The families of Sandra Amezquita and Jonathan and Cindy Daza stood at the front of the march, arms linked with civil rights lawyer Sanford Rubenstein’s, hands holding a cardboard sign with black paint stating “Conoces Tus Derechos” – “Know Your Rights.”
They led a three-block long column of marchers who came from across Sunset Park and the city, to protest what they say is a common, chronic use of excessive force by the New York City Police Department (NYPD) against men and women of color.
“Police harassment and brutality have been an issue for a very long time,” said Brian Gonzalez, 22 of Sunset Park. “There are so many events not reported and televised. I have been stopped and frisked and seen friends beat down [over nothing], so this is very close to me because it could happen to you, to your family. Every year, the violence [from police] keeps growing.”
The rally wound its way from 46th Street and Fifth Avenue – where Amezquita was arrested and straddled belly-down after trying to get to her 17-year-old son as he was being arrested early Saturday, September 20 – to 29th Street and Fourth Avenue, the site of the 72nd Precinct, which has faced scrutiny after two incidents involving the arrest of Latino residents, one a fruit vendor and the other Amezquita, were caught on cell phone video.
But it was the video of Amezquita, her protruding belly pushed into the street, that tipped frustration into outrage.
“If a police officer feels a pregnant woman is a trap, they should not be working for the Police Department,” said Claudia Galicia, 35, president of the Sunset Park Latino Democrats. “What happened to [Amezquita] was unacceptable. The police officer threw her to ground; there are other ways to handle it. If they’re not ready to take this on, they need to be terminated. It’s not okay to throw a woman to the floor.”
New mother Noelle Flores Theard was one of many women present wearing their newborns on their chests and she said that while she “wasn’t surprised, . . as someone who’d just given birth, watching the video just gave [her] goosebumps.
“My daughter is a girl, but there is no respect for women and children either,” Theard said. “As a mother, I want to show support for the families and make sure this never happens again.”
Bronx mom Kimberly Ortiz walked the march with her two sons, aged six and eight, who she said “will probably go through this [and] I want things to change before they grow up.”
In the aftermath of the videos going public, one officer, Officer Vincent Ciardello, was suspended and stripped of his badge and gun for kicking Jonathan Daza in the back while he was handcuffed and curled up on the street on Sunday, September 14, and another unnamed officer was put on modified duty for shoving bystander Mercedes Hidalgo so hard that she was thrown into the air and fell, rolling, several feet away.
Hidalgo had been attempting to tell officers that Amezquita was pregnant, in an effort to get them to get off of her back.
Domestic violence activist Antonia Clemente of The Healing Center pointed out another consequence: “When women who are victims in our community see this, they think twice about calling the police. Police are supposed to protect us, not intimidate us. They need to understand and respect our community instead of perpetuating violence.”
A town hall is planned for Wednesday, October 1 at 6:30 p.m. at the Sunset Park Recreation Center. The event is designed to give residents a chance to ask questions of local elected officials and NYPD brass, who have been invited to attend.
“Today is people power. No amount of reform is going to fix this. It’s institutionalized racism,” charged Dennis Flores, founder of El Grito de Sunset Park, a community watchdog group that posted the videos online and organized the march and the town hall.
“What [Commissioner Bill Bratton] has done to people of color is unacceptable,” Flores said. “We have a clear demand: for Bratton to show his face in Sunset Park at the town hall and face the families. The last time he came to a community meeting in 1995, he called the family ‘fools.’ What kind of man does that? What kind of commissioner does that?”