“I want to honor the lives of the people who are no longer with us, as well as that of those who are fighting in the streets,” one organizer of a solidarity protest in Jackson Heights told Spanish-language news site QueensLatino.
This article was originally reported and published by QueensLatino on May 5, 2021. It was translated by Carlos Rodriguez and has been updated and lightly edited for clarity.
A vigil was held earlier this month at the Manuel de Dios Unanue Square in Jackson Heights, Queens, in honor of the at least 27 people killed, 846 injured and 89 disappeared in Colombia recently at the hands of the police. The demonstrators called Colombian law enforcement officers “murderers” as a result of their ongoing attacks on civilian demonstrators.
Protests have been held in the South American nation since April 28 to condemn the tax reform imposed by the government of President Iván Duque. He has since suspended the law in response to the violence, but said that he supports the police as they “enforce public order.”
“In light of everything that is going on in Colombia, I decided to post a call on Instagram to hold this vigil,” said Melisa Escano, an immigrant from the city of Buga, in the Colombian region of Valle del Cauca. “Along with other women, I want to honor the lives of the people who are no longer with us, as well as that of those who are fighting in the streets.”
As the May 4 vigil in Queens went on, a night of terror ensued in Siloé, also in the Valle del Cauca. Social media postings show victims of police abuse. Throughout the night, internet service was interrupted several times in the area.
“Tonight, we are in Jackson Heights holding a vigil for those we have lost. The most beautiful thing about this event is that it was organized by people who do not represent any political party or organization, but by people who feel indignation. We demand to be respected, and we demand that they stop killing us,” said Lua, an immigrant from Cali and the creator of the hashtag #vacapalpueblo.
Amnesty International said that the incidents in Colombia are “alarming.” There is evidence that lethal weaponry has been deployed, whose use is prohibited for crowd dispersion purposes. “The Colombian authorities must end repression during protests,” stated Amnesty International.
The protests spread to the main Colombian cities in the form of looting, car burning and face-offs with the authorities. In New York, Colombian demonstrators have held protests in Queens, in front of the United Nations, and at New York University. The school invited former President Álvaro Uribe to speak about democracy, but the Zoom event was ultimately shut down by demonstrators. Critics slammed the school for offering a platform to the politician, who they say is a “murderous” member of the paramilitary and that President Duque is his puppet.
New York State Senator Jessica Ramos, born in Colombia, attended the vigil in Queens earlier this month and expressed her solidarity with the protestors in Colombia and the U.S.