Monday, July 21, 2014

Protests Opposing Israel's War on Gaza Continue in Santa Cruz

Following reports that Israel had begun moving ground troops into Gaza, community members in Santa Cruz held protests on July 18 and 19. Another demonstration is planned for today, July 21 at 5pm at the Town Clock to protest the military escalation and the ongoing killing of Palestinians. [Photos from July 19]

The protest on July 19 was held at the corner of Ocean and Water Streets, and community members held signs and tabled. Among the literature offered was a brochure encouraging individuals to boycott Hewlett Packard. The company profits off the production of biometric ID cards used for Israel’s population registry, which includes the occupied Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza.

Several of the signs displayed by demonstrators along Ocean Street featured pictures of children who have been killed by Israel since the atrocities began on July 7.

Those participating in the demonstration included individuals with the Palestine-Israel Action Committee, Santa Cruz WILPF, Jewish Voice for Peace, and the Peace and Freedom Party.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Community Members in Santa Cruz Protest Israel's Attacks on Gaza

On July 14, community members joined together in Santa Cruz to protest Israel's recent bombing of Gaza, as well as the collective punishment carried out against the Palestinian people living there and in the West Bank. Demonstrators say most of the weapons that are being used against the Palestinian civilian population have been paid for with U.S. tax dollars, and they have called the bombings, "acts of genocide" and a "moral outrage."

Some of the signs at the protest were embellished with photographs of Palestinian children injured in the bombings, and some had statistics tallying the death toll during the attacks: 172 people killed in Gaza and zero in Israel. One demonstrator held a sign that stated 1,384 Palestinian children had been killed by the Israeli military since the year 2000.

Other signs included statements such as "Boycott Genocide, Boycott Israel," "Let Gaza Live! Another Jewish Voice Opposed to Atrocities in Gaza!" "No More War, Find Peace or Make It," "The Real Terrorists: U.S.-Israeli War Machine," "What Jewish Law Permits the Killing of Innocent Children?" and "Assault on Gaza = Murder."

Approximately 50-75 people attended the demonstration, which was held at the Town Clock and organized by the Palestine-Israel Action Committee as a "Santa Cruz Day of Rage." Some rage wound up being exhibited, as at least two individuals with a "pro-Israel" agenda situated themselves in the middle of the demonstration and engaged in heated communications with the larger group.

Protests Resume Following Fourth Officer Involved Killing in Salinas

July 12 marked the third consecutive day of protests calling for justice for Frank Alvarado, who was killed by officers with the Salinas Police Department on July 10. Frank is the fourth resident killed by Salinas police since March 20.

The demonstration was held on the corner of Sanborn Rd. and Fairview Ave. in East Salinas, near where Frank was killed on July 10. In attendance were Frank's sister and niece, as well as friends and family of Carlos Mejia and Osman Hernandez, who were killed in May in separate incidents by officers with the Salinas Police Department.

In the aftermath of Frank's death, Salinas police have refused to release any details about the killing. They have handed those duties, including the investigation, over to the Monterey County District Attorney's Office. On July 11, DA Flippo held a press conference and released some of the details of Frank's killing.

Authorities say they were called to the home of Frank's grandfather before 5am on July 10 to respond to a complaint that Frank had attempted to set fire to a portion of the house. Flippo said that police were aware that Frank was on parole from prison and that he had made statements indicating that to avoid being apprehended and sent back, Frank was planning to pretend to be in possession of a weapon, which he thought would force police to kill him. When police arrived at the grandfather's house, Flippo said they set up a perimeter around the area where Frank was located. Authorities say they ordered Frank to surrender but that he rushed them with what appeared to be a weapon. They claim that two officers shot and killed him, but news reports state that witnesses have indicated that as many as six officers had their guns drawn at the scene. After they killed him, they confirmed the "weapon" Frank was holding was a cell phone. Flippo said that Frank may have been trying to commit "suicide by police."

"There's no reason for six cops to kill my brother like that," said Franks sister, Angelica Garza. "They shot so many times, five houses down I saw a tree knocked down. It was shot down."

"There's no reason for him to have been killed. Not like that. Nobody deserves to be shot, with no weapon, no nothing. A cell phone does not look like a gun," she said. "I have no respect for the police. Their lack of professionalism. Their lack of dignity for others, and this so called saying 'to protect and serve' is a lie. I'm not afraid, I'm not sad, I'm angry, and my brother deserved better than this."

