution that we’re working on building.
“To the young people: get out of fighting and killing each other and get with the emancipators of humanity, get with the movement that’s out here taking on police brutality, that’s taking on the way these police swagger around and treat people like they’re not human beings, that’s taking on stop-and-frisk, that’s taking on everything that this system does wrong and is working to get rid of this system once and for all.”
* With 20,000 inmates, Rikers is said to be the largest penal colony in the world; it is the largest youth detention center in the world.