By Carlito Rovira
In the past week many people have been devastated, especially in New York City’s Bronx community, by news video coverage of 15 year old Lesandro Guzman-Feliz, who was also known as “Junior.” The graphic video shows Lesandro being savagely stabbed and hacked to death by members of a street youth gang known as “Los Trinitarios.”
There has been a tremendous outpouring of sympathy by people throughout the city and across the country for Lesandro Guzman-Feliz’s grieving mother and family, who will be impacted by this tragic event for years to come. Unfortunately, public discussion of this case was immediately limited by the media and has not addressed the social context that fuel these events in poor working-class communities.
Media reports have emphasized the perpetrators’ life-time record of criminal activity and zeroed-in on outcries for justice by neighborhood residents. And understandably so, mainstream news outlets sensationalized reports of this tragedy and have in various ways called upon stepping up police activity in oppressed people of color neighborhoods while insidiously attempting to facilitate community support for this end.
First we must ask, why is the racist police —with the assistance of the news media— trying to manipulate the justified anguish of this predominantly Dominican Bronx neighborhood? Why is the police controlling the narrative of these events?
As we well know, the police have never been a friend of the Latino community. The NYPD has historically been responsible for killing scores of unarmed Black and Latino people in this city, with violence comparable to that which was deployed against Lesandro.
And despite the police’s repeated mention that Lesandro Guzman-Feliz aspired to be a cop and that he was a member of the Explorers, a youth club under the auspices of the NYPD, when the police was called to the scene it treated Lesandro with the same contempt it treats all youth of color.
In fact, the attitudes of the two responding NYPD officers serve as a window into how the police view violence among people of color. A later-released video shows that as Lesandro laid bleeding to death two uniformed cops stood back without attempting to save his life.
No one can deny that these hideous crimes merit punishment and justice. Such acts are indisputably a clear indication of a mental and emotional departure from basic moral values and a sense of humanity. Death by senseless violence continues to be part of a disturbing panorama that describes the reality for many communities of color.
Violence conducted by individuals for the pettiest of reason is a behavioral matter that can only be addressed in a discussion of culture of the society within which it happens. That is, the violent historical setting from which capitalist culture developed. And because culture is at the heart of this matter, it is unfortunate that a percentage of unstable individuals among oppressed people will tend to mimic the violence of our oppressors.
Violence among oppressed people will never be a problem that the police will attempt to eradicate. They will point to its existence but only as a ploy to convince us that diminishing civil liberties and other meager freedoms works to our “safety.” In short, the deviant behavior of a few will always be used to enhance the powers of the police, courts and prisons.
In fact, since the very beginning of the police, dating back to slavery, their profession centers on inflicting violence on our people whenever they deem necessary. For this reason alone poor working class people cannot rely on the police state for salvation.
Gang violence was never as acute of a problem as it is now, until the 1980’s, when an influx of drugs consumed many communities of color. There was ample evidence, then, pointing to law enforcement, along with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), as the main perpetrators in what soon thereafter became a widespread crisis. Gang leaders were corrupted which made these organizations an essential part of the operations that led to funneling drugs into poor communities.
Ultimately every oppressed person in this country will be compelled to realize that peace and security can only come about from our own actions and organizing efforts.
Historically, not all street organizations involved themselves in hideous criminal activity. Many youths joined these groups for noble reasons and simply to obtain a sense of safety and belonging. There are instances in history where street youth groups protected neighborhood residents from crime.
One good example is the Young Lords, a Puerto Rican/Latino youth group that developed on the streets and prisons in Chicago during the 1960’s. They were influenced by the political events of that decade, especially by the activist work of the Black Panther Party. Eventually the Young Lords transcended to become a revolutionary entity.
Such is the direction that these street youth groups of today must take. They must either side with the people and fight on their behalf or allow themselves to be absorbed by the efforts of the police state. In which case they would risk feeling the wrath of a rising revolutionary mass movement.
Justice and protection from criminal elements that have gone to the point of no return, and forgiveness, as Lesandro Guzman-Feliz’s killers, can only come about with a politically and organizationally sophisticated militant mass movement. And that would automatically imply our people exercising the right to use all techniques and methods of self-defense.