By Phebe Eckfeldt
The Somerville 5 are young Black men ranging from 15 to 18 years old. These students at Somerville High School went out on the night of April 20, 2005, to enjoy a carnival in Medford, Mass. But the night turned into one of horror that changed their lives forever. They reported that they were beaten, arrested and psychologically traumatized by Medford police and then charged with assaulting the cops.
Medford police claim the youths were harassing customers in a store. But the clerk on duty that night has stated that there was no disturbance. Other witnesses agree.
Like the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf Coast, the case of the Somerville 5 illustrates in a vivid and horrifying way that Black people—and Latin@, Asian, Native and Arab people—are an oppressed and super-exploited nation colonized within the boundaries of the U.S. These starkly expose the institutional racism and inequalities built into capitalism—who lives and who dies, who is expendable and who is not.
Racist profiling and police brutality, which Black people face on a daily basis, are weapons of the state machinery wielded to keep Black people and other people of color repressed, intimidated, in fear and always in the midst of a potential frame-up.
Somerville 5 supporters argue that the unprovoked police attack on the five youth is now being covered up by police, the courts, the Middlesex district attorney, local media and education officials who have criminalized and marginalized the young men.
All five were immediately suspended from school indefinitely, no longer allowed to attend classes, go to school functions, see their peers or participate in sports programs.
The Committee to Defend the Somerville 5 was formed shortly after their arrests to support the youth. The committee includes African American Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner, the Rev. William Dickerson from the Greater Love Tabernacle Church, members of the NAACP, Nation of Islam, Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers, Women’s Fightback Network and the International Action Center.
The committee has put pressure on the previous superintendent of schools to reinstate the five students. The group has picketed, met with school officials, held media conferences, written letters of support and carried out a phone/fax campaign in which hundreds of people have contacted the superintendent to demand reinstatement.
Despite this, the previous superintendent, and now newly appointed Superintendent Anthony Pierantozzi, have refused to reinstate three of the students: Calvin Belfon, Isiah Anderson and Marquis Anderson.
The committee’s work has so far won reinstatement of two of the five students—Cassius Belfon and Earl Guerra—after their charges were reduced from felonies to misdemeanors.
In a letter supporting reinstatement of the Somerville 5, the ACLU wrote to Pierantozzi, “The criminal charges did not grow out of an incident involving other students, and the incident did not take place on or near the school and did not involve a school event. … Moreover, in considering the effect on the school, it would be unfair to disregard both the substantial support which these students have received from their peers and from their teachers at the high school and their unblemished records of conduct.”
The Somerville 5 need help with legal expenses. Please send donations to International Action Center/Somerville 5, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130. Checks should be made payable to: Calvin Belfon, Sr.