Statement in Support of The Welfare Poets
On the night of Saturday. December 15, 2012, at around 5pm in East Harlem (El Barrio), two members of the socio-political Hip Hop fusion band, The Welfare Poets (Michael Pacheco – The Legendary M.I.C. and Keith Hughes aka Dahu Ala), along with their film crew Ricky Turner and Wander Acosta (who are also members of the Hip Hop group Lower Class Citizens) were arrested by the NYPD for criminal trespassing, a misdemeanor, while filming a music video at the NYCHA’s James Weldon Johnson Houses. Additionally, Iz The Truth (Israel Balleto) of Guerrilla Republik (a progressive Hip Hop clothing company and organization in which the Welfare Poets are directly a part of) and Boom Box were also arrested. The Welfare Poets were filming footage for an upcoming music video. They were guests of Ray Ramirez, a founding member of The Welfare Poets who was with his daughter when the arrest took place and who lives in the Johnson houses, where Keith Hughes has also a been a longtime resident.
In situations like this, officers have the discretion to issue a desk appearance ticket to the individuals, or as they did in this case, make an arrest. The 6 arrested individuals were booked at a precinct (in this case, the NYPD Service Area #5) and sent downtown to Manhattan Central Booking to be processed for a misdemeanor. What makes this instance unique is that, originally when they were all stopped by the police who had their weapons drawn, the police officers said they would probably be given a summons and released without going to the precinct. Once an officer noticed Michael’s shirt and found out that the collective were part of The Welfare Poets, the officers started claiming that the group was connected to Los Macheteros and that they knew about them (The Welfare Poets). They went on to say that they have had their eyes on the collective for some time. An officer then called their sergeant and came back smiling saying that they decided to arrest the six and take them to the precinct to be booked and eventually be sent to central booking for further processing and arraignment. At least seven cops came to arrest the group. Keith Hughes, an elder, was not able to take his required medication for the period of their incarceration. They were released the following night and all the cases were resolved by Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal (ACD).
Los Macheteros (“the Machete Wielders”) are a clandestine militant organization based on the island of Puerto Rico that play a large historical role in the Puerto Rican independence movement. They support and campaign for the decolonization and independence of Puerto Rico from the United States and have been heavily targeted by the FBI under the direction of J. Edgar Hoover and his COINTELPRO program. On September 23, 2005, the FBI assassinated its leader, Filiberto Ojeda Rios after they surrounded his house in Hormigueros, Puerto Rico with no chance of escape. They claimed it was an attempt to serve a warrant for his arrest.
As an organization, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM) has worked to highlight many cases of FBI COINTELPRO targeting, assassination and political incarceration of activists, educators, organizers and others involved in the Black and Puerto Rican independence movements. Many of these cases remain unresolved and innocent men and women sit in prisons—their only crime, struggling for basic human rights for their people and communities.
We, as the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, strongly condemn the actions of these NYPD officers and supervisors. The Welfare Poets are long time community activists and educators in addition to being artists committed to addressing and improving the conditions of oppressed people everywhere. Over the years their unwavering commitment has made them targets to units like the Hip Hop Police and the NYPD in general. Without compromise, The Welfare Poets are always there to support the community at protests and rallies, school meetings and assemblies, political and cultural affairs, and events in prisons—even on death row. We will not be silent and allow our community artists be harassed by this repressive police force. To arrest them simply because of the political beliefs and affiliations, when clearly a summons could have been given, is a violation of their 1st amendment rights and shows the lack of respect we have seen repeatedly towards many of our revolutionary hip hop artists. We must speak out, spread the word and stand in support of those in our community whose rights are abused as they have stood with us in the fight for justice on so many fronts.
MXGM People’s Self-Defense Campaign
*Details of arrest from December 16, 2012 Press Release by The Welfare Poets