The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a US civil and human rights organization, wrote the US Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division on March 10 asking the agency to conclude an ongoing investigation of alleged abuses by the Puerto Rican police and to publish its findings. The ACLU said that its Puerto Rican branch has been reporting these allegations to the Justice Department since around May 2008. The letter, signed by ACLU executive director Anthony Romero and addressed to Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, follows through on the organization’s decision in February to make the situation in Puerto Rico “a high priority.”
Abuses cited in the letter include “racially motivated beatings of members of minority communities by police officers; the execution of a man lying on the ground following an argument with a police officer over a traffic violation; the unsolved murder of a man of African-Puerto Rican descent, suspected to be an extrajudicial killing by police officers; the fabrication of drug-related charges against over 100 residents of a housing project in the city of Mayagüez; the violent and inhumane eviction of members of the Villas del Sol squatter community, including the denial of fresh water to the community for eight months; numerous incidents of abuse of the homeless by police officers.”
“[P]olice abuse has escalated” since the conservative Gov. Luis Fortuño took office in January 2009, Romero says, “and now free expression is under great threat.” As examples, Romero cites the Puerto Rico government’s legal actions against the local bar association and “extreme police brutality” used against protesting students at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), including “torture techniques on immobilized student protesters” and the targeting of young women, who “have also been sexually harassed, groped and touched by police.” An ACLU press release quoted Romero as saying that “the horrific abuses reported to be taking place in Puerto Rico have flown too far under the radar.” (ACLU press release and letter, March 10; El Nuevo Día, Guaynabo, March 10)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 20.
See our last post on Puerto Rico.