Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Judge Dismisses Case Against Rebel Diaz- Says "Keep Up the Good Work!"

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via The Indypendent

“Its a victory for hip-hop, immigrants’ rights movements, immigrant vendors, a victory for the South Bronx” - Rod Starz

The case against the South Bronx-based hip-hop artists Rodrigo and Gonzalo
Venegas was dropped June 18, exactly one year after the brothers were
aggressively arrested by NYPD when they offered to translate for a Hunts
Point street vendor who, they felt, was being harassed by police officers.

Judge Darcel Clark unexpectedly granted a motion to dismiss the brothers’
two misdemeanors charges of obstruction of justice and resisting arrest
citing their positive impact in the community. Rodrigo “RodStarz” and
Gonzalo “G1” are part of the group Rebel Diaz, along with Teresita “Lah
Tere” Ayala.

The incident occurred after Rodstarz and G1 offered to translate on behalf
of the street vendor who did not speak English. After asking for the
officer’s badge numbers, they were violently arrested. The brothers were
originally charged with assaulting a police officer, however, a friend
caught the incident on video and was able to quickly put it on Youtube.
Within hours, 150 community m embers had rallied at the local precinct and
the NYPD withdrew that charge. The two remaining misdemeanors included
obstruction of justice and resisting arrest.

Leah Horowitz is an attorney with the Bronx Defenders and represented
Rodstarz during the case. She filed the motion to dismiss in the interest
of justice on March 2, though admittedly did not have much confidence it
would be granted. The motion included letters from over thirty members of
the South Bronx community and individuals and groups Rebel Diaz had worked
with across the country and the globe.

Horowitz told the Indypendent she credits Rebel Diaz’s community support,
saying it “impressed a court system that isn’t easily impressed. And isn’t
easily affected by those sorts of things. I think what it says is that
organizing — which is what I’ve always known and believed in — is the way
to go.”

She aded, “It was obvious [the judge] thought very hard about it, and who
they are, and the ridiculous nature of the case shone through,” adding,
“She’s a good judge, she’s a tough judge, when she says something like
that, it’s a tremendous sign of respect.”

”The church I represent is one of the churches that wrote letters of
support” said Claudia De La Cruz, a resident of the South Bronx and pastor
of San Romeros De Las Americas Church in Washington20Heights. She added, “I
was there in the court [for the decision] and I feel like it was a victory
not just for Rebel Diaz, but a victory for our communities and so it was a
happy moment because …justice was actually served.“

Rodstarz emphasized the importance of the letter writing campaign: “At the
end of the day, if we hadn’t had those letters, I don’t think we would have
had our case dismissed. People really took their time out of their day to
write letters of support and it proved to work.”

The decision came as a surprise to Rebel Diaz’s lawyers, supporters and
Rebel Diaz themselves. The judge’s last words also came as somewhat of a
shock, “The last words the judge left us with was “keep up the good work,”
said G1. “I think it’s keep up the good fight, and that’s what we are
doing. We left that courtroom with more conviction in what we do.”

Claudia De La Cruz was also impressed by the judge’s final words. She said,
“I think it’s an affirmation and it’s interesting that it’s coming from a
judge. I think it has a lot to do with that it was a black judge who said
this … even though as a judge she represents the system that is
systematically abusing our people, she was able to affirm herself as she
affirmed the work that they do.”

Ever since the original incident one year ago, Rebel Diaz has emphasized
that that their case was part of a systemic problem. “The outcome of the
case, it’s really easy to come to the conclusion that the system works,”
said G1, adding “I would say it’s not so much that the system works, [but]
that the system has cracks. As a community we have to exploit those cracks
in the system. We need to find the small spaces of democracy that are left
within this police state, whether through technology, through direct action
through our communities, within our block.”

He added the community was able to rally around the case showed its
resilience and defiance to the system, “In the process of fighting the
case, we opened up a community center here in the South Bronx four blocks
away from the precinct that locked us up,” said G1.

The Rebel Diaz Arts Collective opened in March. Located on 478 Austin Place
in the South Bronx, the Collective includes “a performance space, a
multimedia studio, a computer lab art gallery, and it’s all been made
possible really by contributions from the members of the community,” he
added.

Rebel Diaz not only organizes on a local level, but through their music and
with fundraisers and benefits to promote awareness and raise money to fight
injustice all over the world. On June 17th, the day before the decision,
they took part in a concert fundraiser for George Galloway’s 2nd Viva
Palestina Convoy trip to Gaza.

Rodstarz said, “I can’t sit here and fight against gentrification in the
South Bronx and ignore the situation in Gaza. I can’t sit here and talk
about police brutality in Brooklyn or Harlem and not talk about people
being assassinated in Oaxaca, because they are being displaced too in
Mexico. I can’t talk about Palestine and not talk about independence for
Puerto Rico. “He continued, “If we are not making those connections we are
blind. We got to start talking about things in the real landscape; the
world is under attack. There’s colonization going on worldwide and
gentrification going on worldwide.”

Rodstarz told the Indypendent that the ordeal has left the group even more
determined to make a difference in their community, “More than anything we
are going to keep up the struggle for immigrant rights, keep fighting youth
incarceration, against police profiling young black and brown men in the
South Bronx.We are going to keep calling out the powers that be.”He added,
“There is gentrification going on in the South Bronx. That is the reason
they are doing immigrant street vendor sweeps, that is the reason why they
are arresting young people… We are going to keep fighting with more
strength than ever.”