Remembering Ramon Velasquez

Outside Gov. Paterson's office after the 30% rent cap bill veto.

Ramon Velasquez crossed over on March 27th at a nursing home in Staten Island. He was a longterm survivor of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C and a fierce community activist. A service will be held on March 29th from 6pm – 8pm at Brooklyn Funeral home at 2380 Pacific Street. Ramon is survived by his brother, daughter, two grandchildren and many other family members.

Ramon was a fearless warrior for social justice who inspired and connected with people wherever he went. It seemed like he was everywhere at once and he was always loud. He was usually there first too, sometimes hours early for a 6am bus departure to Albany or a membership meeting.

In and out of prison and jail since he was 14, Ramon became a leader in VOCAL-NY shortly after being released from prison for the last time in 2007. After serving a 17 year sentence, he ended up in Bellevue Men’s Shelter determined to turn his life around. Shortly afterwards, he moved into a transitional housing program for people living with HIV/AIDS run by Praxis Housing Initiatives and eventually led their resident advisory board before moving into a permanent housing program in Brooklyn.

On the roof of a vacant home newly reclaimed for a homeless family.

While incarcerated, Ramon led inmate liaison committees that negotiated with prison officials and organized successful inmate-led protests to win better conditions. This shaped his beliefs about social change and the need for people who were directly affected to advocate on their own behalf. After becoming a member of VOCAL-NY, he was involved in campaigns to restore voting rights for people on parole, create affordable housing for homeless people living with HIV/AIDS and pass a “911 Good Samaritan” law to prevent overdose deaths.

After being discharged from life parole in 2010, in part due to his community activism, Ramon was able to travel more widely to Albany and Washington, DC to lobby elected officials and engage in direct action. In August 2011, Ramon was arrested for disrupting the House of Representatives while protesting cuts to Medicaid during congressional debate on the debt ceiling. The last protest he participated in was the “Occupy Our Homes” action in early December that moved a homeless family into a vacant house in East New York that had been foreclosed on by Bank of America.

Ramon and Assembly Member Hakeem Jeffries at the Prison Policy Initiative ceremony.

Ramon was the face of the campaign to end prison-based gerrymandering in New York and was recognized for his leadership (alongside Assembly Member Hakeem Jeffries) by the Prison Policy Initiative during an October 2011 ceremony. Assembly Member Jeffries offered his condolences to Ramon’s family and friends.

Ramon had been counted as as a resident of Wyoming County while incarcerated at Attica during the last round of redistricting, instead of his home community in Brooklyn, and he turned his frustration into proactive leadership to change the way inmates were counted. The Public Welfare Foundation also profiled his activism around criminal justice issues. (More of Ramon’s story and some photos in the profile are available online).

He will be deeply missed by his VOCAL-NY family.

Photos, video and media interviews with Ramon are copied below.

New York Daily News: Pols, cons fight Census Bureau to include prisoners as residents of city, not upstate jails

WAMC: Civil Rights Organizations File Motion to Defend Law Ending Prison-Based Gerrymandering

Huffington Post: Don’t Turn Back the Clock on Equal Voting Rights in NY

Urban Habitat: Census Bureau Contributes to Prison-based Gerrymandering

Peter Wagner, Executive Director of Prison Policy Initiative, worked with Ramon to end prison-based gerrymandering in New York. You can view his tribute to Ramon here.

Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson, Maria Diaz and Ramon Velasquez speaking out for voting rights from VOCAL-NY on Vimeo.



Blog, Civil Rights, Drug Policy, Economy & Democracy, HIV/AIDS, Prison & Parole

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