News and reports
July 18, 2003 | Pages 10 and 11
March for justice in Benton Harbor
BENTON HARBOR, Mich.--More than 300 people took to the streets and marched to neighboring St. Joseph's to demand justice and an end to police brutality. A rebellion erupted in Benton Harbor in mid-June after police chased Black motorcyclist Terrance Shurn to his death--the second recent death due to a high-speed police chase in this small, predominantly African American town.
Chanting "No justice, no peace, no racist police," protesters began at Benton Harbor's City Hall and marched to St. Joseph's--the adjacent and predominantly white township. The event was organized by the Benton Harbor chapter of the Black Autonomy Network of Community Organizers (BANCO) and the Southwest Michigan Coalition Against Racism and Police Brutality.
For the people of Benton Harbor, the march was about much more than police brutality and harassment. Benton Harbor was once a vibrant town close to Lake Michigan, with good jobs and beautiful tree-lined streets. Today, the streets still have trees, but the jobs are gone, and the houses are in a state of advanced decay.
Meanwhile, St. Joseph's is a glittering playground for its residents--a symbol of the prosperity denied to Benton Harbor. "There aren't any jobs, people just hanging out on the corners, so the cops just harass them," Clarence Osby, a Benton Harbor resident, told Socialist Worker. "The only jobs are way out, and you have to have a car to get there. This city is a ghost town."
Police denied protest organizers a permit to march in the street, but then decided to keep a low profile, appearing nowhere along the march route. But several cops videotaped protesters--focusing on the part of the march where local residents were--as the march passed by a police building.
Later, Benton Harbor Police Chief Samuel Harris used local media to issue an ominous warning. "They've chosen to flaunt the law and force us to take action against them, which will come," said Harris. Harris said it wasn't "prudent" to act during the march, but says he will work to prosecute the rally organizers later.
But many Benton Harbor residents are too fed up to feel intimidated. "They've been stopping people, harassing people," Tony Sanders told Socialist Worker. "We've just had enough of the police brutality, and we're tired. If we don't get justice, they won't get peace."
Stop police brutality in New York City
NEW YORK--A spirited crowd of 80 demonstrators gathered outside City Hall to protest two recent police killings. The family of the two victims--57-year-old Alberta Spruill and West African immigrant Ousmane Zongo--attended the rally.
They were joined by church and mosque representatives; Iris Baez, mother of police brutality victim Anthony Baez; and members of AFSCME District Council 37, Spruill's union. Protesters demanded an independent commission to investigate these incidents and the elimination of the 48-hour rule that would force the cops to answer questions without delays.
Both Spruill and Zongo were innocent victims of reckless police procedures. Spruill suffered a heart attack May 16 after cops, following a bogus tip, busted through her apartment door and threw a stun grenade into the living room. Zongo, who restored African artifacts, was shot at the warehouse where he worked when cops, acting on another false tip, staged a raid.
These recent police killings have renewed public anger against the NYPD--in particular, the violent tactics used to patrol working-class and minority neighborhoods. Mayor Michael Bloomberg apologized for the recent killings, but this hasn't been enough to extinguish the simmering anger felt by people throughout the city.