BY SARA LOBMAN
BROOKLYN, New York-New York cops stormed into an apartment building in the Crown Heights section of this city on November 11, arresting 35 people and hauling them off to jail. Armed with a battering ram and crowbar, they busted down closet doors and dug through basement storage areas. One newspaper described the scene as a "war zone, with heavily armed cops and police dogs on the ground and helicopters hovering overhead."
According to reports in the New York Times and other papers, those arrested were members of a group called the Provisional Communist Party, which also operated as the National Labor Federation and the Eastern Farm Workers Association.
Forty other tenants from the apartment buildings were temporarily left homeless because of the search. Many were forced to spend the night in the gym of nearby Medgar Evers College.
The cops claimed they were responding to an anonymous call to a private child-abuse agency about a crying child, and that earlier attempts by social workers to enter the building had been refused. Three people were charged with criminal weapons possession and criminal sale of a firearm. Police said that residents lacked permits for some of the several dozen small weapons found stored in a cabinet. The New York Times reported that anyone having more than five guns without a permit can be assumed under New York state law to be selling them. Two people were charged with obstruction of government administration. The others were released without being charged.
Two days after the arrests, New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani
presided over a press conference where officials reported that
a grand jury investigation would be conducted of the group.
No presumption of innocence
Almost before the ink on the search warrants was dry, the New York Times, New York Post, and local radio and television stations began saturating the city with sensationalistic articles. "Bomb cult bust" was the front-page banner headline of the Post the morning after the arrests. "Full story, more dramatic photos: Pages 2 & 3," it promised. The inside headline was "Cult's `bomb factory': 40 busted in swoop on terror suspects' HQ." The Times story, which started on the front page, included a features box titled "A closer look: A cache of weapons and supplies."
But the "cache of weapons and supplies" noted in the Times basement floor plan turns out to be refrigerators of food, crates of books, lockers of clothes, a tool shed, joint compound, a boiler, and "file cabinets containing revolutionary literature and files on migrant workers; light bulbs, lotion and other supplies."
The building itself was "furnished like an office," the Times article said, with filing cabinets, a meeting table, and paperwork lying about. Among the alleged suspicious activities pointed to in various newspaper articles were monthly meetings "where people would clap, sing and laugh, all at the same time," occasionally repairing old cars on the street in front of the apartment house, and carrying aluminum containers into the building. The group also kept a log of police activity on the block.
The media also attempted to whip up anticommunist sentiment. The Post called members of the organization "Bolshevik bullies" and proclaimed, "They forgot Communism's dead."
Police officials claimed they had not known anything about
the organization, and only entered the building in response the
anonymous call. The facts show otherwise. This was not the
first time the group's Brooklyn offices had been raided. In
1984, the FBI executed a search warrant for weapons. Nothing
illegal was discovered and the guns seized in that raid were
returned, although the FBI seized some of the organization's
papers. The police said they knew of no illegal acts ever
committed by the group. The group was also featured prominently
in the New York Times 1995 obituary of the organization's
founder, Eugenio Perente-Ramos.
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