"We all must take a stand against police brutality"

Risa Cantu C'DeBaca speaks at an Occupy Syracuse rally in Oct. 2011.

On Jan. 19, as the police were attacking and evicting the peaceful Occupy Syracuse encampment, the Syracuse police assaulted two activists who were attempting to bear witness to the eviction. Working with the ANSWER Coalition and the NYCLU, both activists have filed a formal complaint with the police and the city’s newly revised Citizen Review Board. Liberation News sat down for an interview with one of the victims. Here, we reprint the interview from LiberationNews.org.

Liberation News: What do you think motivated the police to attack you on that night?

Risa Cantu C’DeBaca: This was an all too familiar instance of an over-reactionary police officer using excessive force and intimidation to protect and serve something other than the majority of people who make up the city of Syracuse.

Liberation News: Have you had any negative experiences with the police before this?

Risa Cantu C’DeBaca: I grew up with a constant fear of the police. They were the ones that took family members and friends away. They are the ones who made me feel unsafe. As a community organizer/activist who now lives in Syracuse, I see the same injustices happen every day to the poor and working-class communities that are primarily made up people of color.

Liberation News: What made you and Adam decide to file a formal complaint with the Citizen Review Board?

Risa Cantu C’DeBaca: We felt that as local community organizers and members/supporters of the ANSWER Coalition and Party for Socialism and Liberation, that our voices must be heard. We all must take a stand against the police brutality that ravages this city and many others. Change starts with steps like these that expose incidents that would have otherwise gone untold. We know that there are many people who have been silenced or who do not have the privilege of knowing how to exercise their rights—specifically with police confrontations. However, the police must be held accountable for their actions, even if it just means that stories like these will be made public. Since Adam and I know this is just a mild example of the excessive use of force and intimidation the police use against the majority of people, we are only seeking transparency. We want the people of Syracuse to be aware that the ‘new’ Citizen Review Board can be utilized when needed to take steps toward change in our communities.

Liberation News: How has police Chief Frank Fowler responded to the situation so far?

Risa Cantu C’DeBaca: After meeting with Chief Frank Fowler we realized that he wasn’t going to say much during our first meeting. He listened to our story and responded by stating an investigation needs to take place first. Fowler seemed to be offended when Adam stated in our interview that he doesn’t trust the Syracuse police. Fowler responded by saying, “You need to be careful with that statement. Police are there for a specific purpose. You don’t need to do the police’s job for them. You know your rights. Hold the police accountable.” Fowler also informed us that any reprimand made against the officer who assaulted us is confidential and that the police officer’s privacy is protected by civil service rights. However, as we know, the Citizens Review Board can launch their own personnel hearing and actually subpoena the officer, if needed.

Liberation News: What do you and Adam want to happen as a result of this complaint?

Risa Cantu C’DeBaca: Adam and I are not seeking any severe punitive actions against the officer or the Syracuse Police Department, such as dismissal or demotion. Again, we know that this is just a mild example of police brutality that could have had much more devastating consequences. Nor are we seeking any type of monetary compensation or legal action, such as a lawsuit. We simply want the assault we experienced to be made public and perhaps the officer who physically assaulted us to be counseled accordingly.

Liberation News: Is there anything else that you would like to tell our readers?

Risa Cantu C’DeBaca: It is important for us to remember that just because we don’t wear badges like the police, or suits like government officials, or diamonds like celebrities, we all have the power to make changes happen. From a grassroots level, we must realize how each of our experiences bring value by telling our stories—whether it seems hopeless or difficult. The capitalist system encourages the poor and working-class to obey the law, while the law throws them out of their homes, sends their loved ones into war abroad, and locks up anyone who tries to survive the real wars in this country. It’s an illusion that we even have “rights.”

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