“Say his name! Kenny Lazo!” This chant and many others could be heard as a crowd of 60 Long Island residents marched down Fifth Avenue in Bay Shore, New York, July 25. The protesters marched on the Suffolk County Police Department Third Precinct building, where Kenny Lazo died in police custody 12 years ago after being brutally beaten by officers over an alleged speeding incident. The march was the latest in a long campaign by Lazo’s family, who have been fighting for justice and to jail the killer cops involved, in an uphill battle against a corrupt district attorney who hid crucial evidence.
Lazo, a Latino man and father of an 11-year-old child, was pulled over by police in Bay Shore for allegedly going eight miles over the speed limit in Bay Shore. Police then handcuffed Lazo, forced him onto the ground, and relentlessly attacked him with their flashlights. After beating Lazo nearly to death, police officers took him to the Third Precinct instead of getting medical treatment. About 30 minutes after arriving at the precinct, Lazo collapsed, at this point with nothing but his boxer shorts on. Lazo was then taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.
Like so many victims of police brutality across the United States, remembered anew by the latest wave of the Black Lives Matter movement, there has been no justice for Kenny Lazo. His killers still patrol the streets of Long Island to this day. No disciplinary action has been taken against the officers who beat Lazo. These remorseless, corrupt officers joked about the murder in the lobby of the precinct, and have had seven filed complaints against them for excessive use of force.
To fight for justice, the Party for Socialism and Liberation joined the families of victims of police brutality, including the mother of Kenny Lazo’s son along with Suffolk County Democratic Socialists of America and the Long Island Black Alliance, to demand justice for Kenny Lazo and all other victims of the white supremacist U.S. government, one that murders Black people, indigenous people, and people of color without any care for the lives being destroyed in the process.
Case rigged in favor of the police
The responsibility for Kenny Lazo’s death, and the lack of justice today, lies not just with the brutal police but the corrupt justice system as a whole. When former Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota presented the case of Kenny Lazo’s murder to a grand jury, he made sure that the case was rigged in favor of the police from the start. Certain critical pieces of evidence, such as an autopsy report that showed that Lazo had died of “sudden cardiac [arrest] following exertion associated with prolonged physical altercation with multiple blunt objects” were never shown to the grand jury.
The discovery of this information led the family of Lazo to sue Spota for participating in a cover-up to protect Suffolk County police from being held accountable. This would not be a first for Spota, who was convicted in December 2019 for obstruction, witness tampering, and conspiracy charges relating to a cover-up of the actions of former Suffolk County Chief of Police James Burke, who was convicted for beating another person held in custody by Suffolk police, Christopher Loeb. Lazo’s family has also paid for an independent autopsy, which revealed that Lazo had been face down and handcuffed while he was being beaten by the police. Yet even with all of this evidence against Lazo’s killers, none of the police involved has faced justice.
The struggle against police brutality and the racial justice system is a long and difficult one. Kenny Lazo’s family has been fighting for 12 years, long before the current movement surrounding the murder of George Floyd on May 25 at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis. The demands of Lazo’s family are clear, as expressed by Jennifer Gonzales, the mother of Lazo’s son, who spoke at the July 25 demonstration: “All I want is justice. These cops need to go to jail. They need to lose their pension. They need to be fired.” Gonzales added, “The fight will never stop because the scars will never heal.”
The police and law enforcement on Long Island as a whole have shown their unwillingness to meet these demands, but Lazo’s family continues to fight.