By MICHAEL SCHREIBER
On Aug. 31, several hundred people marched through the heart of Philadelphia’s Puerto Rican community to protest the police murder of Eddie Irizarry two weeks earlier. Eddie was shot six times on Aug. 13 as he sat peacefully in his car during a traffic stop. At first, the police department lied about the incident, claiming that the cops had been “defending themselves” against the victim, who had allegedly “lunged at them” with a knife. But surveillance footage proved that the police account had been fabricated.
At the protest march, chants rang out of “Say his name! Eddie Irizarry!” “What do we want? Justice!” and “¡El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!” (“The people united will never be defeated!”). People marched behind a banner demanding “Justice!” and carried Puerto Rican flags and signs with portraits of “Junito,” as Eddie Irizarry was affectionately nicknamed by friends and family. Others carried signs denouncing police brutality—which the Philadelphia cops have been guilty of on numerous occasions. Just last May, a Philadelphia plainclothes officer was charged with murder for shooting a 12-year-old boy, Thomas “TJ” Siderio, in the back as he ran away, and then firing the fatal shot execution-style as the boy lay wounded and unarmed on the ground.
The march made its way from a rally outside the Taller Puertorriqueño to the 24th Police District station. Black community activist Gabe Bryant expressed solidarity with the protesters at the Taller. “Look around!” he told the crowd. “I see a lot of power, a lot of strength! We need to organize! We need to mobilize!”
Outside the police station, as a row of stone-faced cops looked on from the steps, one of Eddie’s aunts, Millie, addressed the crowd in tears, shouting, “It’s murder! Shame!” She pointed out that the cops gave Irizarry merely six seconds to respond to their commands before shooting him. “Six seconds!” she said. “Who the hell does anything in six seconds?” Later, the protesters moved on to the street where Eddie was killed; they laid white roses at the site of the shooting.
On Aug. 13, Eddie Irizarry, a 27-year-old mechanic from Puerto Rico, had been followed by a police cruiser as he drove in his Toyota. The police alleged later that he had been driving erratically, weaving from side to side on the road.
Two surveillance cameras show Eddie pulling into a side street and parking his car. Moments later, he turns off the ignition as the police cruiser pulls up next to him. Immediately, two police officers emerge from the cruiser with their pistols drawn, run to the car, and point their guns at the victim. At that point, Eddie rolls up his car window. One of the cops, Mark Dial, then fires several times through the side window of the car, and again through the windshield, gravely wounding the victim. Both cops then run away, as Eddie Irizarry struggles for his life.
Recently, Eddie’s family and their attorney, Shaka Johnson, were able to visit D.A. Larry Krasner’s office, where they viewed the police body-cam video of the incident. The footage gave them an even closer look at the killing. Johnson said that the video showed that Eddie did have a pocketknife, but it was by his side when he was shot. He never raised it to threaten the officers, as the police department alleged in their attempt to cover up the murder.
The attorney told reporters that, according to the video sound track, Officer Dial commanded Irizarry to “Show me your hands!” and after one officer called out that he had a knife, Dial then yelled, “Drop the knife!” A few seconds later, Dial shot him. Johnson pointed out that Irizarry had no time to respond to the orders and that he might not have understood them. “He never got a chance to hear and respond to a police command,” he said. “He’s sitting in his car with the windows rolled up, and doesn’t speak English.”
Johnson said that the district attorney’s office had promised to release the police video footage to the public within the next two weeks, though the reason for the delay was not made clear. The family is demanding that the video remain unredacted. Krasner also declined to say whether his office intended to press criminal charges against Dial or his partner. A week ago, Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw announced that the police department had decided to fire Dial—not for the shooting but for his refusal to speak with internal investigators about what happened.
[UPDATE: On Sept. 8, the district attorney’s office announced that Officer Dial will be indicted on murder charges.]
Photo: Elizabeth Robertson / Philadelphia Inquirer