On September 13, a Lancaster police officer shot and killed Ricardo Muñoz when responding to a call.
Deborah Muñoz, the victim’s sister, reported to local media that she had called a crisis intervention organization and nonemergency police number with the intention of getting her brother mental health support. Her calls were dispatched to the police. The Muñoz family reported that this was not the first time police had responded to calls and indicated that the Lancaster police had an awareness of the victim’s mental state.
Just one of many racist police killings across the country this summer, Muñoz’s death has since made international news. The officer involved is on administrative leave, and the shooting is under investigation.
The community takes to the street
The Lancaster community responded immediately to the murder. Outraged residents and activists flooded the block to demand answers and justice. Many livestreamed the crowd and scene while officers stood just behind police lines.
Progressive organizers, who have regularly demonstrated and marched against racist police brutality since May, briefly spoke to the crowd then rallied many of them into a march from the scene to the Lancaster police station.
At the police station, the crowd grew into the hundreds through the night. Officers in riot gear waited at the end of an access drive of the station while two drones and a handful of officers lining the roof surveilled from above.
Protesters shut down the street in front of the station into the early morning hours. To disperse the crowd, State Police, facilitated by the Lancaster City Police, deployed tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets. This marked the third time that Lancaster City Police used chemical weapons to disperse activists since May. A total of eight activists were arrested.
Police snatch activists
Protests continued Monday and so did arrests. Police, including some in an unmarked car, snatched five more people from the streets.
Nicole Vasquez of the local Lancaster collective C.R.A.S.H. said, “As a community organizer in Lancaster, it saddens me to see what is happening in our city. We have been peacefully protesting for months. Now, police are taking peaceful protesters in unmarked cars and are not identifying themselves or giving any information.”
In total, 13 people were arrested related to the Sunday and Monday protests, including a 16-year old. Vasquez continued, “This is not the Lancaster that I know. I am scared, but we will report the story, we will not be silenced. You cannot take our people; we will stand together.”
Political prisoners held at unconstitutional bail
The 13 political prisoners were held in Lancaster County Prison at $1 million bail. One, a trans woman, was held in men’s section of the prison and demeaned by authorities.
The Pennsylvania ACLU described the exorbitant $1 million bail as unconstitutional and “an illegal use of bail.” While this is a clear attempt to punish those involved in the movement against police terror, cash bail also criminalizes poverty. It’s a weapon used against the working class and poor, forcing them to sit in jail for weeks or months before they’ve been convicted of any crime simply because they cannot afford to pay.
The excessive bail forced political prisoners to sit in Lancaster County Prison during a COVID-19 outbreak that began in early August. According to local media, the prison has had 182 positive cases.
GoFundMe accounts for the political prisoners appeared and were shared widely across social media. Local organizations SafeHouse, the Lancaster NAACP, Lancaster Legal Collective, and Lancaster Stands Up partnered to successfully get the bail of nine activists reduced on Thursday.
Protests continue against murder of Muñoz, police repression
The Party for Socialism and Liberation and C.R.A.S.H. held a demonstration September 17 before the Lancaster County Prison Board meeting, supporting the movement to improve conditions at Lancaster County Prison. The demonstration also called for charges to be dropped and the immediate release of all political prisoners arrested in the Ricardo Munoz uprising.
The protest also raised PSL Lancaster’s ongoing demands to 1) release vulnerable and elderly inmates, 2) release inmates being held on pre-trial, and 3) increase medical personnel.
The PSL also organized a rally on the Lancaster Courthouse Steps the Saturday following the murder and uprisings on September 19. Activists from Safehouse Lancaster, Lancaster Changemakers Collective, CRASH, Put People First PA, and many other individuals spoke out against police repression and demanded the immediate release of imprisoned protestors, including PSL members and anti-racist organizers arrested in Denver.
A system designed to oppress cannot serve the needs of the people
If nothing else, the past week in Lancaster has shown how the broken, racist capitalist system fails the needs of the people time and time again. For Lancaster’s poor and working class community, especially those who are Black and Brown, police occupation and violence is nothing new. Police serve to protect property and the capitalist system. Residents, like those in the neighborhood where Ricardo Muñoz was murdered, are subjected to systemic criminalization and violence on a daily basis.
This is the product of a racist system that denies the humanity of its residents and actively represses them. It is a system that fails to understand and meet the needs of the working class and poor communities for the singular reason that meeting those needs is not profitable for those in power. It is a system that failed Muñoz and his family when it did not provide the mental health care that Muñoz required and instead saw him murdered.
Our community will truly thrive only when the needs of all people are met. To serve the true needs of all people, we must choose people over profit and property. We must fund the needs of the people and end racist police brutality and the capitalist system that privileges profit and property over the people.