The Political Persecution of the Latin Kings
Revolutionary Worker #959, May 31, 1998
On May 14, 1998, just before dawn broke over New York City, 1,000 federal, state and local police kicked down doors, pulled hundreds of people out of their beds, and ultimately arrested at least 94 people they allege are members of the Latin Kings street organization. The coordinated raids were carried out in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Staten Island, the Bronx and parts of Long Island. The authorities called this "Operation Crown" and bragged that these were the largest coordinated raids since Prohibition in the 1920s. FBI Director Louis Freeh called them a "milestone."
Law enforcement authorities told the media the purpose of "Operation Crown" was to crush the Latin Kings organization by imprisoning its leaders. New York Police Commissioner Safir gloated about how they had "dismantled one of the most well-organized and violent gangs operating in New York City." Antonio Fernandez, also known as King Tone, was specifically targeted. Fernandez is the leader of the Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation. Mayor Giuliani sent two representatives to King Tone's house to monitor his arrest. King Tone reported that when they got to his house they went to the wrong door, battered down the door of his neighbors and started beating them up. King Tone called down to them that they had the wrong apartment, again and that he would turn himself in, but admonished them not to "come in here like savages."
As we go to press, it is unclear exactly what all the charges are since so many people were arrested, and the arrests include many different jursidictions--federal, state, local, parole violations and outstanding warrants. News reports drawing on "police sources" have been vague about the actual charges, but do say they include many misdemeanors. The number of guns and drugs seized was relatively small for a law enforcement action of this scope--reports claim about 45 guns and a few pounds of heroin and crack were seized.
Anyone who knows anything about U.S. law enforcement would find it hard to believe that the authorities deployed an army of more than 1,000 cops in a well-coordinated operation that took months to prepare and involved wiretaps and informants to collect the amount of guns and drugs they got. The recent history of the Latin Kings suggests another motive: that the government is going after the Latin Kings because of the political stands they have taken and the role they have begun to play in the struggle against police brutality. The authorities constantly pump out that the Latin Kings are a "vast criminal organization" in order to get away with vicious attacks on them that broad sections of people might otherwise oppose. And the police-state tactics used during "Operation Crown" could set a precedent that could be used against others, including revolutionaries.
"Operation Crown" was launched at a time when the Latin Kings in New York have been very active in the movement against police brutality and in other progressive struggles. They were in the streets on Racial Justice Day and took part in the takeover of the Brooklyn DA's office to demand justice in the police murders of Yong Xin Huang and Aníbal Carasquillo. When Frances Livoti, the cop who murdered Anthony Baez, was acquitted in October 1996 the Latin Kings joined with others in taking to the streets of the Bronx in protest. They were among the first to get on the train to protest in Brooklyn as news of the brutal police rape and torture of Abner Louima hit the streets. And a contingent that included King Tone marched in last October 22nd's National Day of Protest Against Police Brutality. The Latin Kings have also taken part in protests to demand a new trial for political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Many believe that the authorities have attacked the organization now primarily because of this political activity. King Tone's lawyer, Ron Kuby, told the New York Times: "I anticipate that a number of community activists are going to testify [at King Tone's bail hearing] that over the past three years Antonio Fernandez has consistently told the Latin Kings to put down the guns, pick up the protest signs, put down the drugs and pick up the books. He's said that in the schools, in the churches and on the streets. He's also been very active in protesting police brutality, and his criticism has made him many enemies in the NYPD."
For the past few years the authorities have targeted King Tone, trying to get a charge to stick that will land him in jail. In 1995, Tone spent 8-1/2 months on Rikers Island after he was charged with possession of a weapon. The charge was thrown out by a judge who said he believed the gun had been planted. In October 1996, a cop was shot near the Bronx precinct where Livoti worked. The police immediately speculated that this was a "hit" done by the Latin Kings in retaliation for the acquittal of Livoti. The group denied this, and other activists came to their support.
