Yesterday, thousands of Puerto Ricans joined May Day protests in San Juan. They marched in opposition to austerity measures like school closings, tuition hikes, and pension cuts. While the protests were largely peaceful, police attacked the protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets. The police claim this was in response to vandalism and the throwing of rocks at the police, but the ACLU of Puerto Rico has reported that the police used disproportionate force and videos posted on social media clearly show police violence against peaceful protesters. The police also entered the homes and university residences of protesters, without warrants, to arrest them. Police beat, reportedly while handcuffed, a number of activists who were in custody.
Puerto Ricans are US citizens, yet they have no voting member of Congress, nor to do they have a say in who their President will be. Congress, in a brazen act of colonialism, imposed upon the people of Puerto Rico an unelected fiscal control board. This board, consisting of presidential appointees, has the power to overrule the democratically elected government of Puerto Rico. Its task is to implement devastating austerity programs, while making sure debt is repaid to Wall Street bankers. It has pursued deeply controversial policies, such as, cutting pensions and reducing the minimum wage for those under 25 to $4.25 (the federal minimum wage is $7.25).
Puerto Ricans have a right to protest. As US citizens, they enjoy the same rights to freedom of expression and assembly as the rest of us. This right is especially important given their complete lack of say in a federal government that is bent on overriding their democratic institutions. The police violence against these protesters is completely unacceptable.