Askia Sabur and Tanya Yates’ April 12th pretrial hearing

dave onion

Yesterday Tuesday April 12th 2011, Askia Sabur and Tanya Yates, 2 victims of recent violent attacks by 19th district cops went to court for a pretrial hearing. After waiting for over four hours for the judge to even show up, the court session started with business as usual. Case after case all involving drugs, their consumption and their sale. Like a plea deal factory worker on a bureaucratic assembly line, Judge Means rubber stamped every coerced plea, sending folks from the most struggling neighborhoods away with the necessary paperwork to facilitate whatever deal the DA chose to offer them.
Around noon, Evan Hughes and Larry Krasner, Askia and Tanya’s lawyers respectively stood in front of the judge arguing to consolidate the 2 cases. Krasner started off by breaking down a chronology of the events involving the two cases. Starting with the brutal beating of Askia on September 3rd that left him hospitalized with injuries including a broken arm and a split skull, to the raid on Askia’s cousin Tanya Yates’ home late October. After forcing their way into Tanya’s home and beating several family members  in the process, cops made explicit references to Askia, asking young males in the house to show their stitches and inspecting their heads, a clear reference to Askia’s cop inflicted scar on his own head, said Krasner. At least five people inside the house had witnessed this.

The main point to the judge for this hearing was that because the two cases shared evidence and witnesses and because they were essentially the same situation as it developed over time, it would be cheaper and more expedient to combine the two cases. The DA, of course argued vehemently that there was no connection whatsoever between the two cases, except for what existed in the heads of Askia’s supporters. But with little further discussion, Judge Means chose to combine the cases into one.

This is great news. In practice this means that Askia and Tanya will be able to present a more complete picture of their particular experience of police violence in Philly. The decision may also allow for a more general look at the out of control 19th district, where both incidents occurred and by extension to challenge police brutality in general. The Commonwealth on the other hand will have a harder time of portraying the two incidents as isolated examples of ‘mistakes’ or aberrations, or to justify them as they could an incident they would paint as brought on by the supposed violence of their victims. Still this might mean little when it comes to any actual justice (by terms of the state or otherwise). Typically, the courts side heavily on the side of violence committed by the police.

If we, as opponents of state terror and systemic racism can manage to push this case into the public arena for dialog and action, it could be a great opportunity. Though anger about police violence resonates among Philadelphians, we rarely have the clear cut high profile cases like this one. Dates for Askia and Tanya’s trial are tentative as of yet, but will likely be coming up sometime this summer. Regardless of the legal outcome, it would be a great time to mobilize and refocus attention on Philly’s rampant police brutality.