By Leo Schwartz
Socialist Action reporter Leo Schwartz interviewed New York Haitian activist Daniel Simidor on April 24.
Socialist Action: The New York Haitian community was enraged by the racist 1998 attack on Abner Louima by four white New York City cops, in which Louima was beaten and sodomized with a plunger handle. Then Guinea immigrant Amadou Diallo was killed when cops fired an incredible 41 bullets at this unarmed man.
Since then, the police murder of Malcolm Ferguson, an African American, took place. Now, another Haitian immigrant, Patrick Dorismond, has been shot dead on March 16 at his worksite. How do you view this latest attack?
Daniel Simidor: One has to look at Mayor Giuliani’s “contract” with the New York Police Department. It gave cops the license to kill with impunity. In fact, Giuliani’s political career in New York City began when he addressed a police riot on the steps of City Hall.
Since then, cops can do what ever they want as long as the victims are from communities of color. When we look at what happened especially with Abner Louima, and the impunity that was granted the cops in the Amadou Diallo killing, it’s pretty clear. That explains the escalation since the Diallo verdict. It’s a sense that the system is backing them up as long as the victims are members of oppressed communities.
SA: How did Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and the police department respond to Dorismond’s death?
DS: Giuliani said it was another justified killing. Giuliani projected Dorismond as a criminal. He unsealed Dorismond’s police record and all he found was just a simple matter of a 13-year-old kid fighting and having some childish, unruly behavior. The mayor lied to make Dorismond appear like a criminal. Other charges Giuliani brought from police records are things that Dorismond was never convicted of.
Dorismond was totally innocent. He had no weapons on him. He was not a suspect in any crime. On the contrary, the police were trying to entice him to do something wrong-that is, sell narcotics-which he refused to do. But, in spite of that, he was killed. The mayor never apologized to Dorismond’s family for his death and or for criminalizing him after his death. Again, it’s a matter of impunity.
As for Police Commissioner Howard Safir, he made the police record available to Giuliani. That is why we say that Safir should be fired, but it goes higher than that. We demand that Giuliani resign.
SA: Can you tell us about the circumstances surrounding the 27 arrests at Dorismond’s funeral on March 25?
DS: The people who organized Dorismond’s funeral are basically the Haitian right-wing forces. This is the group that also organized the last march for Louima, after which they said it would be the last one. That meant that they killed the mobilization against police brutality that mushroomed in the Haitian community around the Louima case.
The Dorismond funeral march came down Flatbush Avenue, after going several miles to Church Avenue, where the funeral was. There were no incidents, but when people turned the corner to go in front of the Holy Cross church, suddenly there were barricades every few feet. People felt like they were going to be penned like cattle. So they began removing the barricades to make room for the large crowd.
At that point, the community-affairs police pulled back and the anti-riot police moved in. The anti-riot police began to push the crowd, squeezing them in further. People began to feel they had no room to pull back, that the police should move back.
All the while, the leadership inside the church never came out to tell the crowd what was going on. Meanwhile, they took the body through the side door and whisked it away. When people realized what was going on, they tried to follow the procession because the burial site was just a few blocks away.
Then the police really began to attack the crowd. Basically, the people defended themselves against a brutal attack. We feel that it was an attack that was provoked because there was no reason for it at all and there was no warning! They attacked the crowd with pepper gas and tear gas at close range. They basically just began cracking heads.
The cops also attacked WBAI (Pacifica) journalist Errol Maitland. Maitland was beaten to the ground by police and was later hospitalized. Maitland recorded the attack as it was happening, in which a direct order of “Fuck him up! Fuck him up!” was heard from one of the commanding officers.
Clearly, Giuliani had decided that this would not end up as a peaceful rally. He wanted to criminalize the community and use that as a pretext not to issue any further permits for demonstrations.
SA: U.S. propaganda proclaims itself the upholder of democracy and human rights. However, the CIA was deeply involved in Haiti organizing the bloody military coup that overthrew the democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Afterward, Haitian refugees were systematically denied political asylum to the United States, based mainly on racism.
Yet, in September 1994 a U.S.-led occupation force calling itself “Operation Democracy” invaded Haiti. How do you see this so-called U.S. “democracy” now?
DS: The irony of all this is that the new police force in Haiti was trained by former NYPD Police Chief Raymond Kelly. This has not been lost on Haitians.
In terms of U.S. “democracy,” it’s a reality that the oppressed communities do not enjoy the fruits of democracy. Like almost everything else in society, democracy is different things to different classes. What we have here is bourgeois democracy, a form of dictatorship against the masses of people, especially against the communities of color and the poor in general.
But I think the Haitian community has made a leap in understanding, especially with these recent killings. It was not only the mayor and the city but the judge and the entire judicial system conspiring to deny justice!