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NYC: The Political Persecution of Juanita Young

by mlm Tuesday, Jun. 17, 2003 at 5:51 PM


NYC: The Political Persecution of Juanita Young

Juanita Young is an activist against police brutality and in other struggles for justice. Recently, she has been a target of outrageous and politically motivated persecution carried out by the police and other authorities.

Juanita knows personally about the brutal nature of the police. On March 1, 2000, her son Malcolm Ferguson was shot in the head at point-blank range by a New York City cop. Malcolm was killed five days after he was arrested at a protest against the not guilty verdicts for the cops who murdered Amadou Diallo. Malcolm was murdered just a few blocks away from the doorway of the Bronx apartment building where Amadou was shot 41 times by the NYPD.

Since then Juanita has been fighting for justice for Malcolm and all victims of police brutality. She is a member of the October 22 Coalition to Stop Police Brutality and of Parents against Police Brutality, speaking out at demonstrations and meetings and reaching out to other families that have lost loved ones to police murders. She fought hard to have an October 22 protest in New York in 2001--at a time when many were confused by the post-9/11 wave of "cops are heroes" propaganda. She has spoken out in support of political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. She has stood against the racial profiling and detention of immigrants and marched in many protests against the U.S. wars on Iraq and Afghanistan.

Legally blind, Juanita is on disability and receives public assistance. She and her children had lived in the same South Bronx apartment for six years. Her rent was paid by Section 8 and welfare.

After Juanita complained about safety violations in her apartment, Section 8 refused to pay the rent. Her landlord began eviction proceedings but told Juanita he was not really trying to evict her, he just wanted to get the rent paid. She was assured by Section 8 and welfare the rent would be paid. In April she received a new lease from the landlord.

Section 8 and welfare still refused to pay her rent, even though Juanita believed she had filed the necessary paperwork. She was assured by a city marshal on May 23 that she could not be evicted because she is blind. He turned her case over to Adult Protection Services. That agency informed her of a June 6 court date about the rent dispute. Four days before the court date, Juanita was hospitalized with a severe asthma attack. Before she could get to court on June 6, her children met her at the hospital and said the city marshal and landlord had evicted them earlier that morning.

Juanita was never informed by authorities that she was evicted. She was not present at the court hearing on the eviction. There was no eviction notice posted on her apartment. So that night she and her children went back to the apartment. The super called the police--who said they wouldn't do anything because there was no eviction notice posted.

But early next morning, Juanita woke up to find police knocking their clubs against her bed. Her landlord was with the cops. Other cops were banging on the furniture in the living room and yelling at Juanita's kids to "Get the fuck out!" She was arrested for trespassing and cuffed. Cops pushed her out of the building and she fell twice on the stairs.

The cops clearly knew that she was an activist. One cop told her, "You won't be going to any rallies today." She was taken to the 40th precinct nearby.

The RW was able to talk to Juanita after her harrowing ordeal at the hands of the police. She recounted what happened.

At the precinct, Juanita demanded medical attention for her injured hand. When the cops told her to wait, she insisted on immediate medical attention. One cop said, "We'd better take her, she knows her rights." But they retaliated by putting her "through the system"--instead of issuing a ticket for simple trespass, they raised the charge to criminal trespass, a misdemeanor.

That night Juanita was passed from cop to cop, moved over 15 times between the 40th and five other precincts, and fingerprinted five times. She repeatedly requested to make a phone call but was denied that right. When she said that she had dropped her asthma pump in the police car, a cop said she wasn't getting it back.

While in police custody, Juanita heard the cops refer to her as "that troublemaker" or "the one at all those rallies." Cops mentioned they'd seen her on TV. They said to each other, "Don't you know who she is? Her son was killed by the police." One cop said she goes "around the neighborhood talking about the NYPD or about police officers out here making trouble and now she'll see what trouble is."

Juanita told the RW : "They would talk about things like how I say the police have no respect for human life and how I give them no respect whenever they try to talk to me. They said I blame the whole NYPD for something that my son probably deserved." She described what happened on her way out of the 40th precinct with another prisoner at 2 a.m. on Sunday morning: "One of the cops told us to stop and said, `You know, if you run, we shoot you in the head.' Referring to my son Malcolm, I said, `I should know.' And he said, `That's right.' "

Juanita was finally released 35 hours later. The cops refused to return 0 in cash she had when she was arrested--money she needed to pay bills and buy food for her children. The police claimed that they had to deposit the money in a bank and she wouldn't get it till the end of the week.

When Juanita went back to her apartment, she found it had been ransacked. Papers concerning her eviction were removed, destroyed, or lost. There was no sign of a break-in--indicating that a key may have been used to get in the apartment. The next day a judge told Juanita that she could only go into her apartment to get her belongings. When she went to the apartment to retrieve her things, building workers told her they were ordered by the landlord to clear out her apartment. Supporters immediately mobilized to move Juanita out before the landlord destroyed everything.

Juanita also learned her case worker had reported her to child welfare authorities because she was "in trouble with the police" and was homeless. Juanita was told the authorities could come at any time and take her children. The ASPCA even came and tried to take her dog, cat, and turtle.

Word among people in Juanita's building is that the landlord is an ex-cop from New Jersey. Juanita recently went to a protest in New Jersey to support the family of Santiago "Chago" Villanueva- -a Dominican musician who was choked to death by cops who responded to a 911 call from his co-workers. Chago's murder is one of the rare cases where cops have actually been indicted. Protesters faced off with cops outside a court hearing. Juanita's picture was in the NY Daily News and many New Jersey papers. Someone in the building told Juanita the landlord said he'd seen her "making trouble" in New Jersey and was angry she was in his "territory."

This is not the first time Juanita and her family have faced harassment for her political activity. After a march in 2002 to commemorate the anniversary of Malcolm's murder, cops arrested her oldest son because he allegedly "fit the description" of a murder suspect--"a tall Black man in a black jacket." Another son was arrested for throwing snowballs when there was no snow on the ground. Cops threatened to send him to a juvenile prison. Her daughter was arrested for an alleged robbery, held, and then let go with no charges filed. Once cops came to her block with a photo of Malcolm and asked people if he still lived in the neighborhood--over two years after he was killed by the police!

Juanita continues to stand strong in the face of the political persecution. She told the RW : "I don't plan on stopping what I'm doing and I'm not gonna change my approach... They go after other people's families to threaten them so they would not proceed in getting justice for their loved ones that get killed... The fact that I love what I'm doing and I know what I'm doing is right is the only reason I continue to do it. I'm living and seeing this situation getting worse and worse. And people just don't seem to understand they need to get out here and try to stop these killings of innocent people."

The October 22 Coalition, Parents Against Police Brutality, and others are mobilizing to defend Juanita, organize legal help, and expose the harassment against her. Fighters like her are precious to the people and must be defended when the system and its cops try to attack them.

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