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In Lieu of a Puerto Rican Day Parade, Activists Rally to Defund the Police

Kiara Thomas Jun 15

Latino labor and faith leaders, educators and sixties-era revolutionaries led hundreds of people during a Latinx and African diaspora march on Sunday in Mitchel Square Park in Harlem to stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter Movement. 

‘White supremacy is part of the DNA in America. It cannot be reformed. It has to be abolished.’

Demonstrators marched while burning sage and hitting cowbells. Puerto Rican, Dominican and the Pan-African flags waved to salsa music. The march took the date of the Puerto Rican Day parade, which was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Residents banged on pans with wooden serving spoons from their apartment windows, while onlookers on the street below blew air horns. The number of people participating in the march grew as participants walked.

 “Let us fully understand that this country was built on the enslavement of the African people and the genocide of Native Americans, resulting in the fact that racism and inequities are woven into every fabric of every institution in this country,” said Miguel “Mickey” Melendez, the co-founder of the Young Lords Party, the Puerto Rican counterpart of the Black Panthers.

The march highlighted symbolic areas that showed the unity of the black and Latinx communities. The demonstrators stopped at the Audubon Ballroom, where Malcolm X was assassinated, and where revolutionaries Pedro Albizu Campos and Marcus Garvey once spoke. 

After rallying in the plaza in front of the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building, the march ended with speeches, music, poetry and dance performances at the Young Lords’ People’s Church.

Across the country, protests and demonstrations continue with Black Lives Matter murals covering the walls of cities and the statues of noted racists throughout history torn down. The protests come after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin suffocated George Floyd, an unarmed black man. As Chauvin kneels on Floyd’s neck, bystander video shows him begging for his life. As in 2014, following the death of Eric Garner on Staten Island, the words “I can’t breathe” have once again become a rallying cry across the country and around the world. 

Politicians and leaders of community organizations continue to call for justice for victims of police brutality and the defunding the police. On Friday, about three weeks following Floyd’s death, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill banning chokeholds by law enforcement and repealed law 50-a, which hid law enforcement disciplinary records from the public. 

Michael Moreno, who worked security during Sunday’s march, thinks that the repeal is a start in the right direction, but still has concerns.

“To every law, there’s always a loophole,” said Moreno. “Those who want to break the law will find a way to do it. It’s unfortunate that we have a lot of people who are supposed to be enforcing [the law] that also break it.”

Speaking in English and Spanish at the bullhorn, activists emphasized the common oppression that Latinx, African American and members of the African diaspora face in the heavily-policed and gentrified areas of New York they call home. Organizers demanded the defunding of the police, or the outright abolishment of the institution altogether, and called for halting deportations and investing more in the community.

“The police in the United States were organized to return escaped slaves back to the plantations,” said organizer and Baruch College Historian, Johanna Fernández. “White supremacy is part of the DNA in America. It cannot be reformed. It has to be abolished.”

Respects were paid to those who lost their lives to police brutality, including Allan Feliz. His family was in attendance holding a banner calling for justice with his face on it. Feliz was pulled over for a seatbelt violation in the Bronx last October when police ran his ID and found he had three open warrants. During the altercation with the three officers, the unarmed man was shot by Sgt. Jonathan Rivera. 

“Remember, some of us, we are the same people,” said musician Immortal Technique as he spoke about the African blood that flows within the Latinx community. “We just speak a Latin based language, that’s it.”

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