Between early 1997 and May 1998, King Tone has been arrested eight times for trumped-up charges that never stuck. In November 1997, 32 Latin Kings, including King Tone, were busted after a weekly meeting in Brooklyn. The cops claimed they were responding to a call of "disorderly conduct by armed men." They descended on the Kings, handcuffed everyone and took them into custody. Nothing illegal was found, but they charged those arrested with unlawful assembly and disorderly conduct. Charges against almost all the Kings were dropped--but not the charges against King Tone. Tone was arrested again in early December after his girlfriend called the police while the two were arguing. When he was taken to jail a guard claimed he found a half-smoked marijuana cigarette in his pocket. This violated his parole on a previous drug conviction from 1991 and he was forced to wait in jail for a parole hearing. That was held two weeks ago, the charge was thrown out and he was out on the streets again. A few days later, the rulers launched "Operation Crown" and swept him up again.
As these charges were being made against King Tone, a major public opinion campaign, including an ABC Nightline show, was launched to debunk the idea that the Latin Kings and other street organizations were attempting to transform and refocus their attention on the evils of the system--and to lay the basis for exactly this type of police activity. In preparation for "Operation Crown," the authorities also informed the pro-police newspaper New York Post before it went down, so they got the story first and put a spin on it favorable to the system.
The charges against King Tone in "Operation Crown" in particular are extremely suspect and political. King Tone was charged with conspiring to possess and distribute heroin. No drugs were found at his house and he is being charged solely on the basis of his position as a leader of the Latin Kings. On the WBAI radio program "Where We Live" his lawyer, Ron Kuby, said: "Basically, what they allege that Tone was involved in was one sale of 62 grams of heroin about a year and a half ago. And their proof of that is that Tone was videoed outside of a building when somebody else was inside of the building allegedly making a sale to an undercover agent. And that's it. And in three years of intense monitoring, you know, that's about as much as they've been able to do." A number of activists have expressed their concern that those who were charged in "Operation Crown" with more serious offenses like drug and weapon possession may be pressured to lie for the state in exchange for a short sentence.
A few days after the "Operation Crown" arrests, there was a bail hearing for King Tone in a Brooklyn courtroom. The courtroom was packed with people who believed that Tone was being framed up for his political activity. He faced 30 years in jail. His bail was set at an outrageously high $350,000. Lawyer Ron Kuby said there was a point in the hearing when the authorities seemed confident that Tone would not make bail. On the WBAI radio program "Where We Live" Kuby described what happened next: "Armando Perez, district leader on the Lower East Side, pledged his pension. Sonny Carson pledged his house. Richie Perez pledged his salary, as did Father Barrios and Father Duggins. So it was an incredible community show of support for King Tone."
Many organizations also called the Latin Kings to offer legal support, including the Center for Constitutional Rights, Neighborhood Defender Services, Brooklyn Defender Services, December 12th Movement, and the Center for Law and Criminal Justice. Bail was made and King Tone was out of jail. But he is under house arrest in his home with an electronic ankle bracelet on to monitor his every move.
POLICE STATE MEASURES
In "Operation Crown" the authorities tested some powerful police-state measures they have been developing for some time--measures which could be used to try and disrupt or crush progressive or revolutionary organizations. And they used some tried-and-true tactics like disinformation. Police Commissioner Safir told the New York Times that since the beginning of this year, the Latin Kings have committed "100 slashings, assaults, robberies, rapes and attempted murders." He didn't even bother to document or verify whether this was true. That was the justification for his goal in "Operation Crown": "Today's arrests have effectively dismantled the command structure of the Latin Kings organization by effectively removing the so-called supreme king, who supervised all of New York State and each of the borough leaders, who are called crowns."
The raid against the Latin Kings involved very intense jointly coordinated action by law enforcement officials including the FBI, the Inspector General of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, parole officers, the Department of Corrections, the NYPD and numerous federal and state prosecutors. These task forces strengthen the ability of the rulers to go after the people. They are generally under the control of federal authorities, which means they put the larger interests of the system ahead of local political considerations. They involve sharing of resources and information across city and state lines, sharing and coordinating informants, undercover cops and sophisticated electronic surveillance techniques. As of last year, 152 task forces had been established in 54 FBI field offices.
Last October, the NYPD established "gang suppression units" in each of the five boroughs. According to the NY Post the cops in these units were to be "trained to identify gang members, symbols, hand signals and other aspects of gang culture." To assist the new units, "gang investigative squads" were announced for each borough. The investigative units were to include a sergeant and six detectives. These "units" could easily be used against political groups as well as groups the police consider "gangs."
