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Ending Police Brutality: Oct 22nd events and conference
by NewPeople Thursday, Sep. 30, 2004 at 1:34 PM

info on upcoming October 22 day of protest.

from the October issue of the NewPeople, the monthly newspaper of the Thomas Merton Center

Ending Police Brutality

On Friday, October 22, groups around the country will rally and march to speak out against police violence. Here in Pittsburgh, local group People Against Police Violence (PAPV) is organizing a rally to begin at Freedom Corner at 4pm.

“All over the country, October 22 is looked at as the day to protest police abuse,� says PAPV organizer Renee Wilson. “It’s very important that we keep it alive, that we have the right to fight for justice.

Earlier in the summer, activists from PAPV hosted the semi-annual national planning meeting of the October 22 Coalition at the Thomas Merton Center this past August. The October 22 Coalition is a group of community groups from around the country working, as their website says, to “stop police brutality, repression, and the criminalization of a generation.� For nine years these groups have carried out actions on October 22 in order to remember, and seek justice for victims of police violence.

The October 22 Coalition also works with family members of victims of police violence to help them to deal with the issues that commonly arise after a loved one is victimized by law enforcement. Besides dealing with the shock of the death, and with legal issues that arise out of it, said Katheryn Lee, director of the National Coalition, family members often need support in order to face the typical reactions of law enforcement agencies and the media to such incidents. After a violent incident law enforcement officials often try to demonize the victim in order justify their own use of excessive force.

This year, said Efia Nwangaza, a member of the Coalition’s executive Committee, organizers of the October 22 actions are trying particularly to emphasize the links between violence by law enforcement officials within the United States, and US military violence abroad. Atrocities like the ones committed in Abu Girab, take place every day in US prisons, Nwangaza pointed out, and police investigating drug cases in the US often carry out invasive, aggressive searches on the basis of little evidence just as military police investigating the Iraqi insurgency often do.

The meeting drew activists from coalitions around the country with a variety of experiences related to police violence. Some of them, like Richard and Linda McCarter of Auburn, Washington became active after their own loved ones became victims of police brutality. The McCarters’ son, also named Richard, had been followed and repeatedly harassed by local police for several weeks before he was surrounded by a group of police cars in a McDonald’s parking lot, and shot to death. Even though Richard McCarter had not committed a crime, was not armed, and had been driving, it was later determined, about five miles an hour, the police involved claimed they had pursued him in a “high speed� chase. They were later acquitted.

PAPV activists said being at the meeting, and meeting activists from other areas with stories like the McCarters’ helped to open their eyes to the scope of the problem of police brutality nationally. “It’s an epidemic,� said Merton Center member Dessie Bey. That’s what came out of this meeting.

For more information about the upcoming rally, contact PAPV at 412-657-4268 or justice@papv.org. Check the website for the latest details: http://www.papv.org.

- Patricia Lietz

Local Incidents of Police Violence
The following cases are some incidents of police violence that PAPV has been working to get the word out about, increasing awareness of the problem here in Pittsburgh.

Dion Hall, Age 17

May 8, 2003, shot in the Sheradan neighborhood in Pittsburgh

Police claim Hall robbed a pizzeria on Chartiers Avenue and grazed a woman’s arm inside, then hid in a van in a neighbor’s driveway, and shot himself. However, Allegheny Coroner Cyril Wecht blasted Pittsburgh police for prematurely proclaiming an officer’s gun was not the one used to kill the teenager, having the fire department clean away blood from the scene with fire hoses, and removing evidence. Wecht has announced an open inquest into the case. But in September of 2003, Wecht ruled that Hall died of a self-inflicted wound and not from the bullets fired by Pittsburgh police officers.

Hall’s family says he would not have killed himself. He was prepared to attend a prom the next day, was scheduled to be the Langley High starting quarterback the next year, and had strong college prospects.

Michael Ellerbe, Age 12

December 24, 2002 at 2:20 PM. Shot and killed by PA state police in Uniontown

Michael was shot in the back, through the heart. Police allege that he was in a stolen car and crashed it before running away, pursued by police officers Samuel Nassan and Juan Curry. Curry claims that he fell while climbing a fence and his gun discharged accidentally. Nassan claims that he heard the shot, saw Curry fall, and shot Michael, thinking Michael had shot Curry. An eyewitness says Curry did not fall, and deliberately fired his weapon.

After a one day hearing on January 27, the Fayette County Coroner’s jury recommended that no charges be filed against the officers - that the homicide was “justifiable.� The family of Ellerbe is pursing a wrongful death lawsuit. The past March, a federal judge rejected a request by state police to dismiss the suit.

Charles Dixon, Age 43

December 21, 2002. Asphyxiated by Mt. Oliver and Pittsburgh police in Mt. Oliver

Dixon attended a birthday party held at the firehall in Mt. Oliver. Mt. Oliver borough placed two officers, one with a dog, inside the party against the wishes of the organizers. These police first arrested Charles’ brother, Gregory on drunk and disorderly charges. When Charlie intervened to guide Gregory away, the officers said, “Well, you’ll go, too,� and beat him to the floor as they cuffed him. Up to 10 additional cops arrived and piled on top of Charlie. They used an “asp baton� to put him in a chokehold, and pepper sprayed him.

The coroners inquest was concluded in February and Wecht ruled the death a homicide and recommended that charges be filed against the officer responsible.

Bernard Rogers, Age 26

November 15, 2002. Shot by Pittsburgh Housing Authority police at the Bedford Dwellings complex

Three housing authority police, Tonyea Curry, Doug Butler and Artie Patterson, entered an apartment that Bernard Rogers was visiting. The police claimed they were investigating sales of drugs, but were not there to search the apartment or arrest anyone. They testified that Rogers scuffled with police and was shot at close range on the love seat in the apartment. Several civilian witnesses testified that Bernard Rogers was shot as he ran down the stairs and out of the building.

Wecht originally recommended that a charge of homicide be filed against Curry. But at the most recent inquest, he said new charges make the case less clear. He added that, in any case, it’s up to the DA to intensify the investigation.

Michael Hunter, Age 24

September 7, 2002. Shot by Pittsburgh police

Michael Hunter became a suspect in a drug buy and was chased onto a ball field, where he apparently fired one shot. Martin Devine and Scott Love, both plainclothes officers from the North Side station, and K-9 Officer Lawrence Mercurio, opened fire. As many as 19 shots have been accounted for, with two of the officers’ bullets striking Hunter, in the back and the leg. A third bullet traveled about 100 yards and struck a woman in the hip as she sat on her front porch.

After the shooting, Mercurio’s police dog attacked the mortally wounded suspect. Some witnesses testified that police allowed the dog to maul Hunter for too long and that emergency medical treatment was delayed while the scene was secured.

On February 4, County Coroner Cyril Wecht declared his homicide “justified,� and later, the DA refused to press charges.

Damian Jordan, Age 24

October 4, 1999. Died in police custody in Mt. Oliver

Damian Jordan had been arrested on a domestic disturbance charge. Police claim he hung himself in jail with his tee shirt, by the bars on the door of the cell. He had no prior history of suicide attempts, and those who knew him describe him as an upbeat person.

An autopsy showed blunt force trauma to his body as well as handcuff marks. Jordan’s clothes, aside from his tee shirt, were never returned to the family.

On February 20, 2003, the Allegheny Coroner’s office announced it would hold an open inquest into the death. In July, Wecht concluded that no charges should be filed, leaving unexplained the bruises and cuts on various parts of Jordan’s body.

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