Saturday, January 2, 2010

A specter in haunting Cleveland

CLEVELAND: Protesters demand: ‘Recognize us as being human’
By Sharon Danann

Published Dec 23, 2009 4:19 PM

On Dec. 19, despite snow, more than 40 protesters gathered at the home of Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson picketing, chanting and singing “We Shall Not Be Moved!” The rally was called by the Imperial Women, a diverse group of women formed to press for a militant response in the wake of the October discovery of 11 bodies of Black women in Anthony Sowell’s home on Imperial Avenue on Cleveland’s east side.

The Imperial Women had met with the mayor’s representative in early November with several demands. They called for holding high-ranking officials accountable for lack of attention to many reports filed with police that could have prevented additional murders. They also called for the development of a truly responsive missing persons system for adults.

Mayor Jackson gave no indication of any response until the Imperial Women’s press release announced a rally at his house. The following day he appointed a commission of three women to research the best policies for handling missing persons and sexual assault cases. The commission will not address any malfeasance related to the Sowell case.

The Imperial Women are not silenced by the mayor’s first step. In fact, they are also bringing attention to another side of the racist, sexist scorn revealed by the deaths on Imperial Avenue: the brutality that the police feel free to unleash on members of the Black community, including Black women.

At the Dec. 19 rally at the mayor’s house, Timothy Walker held the crowd spellbound in sorrow and rage as he recounted how, last April, cops whom he had invited into his home to “mediate” a situation had beaten his daughter, Rebecca Whitby, until she was bleeding all over her body. They had pounded on her until she vomited.

While she was in the police car, Walker explained, cops had used a Taser on her until she was unconscious and having seizures, as they spewed vile invective at her, sprinkled liberally with the n-word. Later, apparently to stifle Whitby’s ability to tell the nurses how she got the injuries, the police convinced the hospital staff to inject her with the powerful psychotropic drug Geodon.

Walker stressed, “This was a brutal act that truly needs to be addressed under the rights of humanity. Racism should not be an option when you have taken an oath to protect and serve.”

Ironically, it is Whitby who is now facing felony charges. She is being held responsible for causing bruises on the elbows that the police were slamming into her and for spitting on them — as if she vomited deliberately — while she was being beaten. Her mother, also named Rebecca Whitby, is also facing charges for trying to protect her daughter. When they do appear in court, there will be community support, as organizing is already in progress to fill the courtroom.

Signs at the rally protested the ongoing harassment of Kathy Wray Coleman. A founder of the Imperial Women, Coleman received a threatening phone call saying that there was a warrant for her arrest for a traffic violation, and pressuring her to call off the rally at the mayor’s house. The Imperial Women responded swiftly by e-mailing hundreds of contacts to spread the word that the rally would not be cancelled.

This protest had widespread community support. Speakers and participants represented Stop Targeting Ohio’s Poor; the Lucasville Uprising Freedom Network; The People for the Imperial Act; the New Black Panther Party for Self Defense — Cleveland; Survivor/Victims of Tragedy; the Bail Out the People Movement — Cleveland; Black on Black Crime, Inc.; Books2Prisoners; and the Cleveland Jericho Movement.

Marva Patterson, the aunt of the beaten Rebecca Whitby and a leader of the Imperial Women, said, “It’s time for citizens to mobilize. We’re telling the powers that be: ‘Enough is enough!’ We want to be recognized as being human.”

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