Frank's niece, Natalie Mendoza agrees with her mother. "It's very sad to see that he was killed the way he was and it's not right," she said.

Natalie described Frank affectionately, saying, "My uncle had the biggest heart."

The family would often remind her, Natalie said, about how much attention Frank showed her as a baby. They recalled stories of how he would whisper nice things in her ear to her when she was still in her crib.

"He was a very loving man," she said.

Frank's sister said it made Frank happy to help people. "He liked it. It was like a turn on for him, and I'm proud to say that Frank Alvarado is my brother."

In the greater community, Frank made an impression on the members of Sin Barras, a prison abolition group based in Santa Cruz. Frank was a former inmate and he was passionate about prison reform. He began to attend Sin Barras meetings, eventually speaking before the group at a rally opposing jail and prison expansion in California.

"Frank was an extraordinary person with a big and loving heart," Sin Barras has stated. "His contagious spirit, candid perspective, resilience, and compassion for those who are struggling inspired community-building and understanding around him."

"As we mourn Frank’s death and send warmth to his loved ones, we are thinking about how to address histories of racism, interpersonal, and state violence in a way that will move us toward a different society, where premature death doesn't happen. All people, and particularly people who have experienced incarceration, need and deserve support."

Community members protesting the killings by Salinas Police believe all four could have been prevented.

Carlos Mejia was killed on May 21 outside of a Bakery on Sanborn Rd. Osman Hernandez was killed on May 9 outside of the Mi Pueblo market on Sanborn. In both cases, police have explained the men were behaving erratically and they were killed because they felt threatened by the work tools they were spotted to be carrying at the time of their killing. Mejia was carrying a pair of garden sheers he used for work, and Hernandez was carrying a lettuce knife.

Angel Ruiz was killed on March 20 by Salinas police outside of the Wingstop restaurant on Constitution Blvd. Ruiz had reportedly been going through alcohol and mental issues when he police killed him after receiving reports he was spotted behaving erratically and in possession of a BB gun. Some, including the police, have speculated that due to his behavior at the time of his death Ruiz, like frank Alvarado, was also attempting to commit "suicide by police."

Frank's niece, Natalie Mendoza

Friday, July 11, 2014

Frank Alvarado, Fourth Person Killed by SPD, Spoke in Santa Cruz Against Prison Expansion

Frank Alvarado was killed by Salinas Police on July 10, and very little information has been released by authorities about the circumstances of his death. On May 14, 2014, Frank spoke about prison reform in Santa Cruz at a rally where community members voiced their opposition to the Governor's May revise budget, which called for an increase in spending for jail and prison expansion. Frank spoke strongly about the importance of budgeting state money for social programs instead of prison expansion, and he shared his personal experience of incarceration, describing his release from prison in July of 2013.

Frank spoke about having multiple counts/strikes on his record.

He shared his strong feeling of love for his son, who he said was voted police cadet of the year in 2013 at a police department in California.

"He is my champ. He is my number one little guy, and he is the smartest individual I could have ever made," he said.

He described how prison destroyed their relationship. In an interview that day, Frank said that he was very proud of his son for becoming a police officer, but that they were still estranged.

Frank was extremely remorseful about committing the acts that brought him to prison. He said he shot people, and that he did 11 years for attempted homicide and assault with a deadly weapon. After getting out of prison he said he relished the idea of helping people, however, and he described the joy it gave him.

"I walked in Santa Cruz," he said, "and I picked a flower off a plant and I gave it to somebody, and I put a smile on their face."

He spoke about having a grandparent with prostate cancer and telling the close relative not to worry because he would be there for him, and that it would be his turn to change diapers if necessary.

Frank was well known to activists with Sin Barras, a Santa Cruz prison abolition group that was one of the organizers of the May 14 rally at which Frank spoke. Members of Sin Barras have described their deep affection for him, as well as deep sadness and anger over his killing.

According to the authorities, Frank was killed at around 5am on July 10 at Fairview Avenue and Beverley Drive in Salinas. The SPD hasn't released any details beyond those, and they referred the news media and the public to the Monterey County District Attorney's Office, which will be handling the investigation.

