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Published On: Sat, Dec 20th, 2008

Ever Wonder Why I Created This Platform?

This post is dedicated to the memory of Richie Perez, the man I call “El Padre De Mi Conciencia“…he was one of the few people I have ever admired because of the pure content of his character, dedication and integrity. It was Richie who named me “Urban Jibaro after he heard me perform “True Boricua at the 1996 Muevete Conference.

On December 20th, 1986, I was walking in the South Ozone Park area of Queens with Rafael “Apache” Gonzalez when we were attacked by a group of white men. We were attacked because we were Latino, that was pretty evident because the racial slurs they used as they tried to kill us. I can still hear them calling us “spics” whenever I relive the moments that could have easily become my last. This attack was labeled by the media as the “other” Howard Beach incident. The word other stood for Latino…and the original Howard Beach Incident happened too close to where we were attacked…almost at the same time and by another group that had the same contempt for anyone who was not one of them. That group actually beat and chased three young men, Michael Griffith, Cedric Sandiford and Timothy Grimes. Michael Griffith was killed when he ran into traffic trying to escape the vicious beating they had already unleashed on them. Michael Griffiths death pushed New York City’s racial divide into the limelight, igniting a very passionate, almost one sided dialogue with people of color and local government.

Without reliving the whole attack in detail…I will say that a man driving a livery cab actually came to our aid as Rafael was almost losing consciousness and we were ejected from a local cafe (you know the kind that overweight guys play cards on a small table in front of all day). I can honestly tell you that I do not remember if the man that helped us was white, black, hispanic or asian. What I do know is that if it were not for him…I would not be here tonight reflecting on this night. When the police arrived, I thought to myself…THANK GOD…we are safe…and as soon as that thought entered my mind…I was brought back to reality by the accusing words of an officer questioning me as to why I would be in that part of Queens in the first place. He said that nobody would be bothering me in this neighborhood unless I was up to no good. It was so surreal to me and as I gathered my thoughts, the ambulance arrived providing me an opportunity to get away from the police.

Later that night, while waiting in the emergency room of Jamaica Hospital, the waiting room quickly filled with all of our friends and families. And as I am there explaining what happened to us, a man listening in starts to ask me questions and comparing notes. That man was Cederick Sandiford, one of the victims of the Howard Beach attack. When we started talking about what seemed to be an attack from the same group of men, we were brought back to the sad reality that in a 5 mile radius of Queens, there were actually two groups of men with equally passionate hatred towards people of color. The emergency room quickly filled with homicide detectives and reporters.

In the following days, Rafael was released from the hospital (he suffered a concussion from a baseball bat to the head). I only suffered minor cuts and bruises and was treated and released the night of the attack. We were eventually approached by the Reverend Al Sharpton and the legal team of Alton and Maddox. They had convinced us that we needed an united front as people of color to get justice for what had happened to us that night. Down the road, we met Richie Perez, former Young Lord who actually extended free legal help and the media exposure we needed to get justice in our case, It appeared to us that the legal team representing the Griffith Family had taken center stage and our case was not getting the same attention. We opted to accept the help of Richie Perez and the National Congress Of Puerto Rican Rights.

After countless protests, TV appearances, newspaper articles and court dates, the individuals responsible for whathappened to us were acquitted of all charges. We lost because the brother of one of the teens who attacked us has a brother (who looked like a twin) and had an alibi…even though we had identified him and the make and model of his car. His legal team had enough to create reasonable doubt and that bought them the freedom to do this again one day. The Griffith family had more success for their loved one…three of the suspects were convicted of second degree manslaughter and first-degree assault, but were acquitted of the second degree murder charges. A fourth suspect, was acquitted of all charges. The one thing they could not get back, was Michael Griffith.

Although in many ways I wish I could erase the horrible memories of what happened that night, I have to be thankful for having the opportunity to have met Richie Perez and so many other dynamic, progressive people during this time. It was his outlook on life and justice that made me have the voice I have today. It was his example that made me proud to be Boricua and part of a community that will inspire the next generation of self determined leaders.

 

Richie…te lo he dicho mil veces…Gracias…y seguire pa’lantesiempre pa’lante!

As I am,
George Torres
Urban Jibaro
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Ever Wonder Why I Created This Platform?