A preliminary report released today by the ACLU's Human Rights Program shows a pattern of ongoing police brutality in Puerto Rico. We released this report in advance of President Obama's scheduled visit to the U.S. territory tomorrow.
Our preliminary report finds the government, and particularly the Puerto Rico Police Department (PRPD), has violently suppressed First Amendment protected speech and activity. The police have responded to students peacefully protesting at the University of Puerto Rico by beating them with nightsticks, macing them with pepper spray and shooting rubber bullets and deploying tear gas canisters into crowds. Police have also applied pressure-point techniques on immobilized student protestors, causing pain and, in some instances, unconsciousness. Similar tactics were used against union leaders and workers peacefully protesting the mass firing of more than 20,000 public workers. Journalists attempting to cover these stories of misconduct have been physically assaulted by police. (This video shows just some of the most recent violence.)
Our preliminary report also documents numerous unpunished cases of police brutality over the past five years against low-income communities and communities of African and Dominican descent, including the execution of a man who was shot seven times in the back while in police custody, and numerous cases of savage attacks by police against unarmed black and Dominican men in public housing projects. We found that victims subjected to severe police brutality, including lethal force, face serious obstacles to securing justice. They face long delays after filing complaints and abusive officers rarely are held accountable.
On Friday, we sent a letter to President Obama calling on him to address these abuses with Puerto Rican leaders during his visit tomorrow. The ACLU will also raise these serious concerns in full-page ads to be taken out Tuesday in Puerto Rico's largest Spanish-language newspaper El Nuevo Dia and its only English-language newspaper The Daily Sun. An ad is also running through Tuesday in New York's El Diario La Prensa, one of the nation's largest Spanish-language newspapers.
Between March and May, the national office of the ACLU conducted fact-finding human rights research in Puerto Rico to further document allegations of police brutality recorded by the ACLU of Puerto Rico since 2004. A delegation convened by the ACLU travelled to Puerto Rico in May and met with a number of government officials. The ACLU's final research findings will be detailed in a full-length report to be released in September.
Join the ACLU in calling on President Obama to address the issue of police brutality in Puerto Rico: send a letter asking him to raise the issue with Gov. Luis Fortuño during his visit to ensure that the promises of the First Amendment are as real for the citizens of Puerto Rico as they are for all other U.S. citizens.