The killing of Frank Alvarado is preceded by three other killings in 2014 by officers with the Salinas Police Department.

On March 20, Angel Ruiz was shot and killed by officers with the SPD outside of a Wing Stop restaurant. On May 9, Osman Hernandez, who was carrying a lettuce knife, was killed by the SPD outside of the Mi Pueblo Market at the corner of Alisal and Sanborn. Carlos Mejia was carrying a pair of garden shears when he was killed by SPD officers outside of a bakery at the corner of Del Monte and Sanborn on May 20.

All of the killings have taken place in East Salinas.

Frank Alvarado, May 14, 2014, holding a sign that reads "Invest in Protecting + Healing, NOT in Caging"

Yanira Serrano-Garcia Honored on the One Month Anniversary of Her Killing

On July 3, the family and friends of Yanira Serrano-Garcia held a rosary and candlelight vigil to honor the 18-year-old on the one-month anniversary of her death. The vigil took place outside of Yanira's home at the Moonridge housing complex in Half Moon Bay, which is where she was killed by San Mateo County Sheriff's deputy Menh Trieu on June 3. An announcement for the vigil read: "Thursday, July 3rd will mark one month since the heinous shooting of our sister, daughter and dear friend Yanira Serrano-Garcia. We miss Yanira and refuse to let her memory fade. We will remember her through our struggle for Justice and to have Deputy Menh indicted for criminal murder. Her death will not go unpunished!"

Yanira's brother, Tony, lead the procession through Moonridge.

The rosary began in front of Yanira's memorial, which is now located on the front porch of the family's home. Yanira's grandmother, who recently traveled from her home in Mexico, looked on. As the spiritual ceremony progressed, Yanira's brother Tony lead the group on a procession through Moonridge. Participants recited the "Hail Mary" as they walked past the tranquil community gardens interspersed throughout the large housing complex.

Yanira is in Mexico now. She was buried near her grandfather, who himself recently passed away. When attending his funeral several months ago, Yanira remarked to her mother that if anything should ever happen to her she wanted to be buried there in Mexico near her grandparents.

Tony praised his grandmother for being an anchor for the family, and for how strong she has been. He commented that since her arrival in Half Moon Bay he has felt an extra sense of security. "It is so good to have my grandmother here now," he said.

Tony also said that despite the graphic shock of having such a horrific incident occur outside of their home, the family will most likely continue to live in Moonridge. They have been active in seeking justice for Yanira, as well as healing for the Half Moon Bay community. When asked about what he thought about the recent community dialogs organized at Moonridge to discuss the killing, Tony said he is hoping eventually they will accomplish more than simply providing a place for residents to talk. He is hoping something more "therapeutic" can be offered to the community in the future, perhaps involving individuals who have already gone through this type of police-violence and trauma.

The announcement for the vigil described Yanira's killing as a "murder" and her family has considered what happened to her an injustice from the moment it occurred. Yanira's mother witnessed it first hand.

Yanira had been taking medication to treat symptoms she was experiencing that her doctor likened to schizophrenia and manic depression, however he considered her to be too young for a concrete diagnosis. Friends described her as girl who just wanted to be "normal" and who didn't always take the medication that was prescribed to her.

The family called the authorities for emergency medical help on the evening of Yanira's killing, as they had on previous occasions, and instead of medical personnel arriving, a sheriff's deputy was sent.

Press statements released by the San Mateo County Sheriff's office after the killing maintain that Yanira was "wielding" a knife, and that after being "immediately confronted" by her, Deputy Trieu "feared for his life" and shot her.

Friends and family, however, point out that the knife was merely a butter knife, and that Trieu killed Yanira within 20 seconds of arriving at her home and seeing Yanira for the first time.

Additionally, the family questions how Yanira could have possibly posed an immediate threat to Trieu's safety, considering she also suffered from major physical disabilities. Yanira had a club foot, which made it difficult for her to use her leg, and she also gained quite a bit of weight due to the side effects of a medication she was prescribed. Those two factors made it so that Yanira could not "fully run" according to her brother Tony.

The family continues to seek justice for Yanira, and Tony has been present and active at a series of community dialogs organized in Half Moon Bay to discuss her killing.

Tony lights candles for Yanira.

Yanira's Grandmother.

Yanira's memorial.