Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-IL) addressed the U.S. House of Representatives today and called on the Governor of Puerto Rico to apologize to the Puerto Rican people in the wake of a U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division report detailing systematic abuse of power and repression of civil rights by the Puerto Rico Police Department.
The Congressman, who first addressed the Congress on civil and human rights abuses by the police in Puerto Rico in February 2011, was denounced by the ruling party and formally censured by the Puerto Rican Legislature in May for his remarks in the U.S. Congress.
Today, Rep. Gutierrez called for the U.S. Department of Justice to follow up the report by appointing a special prosecutor and a Grand Jury and to see the issues detailed in the report through to criminal prosecutions.
Video of the Congressman’s speech
Congressman’s remarks at the House of Representatives
Thank you Mr. Speaker. I rise today to ask us to take action on a scathing Department of Justice investigation of a police department that, quote: “regularly violates the constitutional rights of civilians through illegal searches, detentions, and arrests.”
That “continues to demonstrate a deliberate indifference to the public’s safety and the civil rights of individuals engaging in protected speech activities during protests,”
A police force where, quote: “officers engage in a pattern and practice of unreasonable force and other misconduct to suppress the exercise of protected First Amendment rights.”
The report details the abuse the American citizens of Puerto Rico are facing by the Puerto Rico Police Department. Something labor leaders, students, and environmentalists know all too well.
On this floor, I said, “I rise to bring the urgent attention of the U.S. House of Representatives to a human rights and civil rights crisis.”
A place “where the right of students to protest and speak their minds is being denied with clubs and mace and pepper spray.”
I spoke those words seven months ago.
The DOJ report states that the Governor of Puerto Rico has, quote, “supreme authority” over the police. Did he use that “supreme authority” to respond to Puerto Ricans who asked for help?
He did. The Governor’s ruling party took immediate action after I detailed the abuse. The ruling party was outraged.
Facing a civil rights crisis, the ruling party of Puerto Rico acted without hesitation. It urgently passed legislation – to censure me for speaking out.
In part, that censure reads:
“Congressman Luis Gutiérrez made false allegations about a supposed human Rights crisis in Puerto Rico; he expressed himself in a denigrating and malicious manner about the honorable Body of the Puerto Rico Police; all of which tends to hurt the image and good name of Puerto Rico.”
Here’s the problem, the ruling party of Puerto Rico has made clear time and again that they are not concerned about the abuse of their people; only that the world might notice the abuse.
They don’t seem to understand that if you love Puerto Rico, you stand up and speak out, not pretend that everything is alright.
For standing up, the government gave me 600 words of censure.
But the government did not give one – not one – word of censure for what happened to Rachel Hiskes.
Here’s how the DOJ describes it:
“A student journalist, Rachel Hiskes, entered the Capitol with other individuals and attempted to access the Senate chambers. Puerto Rico Police Department officers, who had been dispatched to the Capitol earlier in the day, stopped Hiskes and hit her. She was not resisting or combative. Hiskes then sat in the hallway with other visitors in protest. A Capitol employee then sprayed Hiskes and others with chemical irritants. As Hiskes tried to get up, an officer hit her across the back with a baton, causing her to fall. An officer continued to push and strike her with his baton, driving her toward the doorway. When she reached the door and had her back to the officer, the officer shoved her out onto the concrete stairs using his baton and hitting her in the neck. Hiskes was never arrested or charged with any crime.”
Instead of protecting people like Rachel, the government derided people who love Puerto Rico enough to demand change.
This Governor’s chief of staff – a man he has absurdly tasked with responding to the DOJ report – said protesting workers would be treated as “terrorists” and boasted he would kick protesting students off campus.
That’s love for the people?
This government cannot fix a problem they helped to create and expand.
The students bloodied with batons deserve more.
A U.S. Department of Justice that produced a thorough, important report deserves more.
And, to be clear, the many honorable and brave Puerto Rican police officers who are incorruptible, who do their jobs right and risk their lives every day – deserve more.
When crimes like these are brought to light, we expect criminal indictments.
I want to see the special prosecutor appointed, the Grand Jury seated, the trials begun, and to see those responsible — and not just the police officers following orders, but those who directed the police to systematically repress free speech — sent to jail.
The goal must be to reestablish the rule of law and to reestablish a police department in Puerto Rico that protects and serves the people of Puerto Rico.
The goal must be a police department fighting crime, not committing them.
The goal must be that no government can act with impunity against it own people.
And I have one last recommendation.
The Governor of Puerto Rico should apologize to his people.
Puerto Ricans have called out for help. In response, the governor and his ruling party have led an effort to demonize them for standing up for their civil rights.
Governor, the Department of Justice has just made clear that your people were right and you were wrong.
It’s time to say you’re sorry.