Young Lords History 2: “Don’t fuck with us. It’s as simple as that.”

Part 1: TB Truck Liberated

 

The Young Lords: The Garbage Offensive

 

 

East Harlem is known as El Barrio—New York’s worst Puerto Rican slum.

There are others-on the Lower East Side, in Brooklyn, in the South Bronx, but El Barrio is the oldest, biggest, filthiest of them all. There is glass sprinkled everywhere, vacant lots tilled with rubble, burnt out buildings on nearly every block, and people packed together in the polluted summer heat.

There is also the smell of garbage, coming in an incredible variety of flavors and strengths. For weeks the YLO had been asking the Sanitation Dept. for brooms and trash cans so they could clean up the streets and sidewalks of El Barrio. The city ignored the request. Finally, on Sunday, August 17, the community rebelled.

All the rubbish that had accumulated along East 110th St. was dumped into the middle of the street. At 111th and Lexington Ave., the people turned over several abandoned cars and set them afire.

Hundreds of nervous cops arrived on the scene. When they dragged Ildefenso Santiago out of his car and took him to the precinct house, reportedly on suspicion of burglary (they found a screwdriver in his car), the people retaliated by filling the streets with more trash, cars, old refrigerators, and any thing else they could find. It began to look like a repeat of the 1967 summer riot in which at least two people were killed and scores injured in street fighting with cops.

At this point, members of the YLO stepped in to work with the people. They organized a march to the precinct house where Santiago was being held. Chanting “Viva Puerto Rico!”, “Power to the People!”, and “Off the Pig!”, nearly 300 people marched to the 126th St police station to demand Santiago’s release. Within half an hour, he was free and the crowd carried him back to his car on their shoulders.

It was a victory for the people said Felipe, chairman of YLO, at a rally the following day. “They’ve treated us like dogs for too long. When our people came here in the 1940’s, they told us New York was a land of milk and honey. And what happened? Our men can’t find work. Look at them. They sit around and play dominos because they can’t get a decent job. Our women are forced to become prostitutes. Our young people get hooked on drugs. And they won’t even give us brooms to sweep up the rubbish on our streets.”

The YLO has issued a set of demands: regular collection of trash; at least ten brooms and trash barrels per block; the hiring of more Puerto Ricans by the Sanitation Dept; and higher starting pay for sanitation workers.

The next day, the New York Post reported the incident, obscured the main point of the protest by saying the people acted as a result of “misunderstanding” about Santiago’s arrest. In fact, the people of El Barrio have said that they will no longer tolerate the city’s neglect of their needs. They are taking matters into their own hands.

The way Felipe put it at the rally was that we’re building our own community. “Don’t fuck with us. It’s as simple as that.”

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