Carta de Kilómetro Cero al congresista Raúl Grijalva
September 12, 2019
Congressman Raúl Grijalva
United States Congress
Kilómetro Cero, a Puerto Rican organization dedicated to bolstering Police accountability and citizen empowerment in the areas of state use of force and freedom of expression, is profoundly frustrated and skeptical regarding one of the certifications that the government of Puerto Rico must adhere to in order to receive Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funds.
Item J in the original action plan’s last page (p.126) establishes: “Puerto Rico certifies that it has adopted and is enforcing the following policies, and, in addition, must certify that they will require local governments that receive grant funds to certify that they have adopted and are enforcing: (1) A policy prohibiting the use of excessive force by law enforcement agencies within its jurisdiction against any individuals engaged in nonviolent civil rights demonstrations; and (2) A policy of enforcing applicable State and local laws against physically barring entrance to or exit from a facility or location that is the subject of such nonviolent civil rights demonstrations within its jurisdiction”.
The government of Puerto Rico has failed to comply with these certifications as recent history has evidenced that the Puerto Rico Police Bureau (PRPB) has incurred in excessive use of force against peaceful protesters in numerous demonstrations. In the last four years, the PR Police and the Capitol's security officials have also continuously barred the entrance of peaceful protestors, teachers, students, women, and citizen lobbyists to the Capitol in San Juan during the deliberation and approval phases of critical bills.
The PRPD has a long history of violence against protesters as documented in the Department of Justice’s 2011 Investigation of the Puerto Rico Police Department and Findings Report, in ACLU’s 2012 Island of Impunity report, and in the subsequent Agreement for the Sustainable Reform of the Puerto Rico Police Department. However, despite the current Agreement for Reform, in the last three years, the Police Bureau excessive use of force against protesters has worsened, particularly during the demonstrations of April and May of 2017; April and May, 2018, when even children, elder, and passerby where seriously affected by gas, in various violations of the PRPB Use of Force policy; disproportionate violence was used against demonstrators, reporters, and legal observers as well as unlawful warrantless arrests of protesters.
As recently as this past summer, more than 52 persons were affected by different types of interventions by law enforcement officers in Puerto Rico during the #RickyRenuncia protests when people demanded the resignation of Governor Ricardo Rosselló. This number does NOT include thousands of peaceful protesters and neighbors estimated to have suffered the effects of the tear gas fired throughout the streets of Old San Juan on multiple occasions. Cases include instances of police baton use, firing of rubber bullets and metal pellets, pepper spray, tear gas, beatings, property damage, and other assaults against peaceful protesters.
When watching the videos, photos and testimonies of Kilometro Cero's Documentation on interventions and cases of use of force by the Puerto Rico Police Bureau during the #RickyRenuncia protests, the excessive use of force of the Puerto Rico Police in the context of a protected activity is evident as well as the disproportion of their attacks on protesters, who did not pose a threat to the Police. In some cases, protesters were literally singing and dancing when they were attacked by the Police because allegedly "the Constitution had stopped guaranteeing their rights".
Investigative journalists from The New York Times analyzed dozens of videos and photos and came to the same conclusion. They also used and quoted Kilometro Cero's documentation.
Compliance with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the certification of adoption and enforcement of policies prohibiting the use of excessive force by law enforcement agencies against any individuals engaged in nonviolent civil rights demonstrations are critical for the allocation and disbursement of reconstruction funds. However, as an organization that has monitored police violence and suppression of speech in recent years, we are deeply concerned that the Government of Puerto Rico does not have the political will to comply with these federal certifications.
We ask Congress to seek accountability from the Government of Puerto Rico, the Puerto Rico Police Bureau and other law enforcement agencies that do not abide to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, conditions upon which these Disaster Recovery funds are approved and allocated. It is their responsibility to exhibit respect and political will to assure that human rights such as freedom of expression will be respected in our country.