This morning, a group of activists gathered in across the street from the Foley Square Courthouse in New York City to demand the maximum sentencing for Kenneth Moreno and Franklin Mata, the former NYPD officers at the center of the well-publicized “rape cops” trial. Moreno and Mata were acquitted of rape, despite substantial evidence against them, including a taped confession; however, they were convicted of “official misconduct” and fired.
The acquittal of the officers inspired a large and fiery rally and a march to NYPD headquarters, largely organized by feminist collective Permanent Wave. This second rally was staged by an inter-organizational coalition dubbed “Connect the Dots,” which included organizers from NOW-NYC, CONNECT NYC, Feministing, and the NYC Alliance Against Sexual Assault, amongst others. It was substantially smaller and less raucous than the May 28th event, with several dozen protesters instead of hundreds. But this second rally was also more ambitious, and more focused on women, girls, and sexual assault. Chants of “fuck the police” were replaced by “rape is a real crime / rapists should do real time.”
Though the larger coalition brought attention to a broader range of issues, protesters rarely lost their focus on the case, and the woman at the center of it, who, in the words of speaker Nancy Schwartzman, “had the strength to stand up to the NYPD.”
“It’s the NYPD,” said activist Kalima Desuze. “If women can’t rely on the NYPD to protect us, it is open season on women.”
One of the attendees, Emmaline, identified herself as a friend of the victim. She said that she had not been able to attend the first rally, but had seen the pictures and the coverage, and had been “really touched” by the outcry.
“Obviously, it’s an injustice. It’s the wrong verdict,” she said. As for what she hoped this series of protests would accomplish, her wishes were fairly simple: “My hope is that they serve the maximum sentence for what they were convicted of, if that’s the best we can hope for.”
But organizers weren’t willing to settle for just hope. “Just letting the verdict happen, and having that one sort of initial response, was not enough. We need to show that there’s been a sustained response,” said organizer Jean Bucaria of NOW-NYC, when asked why another rally was necessary. “This case is an alarm bell. There’s something terribly wrong within our justice system. We’re not really doing our job unless we show that we’re trying to look at what happened, and respond to it.”
Some of the strongest statements about the case came from New York City Councilmen Rosie Mendez and Letitia James. “Because they know how to get rid of evidence,” said Mendez, “they were not convicted of this crime.” James described e-mails she had received, asking her how she dared to challenge the verdict of the Moreno/Mata case. Her response, she said, was this: “How dare you ignore the evidence?”
Other organizers stressed the need to connect the Moreno/Mata case to a larger context of feminist activism.
Kala Ganesh of CONNECT said that the rally for the sentencing, and the foundation of Connect the Dots itself, sprang out of conversations held at a press conference on the morning of May 28th. She characterized the rally as something that was not only about preserving momentum and focus for this specific case, but about preserving the potential that case had to bring together and make connections between disparate issues. She hoped for a “multi-generational, multi-racial, multi-issue coalition” to address problems as diverse as sexual assault, domestic violence, the exploitation of women in the media, and cuts in funding to women’s issues.
Desuze characterized the verdict as part of a history of sexual assault and exploitation on the part of the NYPD, including exploitation of trafficked women and girls, while other speakers focused on domestic violence and funding cuts, street harassment by police officers, the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case, sexual assaults perpetrated upon women in the military and the role of men as allies to women and girls.
Although the rally had been planned to coincide with the sentencing of Moreno and Mata, that sentencing had been postponed for a month, reportedly so that defense lawyers could review footage from an unaired documentary about sex-crimes prosecutors, some of which related to the case. The rally’s organizers promised that the coalition would last, and would return next month to see the sentencing carried out.
As the rally closed, speakers thanked the audience for attending, and made a request: Come back next month, and bring ten more people when you do.