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An Open Letter to 
NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio
From El Grito de Sunset Park

October 16, 2014

Dear Mayor Bill de Blasio,

My name is Dennis Flores. I am writing this letter to you as suggested by New York City Community Affairs Commissioner, Marcos Carrion in order to arrange a meeting with you and inform you of our demands, listed at the end of this letter.

I founded El Grito de Sunset Park, a police accountability and copwatch coalition that has been organizing in the Sunset Park, Brooklyn community since 2003. El Grito de Sunset Park and our supporters, comprised of a citywide coalition, would like to have an open dialogue with you, Mayor DeBlasio, about how to ensure that our communities are safe and free of aggressive policing.

Throughout the years, we have video documented dozens of incidents of police misconduct within the 72nd precinct's jurisdiction. Our footage has helped exonerate some of those who have been unjustly criminalized and subjected to police brutality. Despite our documented evidence of police abuse, the officers who perpetrated these crimes with excessive force have not been held fully accountable for their actions.

Many of those subjected by police abuse continue to be charged as criminals. As a result, the NYPD and Brooklyn District Attorney's office continue to justify their arrests and their excessive use of force.

In the case of street vendors Jonathan Daza, 22, and his sister, Cindy Daza, 17, were aggressively approached at a street fair on September 14th 2014 for not packing up their belongings fast enough. Our video shows P.O. Vincent Ciardiello unjustifiably kicking Jonathan after he was already handcuffed and subdued on the ground. NYPD Commissioner Bratton suspended Officer Ciardiello for 30 days, and he is due to return this coming week. Meanwhile, both victims are still facing charges - Jonathan with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest and Cindy with 2nd degree felony assault on an officer. This family continues to struggle for justice and going back to their normal lives, while this abusive officer is free to continue damaging communities.

On September 20th, just six days after the Daza family incident, some of the same officers involved in past misconduct were also caught on video slamming Sandra Amezquita, a visibly pregnant woman, belly down onto the street for protesting the aggressive arrest of her son, Jhohan Lemos, for allegedly having a utility knife in his pocket. Officer Joseph Degan is seen on video pressing his knee and putting all his weight onto Sandra's back and shoving a nightstick onto the side of her belly.

After having made previous arrests on Amezquits's son, one in which the D.A.'s office declined prosecution, police officer Elvis Merizalde, seemed bent on having "something stick." Despite a years-long harassment and police misconduct, Jhohan was weeks away from beating previous false charges. The family firmly believes this was an act of retaliation, and alleges that Merizalde planted the
knife in Jhohan's pocket.

A second police officer was also seen on video, violently shoving another woman for approaching and informing the officer that Amezquita was pregnant. Commissioner Bratton placed Officer Degan on modified duty with pay for shoving the 2nd woman. This officer, and others present, committed or were accomplices to a violent crime against a pregnant woman, her son, husband and neighbors, and we have yet to see justice.

In addition, El Grito de Sunset Park previously captured video evidence of both officers Merizalde and Ciardiello aggressively arresting numerous young people who congregated onto the streets in continuing the celebrations from the Puerto Rican Day Parade on June 8, 2014. Timothy and Jose Gutierrez, along with Enrique Del Rosario, were all assaulted, arrested, and prosecuted for inciting riots and disorderly conduct. The Gutierrez brothers have plead to an ACD (Adjournment for Contemplation of Dismissal) which will have these charges dismissed if they don't get rearrested in the coming six months.

A grand jury recently investigated Del Rosario's case, in which he was charged for assaulting an officer. He and Officer Merizalde testified. After presenting our videos to the grand jury, Merizalde's statements were proven false. Videos show Del Rosario getting his camera taken by an officer just before being attacked by several other officers; Merizalde then joins, recklessly swinging his nightstick at an already subdued Del Rosario, injuring another officer in the process - the assault was then blamed on Del Rosario. The felony assault on an officer charge was dropped. Del Rosario is still facing misdemeanor charges for resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and inciting a riot. Neither of the officers has faced any discipline for this incident.

These are just some of the incidents that have gained notoriety in Sunset Park, but these flagrant acts of impunity have become too familiar in the five boroughs of New York City, and across the nation.

In the case of Sunset Park, the community sees a pattern of the same officers abusing their power with impunity. What we are experiencing is a direct result of Commissioner Bratton's "Broken Windows" policy implemented in the Giuliani era, whereby minor offenses are treated aggressively. Now that you have reappointed Commissioner Bratton, the NYPD has reintroduced strong-arm tactics against minor offenses that disproportionately target and criminalize people of color.

We are caught in a system motivated by quotas so as to present the best possible statistics in correlation to crime reduction. It has not brought justice, instead it has brought more woes upon the poor people of this city, in particular the Black and Latino communities.

We "El Grito de Sunset Park", people of conscious and good will are demanding from Mayor Bill DeBlasio:
  1. Justice for the families that were victims of police aggression and misconduct.
  2. With pending charges, recovering from injuries, as well as struggling to get back to work, there is a long and arduous path for them to return to their normal lives. All pending criminal charges must be dropped.
  3. Fire the police officers involved in these incidents, and replace the 72nd Precinct Captain Ng. Demonstrate that abusive behavior will not be tolerated nor ignored.
  4. Replace Commissioner Bratton with a Commissioner that is culturally sensitive to communities of color. For too long, Bratton's policies have harmed our communities.
  5. Create an Independent Commission to review the last 20 years of NYPD policies of engagement with the public in regards to safety issues. It is essential to have an investigation that is independent of the systems that have lost our trust and confidence in them.
Hope to hear from you soon. 

Dennis Flores
El Grito de Sunset Park
(917) 995-6558
"Sunset Park Speaks, Bratton Blinks and Sharpton Squirms" By Josmar Trujillo, Huffington Post (10/17/2014)