On June 14, a Black Lives Matter protest began in Jackson Heights, the most diverse urban area in the world, ending in the immigrant neighborhood of Corona, the epicenter of the COVID-19 epidemic in New York City. The protest had an explicitly theme of “Multinational Unity for Black Lives,” and united the multinational, largely immigrant communities of Queens in support of that struggle. Speakers broke down how the police target immigrant communities and how they are part of the same system oppressing all communities in Queens. One of the most popular chants was “La migra, la policia, la misma porquería!” (“ICE, cops, they’re both trash!”) The front of the protest was led by a banner of flags that marchers brought, with the Pan-African flag at the center. Below, Cathy Rojas, a Party for Socialism and Liberation organizer in Queens, explains why such unity benefits the Latino/immigrant community. It is based on a talk Rojas gave in a PSL national webinar on June 18.
On Sunday, June 14, all over New York City, hundreds of thousands of people came out in the streets to call for an end to police brutality, but really also an end to state violence. For us in Queens, it was really important that we came out. This is because on June 5, just a few days prior, there was an announcement of a “loot-out” in Jackson Heights, Corona, and East Elmhurst, a predominantly Latino community.
This was the first time that we heard politicians create this big alert saying, “We have to make sure there’s no ‘loot out’, etc.” There was no organization linked to this “loot-out.” It was a plan to create a division between the Latino community and the Black Lives Matter movement. So that’s why it was so important for us to protest that Sunday, June 14, and say: “No, this is also our struggle.”
The people in the community were not fooled by politicians, by the police, or by whoever made that call regarding a “loot-out.” Close to 1,000 protesters came out in the Jackson Heights, Corona, and Elmhurst community to demand an end to police brutality, because we understand that this is also our struggle.
Police back up ICE
Our community sees through the lies of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio when they say “this is a sanctuary city, this is a city that protects immigrants,” because we see that when ICE comes to our communities to deport someone they are supported and backed up by the New York Police Department.
The NYPD puts the names of our youth into gang databases, which later can prohibit them from becoming citizens or obtaining documentation. When police stop members of our community for very minimal legal violations or non-violent crimes, this information goes in a database that is shared with ICE.
NYPD attack immigrant street vendors
We have seen how the NYPD treats our immigrant street vendors who wake up every day to make food to feed the community. We have literally seen cops throwing out the food of these hardworking people in our community. The law that made street vending illegal was really created as an excuse for the NYPD to come into our communities, to racially discriminate against our people, and our restaurants. It’s the protests that are responsible for the city’s decision a week ago that street-vendor enforcement would no longer be under NYPD jurisdiction, and that NYPD could no longer stop and arrest street vendors.
Cops side with bosses and landlords
Police are the repressive muscle of the state. Many in our community have been neglected by the state during this COVID-19 pandemic. For example, undocumented people have not received any aid. When a landlord wants to evict someone from our community because they don’t have enough money to pay the rent, who do they come with? They come with the NYPD.
We can’t call the NYPD when our boss doesn’t pay us for our work, but if we try to make the boss pay us, the boss could call the NYPD on us.
So the police don’t protect us in any way, they actually oppress our communities all the time.
Cops threaten Latino youth
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, Black and Latino youth between the ages of 14 and 24 are 5 percent of our New York City population, yet they account for 38 percent of all police stops. Some people may say, “Oh well, you know, maybe there was something wrong,” but no, 80 percent of those stops were of people that were completely innocent and weren’t arrested at any point. So both our communities are being impacted by police brutality, and it is clear to us that this is also our struggle.
Let’s look at how spending is allocated in our communities: Our schools have more and more students, even over 30 students in a classroom with one teacher. We don’t have enough teachers, we don’t have enough literacy courses, yet New York City’s education budget is being cut by $800 million while about $11 billion in NYC funds is allocated to the NYPD if you include centrally allocated expenses. After demonstrations here demand defunding the police, the City Council proposes to cut the NYPD budget by $1 billion. If this cut even goes through, it is not nearly enough.
African ancestry of Latino people
We can’t fall into divisive conversations that talk about this being just a Black issue. For the Latino community, that’s an age-old argument that originated in our colonization. The country in the Americas with the largest Black population is actually in Latin America: Brazil. In addition to Brazil, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Honduras, Venezuela — all of these Latin American countries — have large Black populations. We cannot equate being Latino to not being Black because a lot of Latino people are also Black.
We need to stop erasing the African ancestry of our people, because that plays into the same type of racist caste system that our colonizers tried to impose on us. We need to remind our communities of this and stop feeding into this division.
Struggle makes change
At the end of the day, progressive change in our communities — stopping oppression by the police and stopping police brutality, abolishing ICE, defunding the police — will come from the people that really stand up for us, the protesters. This is because it is the protesters who are going to defend immigrants, who are going to defend Black lives, who are going to defend undocumented people, who are going to defend you.
Building multinational unity
And that’s why we have to continue to be out in the streets and not allow these very small reforms that legislators are passing — reforms that don’t guarantee any long-term wins — to stop our struggle. These politicians are just trying to silence our voices. We have to see through their façade.
Right now, what we need a multinational unity, because the state is oppressing all of us.