To locate people and to find out who was on parole, had outstanding warrants, etc., the police used information from the New York City Department of Corrections (DOC) database, which was set up a few years ago. Anyone arrested whom the authorities believe is in a gang has personal information logged into the database such as pictures, tattoos, graffiti and nicknames. According to the DOC, "The gang-tracking program, believed to be the only one of its kind in the country, shares its computerized data with other law enforcement authorities--federal, state and local.... Last spring, DOC joined the sophisticated federal intelligence network that monitors drugs and drug trafficking. DOC investigators were assigned to NYPD units handling gang-related crimes and homicides."
The FBI has also created a national gang database that became operational on October 1, 1995. They've given an indication that they do, in fact, intend to use this against political opponents of the system. They have incorporated the "gang" database with their "terrorist" database. They even call it the Violent Gang and Terrorist Organization File. And revolutionary activists have already been tagged with the "gang" affiliation "communist" in Chicago and Los Angeles in relation to actions protesting police brutality and other political persecution by the authorities.
SORTING OUT THE TRUTH
The history of corruption and drug dealing in law enforcement agencies in New York and nationwide has long demonstrated that this government has no credibility when it makes charges around drug-dealing. We don't support anyone accumulating power through the drug trade. And it is the U.S. government and its Central Intelligence Agency that has done this on a world scale. For 50 years, from Turkey to Southeast Asia, the CIA has run cocaine and heroin trade to finance secret wars and imperialist power-grabs. And the use of drug money by the U.S. bourgeoisie to accumulate capital goes back to the opium wars against China in the 19th century.
The use and sale of addictive drugs, like cocaine and heroin, is harmful to the people's interests in many ways. It creates conflicts and violence among the people. It contributes to keeping the people enlsaved and degraded. It makes it more difficult for the people to rise up against oppression. In short, the use and sale of drugs helps the enemies of the people. It plays into the hands of the system and the powers-that-be--which is why they directly and indirectly promote such use and sale of drugs.
But it is completely hypocritical for this government to claim that street organizations like the Latin Kings have been the cause of the drug trade. The system and the powers-that-be have systematically denied the means to a decent life and livelihood to millions of people, especially youth in the inner cities. And in many ways the system has actually encouraged and promoted the sale and use of harmful drugs. At the same time the government has waged war on these youth and others, increasingly subjecting them to various forms of police-state repression in the name of "war on drugs" and "war on crime." Attempts to forge gang truces and redirect the energy of the street organizations to political and social issues have been met with official hostility and police repression. We must fight against such vicious police-state repression. And we must fight to develop the ways for our youth and the masses of people to meet their basic needs and live with dignity--as part of building a revolutionary movement to do away with this system that subjects people to such conditions.
And an important part of that fight against injustice means recognizing when the government is carrying out political suppression in the name of "fighting crime." And it is important to recognize that these massive raids against the Latin Kings were not "about drugs." Anyone who knows anything about the U.S. government knows this: the government is a lot more concerned about what would happen if groups like the Latin Kings turned their energy against the evils of the system than they are concerned about people selling drugs in the ghettos and barrios. "They want all of us to look like we failed, that kids in New York can't change," King Tone told WBAI listeners after he was released on bail.
A statement issued by political defense attorney Roger Wareham on the arrest of the Latin Kings said, "This is an important case of political repression that the U.S. government is trying to disguise as `criminal activity.' Don't believe the hype. Read between the lines when you get the information from the `mainstream' press. They will further attempt to divide us through `tribalism.' Latinos vs. Blacks. Spanish vs. English. Bronx vs. Queens. East Coast vs. West Coast. We must join in to prevent this railroad of a highly organized group which is transforming itself from an early history of ripping off the Latino and Black communities to a mission of defending the human rights of our communities. The New York City police and Mayor Adolph Giuliani are particularly disturbed about the stance taken by the Latin King and Queen Nation on the issue of police terror in our communities."
This politically motivated repression against the Latin Kings should be opposed by all thinking people.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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