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News :: Human Rights
Springfield protest denounces police brutality
by Bryan G. Pfeifer
Email: bgp (nospam) iacboston.org
Phone: (413) 549-3545
22 Nov 2004
The vicious beating of an African American school principal by four white cops is bringing to the surface long-held feelings of anger in this city’s oppressed communities and is compounded by the city’s serious economic crisis.
Springfield protest denounces police brutality
New student group leads struggle
By Bryan G. Pfeifer
SPRINGFIELD, MA – The vicious beating of an African American school principal by four white cops is bringing to the surface long-held feelings of anger in this city’s oppressed communities and is compounded by the city’s serious economic crisis.
Students from Springfield Technical Community College called an anti-police brutality march and demonstration Nov. 20 because they are “so outraged at what happened to Mr. Greer,” said Andrea Walker, chair of the newly formed Urban Awareness Group at STCC, a group of primarily African American students dedicated to promoting anti-racist social and political awareness. The protest was the Group’s first public action.
According to Douglas Greer, principal of Robert M. Hughes Academy Charter School, he was viciously beaten by four white cops Nov. 4. Greer, who has diabetes, says he drove his car into a South End gas station after feeling ill. A worker at the gas station called police after he failed to rouse Greer who had lapsed into the early stages of a diabetic seizure. When the police arrived, according to eyewitnesses, they smashed Greer’s window, dragged him through it and beat him unconscious on the pavement. Greer said he repeatedly attempted to convey to the officers his medical condition but the four officers accused him of being “on drugs,” using this as an excuse to beat him.
After the beating Greer needed 18 stitches to close lacerations in his head. The police report of the incident claims Greer became violent, thus they had to use pepper spray and while being subdued by the police he smashed his own head on the pavement. This, claim various eyewitnesses, is not true, and report that one of the four officers is Jeffrey Asher, a white policeman suspended from the police force for a year in 1997 after a Springfield resident disseminated a videotape of Asher kicking an African American man.
Another police officer involved in the Greer beating, James Shewchuck, has been accused of organizing a “welcome back” party for the cop who shot and killed Ben Schoolfield, an unarmed African American man, during a traffic stop in 1994. This police murder resulted in massive demonstrations and nationwide media coverage.
Thus far Greer has filed assault charges against the officers and is exploring legal and other avenues of resistance with Springfield’s Nation of Islam Minister Yusuf Muhammad among others.
Also, citing a lack of faith in the police department’s internal investigation unit, the president of the Urban League of Springfield has requested that the U.S. Department of Justice conduct an independent investigation into the Greer case.
Attempting to quell a possible rebellion, Springfield Mayor Charlie Ryan requested the state-appointed Finance Control Board which now runs the city’s finances and personnel decisions, to place the four cops on administrative leave which they did Nov. 15. The so-called police union is claiming that Ryan, who is a member of the board, used the board to circumvent disciplinary procedures in the police’s contract with the city.
Authentic public-sector unions, with a rank-and-file of mostly oppressed people and women, might consider if Ryan and the city’s ruling class is using the Greer case as an opportunity for union busting and privatization. Consider the state law language governing the control board: The board has the power: “notwithstanding the charter or any city ordinance to the contrary, to appoint, remove, supervise and control all city employees and have control over all personnel matters.”
Stop racism, police brutality and racial profiling!
The march began at STCC going to the main Springfield police station three blocks away where a speak-out took place and community member Ishmael Ali and others presented a citizens complaint about the Greer beating.
The multinational group of protesters who came from throughout Western Mass, faced the police station from a traffic island, chanting “No justice, No peace,” amid other slogans. Banners and placards declared “Jobs for youth: Not jail,” “Stop racism, police brutality and racial profiling,” “Lynch law is no law,” and “Stop police violence.”
During the action at the police station, protesters spontaneously decided to march from the station to State Street, a main thoroughfare, chanting “No justice, No peace: No racist police,” to Mason Square Triangle about a mile away which is in the heart of the oppressed community. Here another speak-out took place where speakers denounced police home invasions and the criminalization of the poor and oppressed, the disabled, mentally ill, addicts and the homeless. Protesters stood on adjacent street corners and traffic islands with placards where many passersby honked in support.
Members from Arise for Social Justice, the American Friends Service Committee, Springfield Copwatch, the Graduate Employee Organization, UAW Local 2322, the IWW, the Nation of Islam, Western Mass International Action Center and Workers World Party attended.
Various protesters at the Nov. 20 protest emphasized that police brutality and murder is a result of the police’s main roles in the U.S. capitalist society: to protect private property and to operate as occupiers of working-class and oppressed communities especially during times of war and economic, social and political crises.
Nationally, at least over 2,000 human beings, mostly African American and Latino/a, have been killed by police since 1990 according to the book “Stolen Lives: Killed by law enforcement,” published by the Oct. 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, Repression, and the Criminalization of a Generation (www.october22.org).
Oct. 22 and others fighting police brutality say that this figure is a conservative estimate because the majority of police departments don’t compile statistics on those killed by police. The statistics in the Oct. 22 book was compiled by family, friends and anti-police brutality activists.
The STCC students stress that this is the first of what they hope are many fight back actions including a possible people’s commission to investigate and protest police brutality and police occupations of oppressed communities in the city.
Urban Awareness Group member William Russell captured the feeling of the day when he connected the U.S. war in Iraq and the war on the working-class and oppressed domestically.
“We have to do something to make some kind of change.”
Nick Camerota and Catherine Donaghy of the Western Mass International Action Center contributed to this report.
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© 2004 Bryan G. Pfeifer. Article may be used in full or in part provided full attribution is given to author.
This work is in the public domain