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After Police Attack on AIDS Activist, Occupiers Demand Accountability

October 19, 2011

Protesters speak out against excessive use of force by NYC police.

Protesters speak out against excessive use of force by NYC police.

For activists already fired up about police brutality and discrimination in New York City, last week's ugly police assault on HIV-positive activist Felix Rivera-Pitre was the last straw.

Tuesday, more than 200 Occupy Wall Street and VOCAL-New York activists marched from Zuccotti Park to Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance's office, demanding accountability for police violence during the Occupy Wall Street protests.

"I'd love to hold this sign with both my arms," shouted Milo Gonzalez, 20, a flower shop employee who's been arrested at two Manhattan OWS protests. "But unfortunately ... when the cops were arresting me, they pulled tendons in my left arm, and I can't really raise it without a whole bunch of pain."

Marchers banged drums while yelling "Hey, deputy, can't you see? Stop police brutality." By the office, they stopped to share stories of police discrimination and excessive use of force. A ring of officers stood by.

During a protest last week, Felix Rivera-Pitre, a homeless AIDS activist and a member of VOCAL-New York, was grabbed from behind and punched by a senior police department official.

The assault, which journalists caught on video (see below), was covered by a string of media outlets. The Guardian later later identified the attacker as Deputy Inspector Johnny Cardona, the same officer who tackled a female protester during an earlier OWS march. Thus far, the officer has not been reprimanded.

The attack angered many already frustrated by a legacy of police harassment in poor and minority communities. On Tuesday, several people spoke out against the city's oft-criticized "stop and frisk" policy, which allows officers to search anyone they believe may be armed and dangerous. There were about 600,000 stop-and-frisk encounters in the city last year, most of them targeting black and Latino men.

Despite the obvious tension between the officers escorting Tuesday's protest and the protesters themselves, several marchers said that the blame for unjust police behavior should not be placed on all officers -- but rather those in high level positions who allow it to continue, including the district attorney.

"Let's not direct our anger at every single [officer] indiscriminately," said Gonzalez. "Direct your anger at those who deserve it, at those who actually torture us, mentally and physically."

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This article was provided by Housing Works. It is a part of the publication Housing Works AIDS Issues Update. Visit Housing Works' website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
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