Vigil remembers Raul Pinet Jr.

On Aug. 6, 2010, Raul Pinet Jr. of Syracuse was brutally beaten and killed by prison guards in the Onondaga County “Justice” Center. After nearly two years of political action by local organizations, a report by the New York State Commission of Correction was finally released that confirms his death as a homicide.

On the evening of May 12, a group of over 50 family members, friends, and supporters of Pinet gathered in front of the Justice Center, calling for justice for Raul Pinet and others, and an end to law enforcement brutality and violence. The vigil was organized by the United as One coalition, made up of a variety of community action groups in Syracuse, including the ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), the NAACP, the New York Civil Liberties Union, and the League of United Latin American Citizens, among others.

As organizers set up candles and placards for the vigil, some participants, including children, used sidewalk chalk to write their own messages of peace and justice, such as “It’s wrong for the police to kill, too” and “Raul Pinet Jr., Victim of the Injustice Center”.

After an opening prayer by Rev. Felipe Rodriguez, Barrie Gewanter of the NYCLU opened up the floor to comments by community members, family and friends of Pinet. One of his sisters described how her brother cried for help in his last moments, and compared his treatment in the jail to that of an animal. Gewanter also recounted other casualties of neglect and mistreatment at the Justice Center, such as the November 2009 death of Chuniece Patterson, who died of denied treatment for an ectopic pregnancy, bleeding to death internally in her cell.

One of the most meaningful and emotional parts of the vigil was marked by silence. The night Pinet died, correctional officers had kneeled on his upper back and neck, asphyxiating him and then left the room. The officers claimed that Pinet was “faking it.” It was only after seven minutes had passed that the officers re-entered the room to remove the handcuffs from Pinet. During the vigil, participants observed these seven minutes with silence, marking each minute with a cry heard from Pinet’s cell the night he died: “Please don’t let them kill me,” and “I don’t want to die like this.”

And, indeed, no one should have to die because of such brutality. These crimes against so-called “criminals” are not excusable. The ANSWER Coalition, the United as One Coalition of Syracuse and the Party for Socialism and Liberation have fought and will continue to fight back against the criminal justice system and those in power. Together, we will continue to stand with the families of Raul Pinet Jr., Chuniece Patterson and all other victims of criminal injustice, to let them know: “Se ve, se presente, el pueblo está presente!”—“See us. Feel us. The people are here!”

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