Friday, May 30, 2014

Claim Filed Against City Seeks Admission Salinas Police Wrongfully Killed Carlos Mejia

On May 27, attorney John Burris announced at a press conference held at Salinas City Hall that his law firm is representing the family of Carlos Mejia, who was killed by officers with the Salinas Police Department on May 20. He explained how the family would be pursuing legal action against the city as an avenue for justice. "Unless they admit to wrongfully having killed Mr. Mejia, and pay him substantial damages, we intend to file a civil rights lawsuit in the very near future," Burris said. They also hope the case will be investigated by the Department of Justice of California and the United States Department of Justice to determine whether the officers involved in the killing should be criminally prosecuted, and additionally whether a pattern exists within the SPD that "ratifies" the use of illegal deadly force and/or racially discriminatory law enforcement practices.

José Mejia answers questions from reporters

Carlos Mejia was a Salvadoran national who supported his eight-year-old daughter as a day laborer and landscaper. According to Burris, Mejia was seeking work as a grass and hedge cutter on the day of his death, and the events that lead to the police being called on him began at a house where he was seeking work. Mejia was alleged to have threatened a woman and her dog there, and when the police arrived he was defending himself from the dog, Burris said. Eventually two officers chased Mejia, tased him "unsuccessfully," and then eventually shot and killed him.

The killing of Mejia was the third killing of residents by officers with the Salinas Police Department to occur in the last three months. On May 9, SPD killed Osman Hernandez outside of a Mi Pueblo Market, and on March 20, SPD killed Angel Ruiz outside of a Wing Stop restaurant.

Burris stated that the shootings themselves raise questions about the "policies and practices" of the Salinas Police Department and, "whether or not a pattern of discriminatory law enforcement practices is occurring within this department."

He said the shooting police officers, "failed to exercise restraint," and that it was they who "created the danger," not Mejia.

Burris noted that Mejia was walking away, he had garden shears which is something that is normally used in work, he was tased, police were at a distance that was relatively safe, Mejia was walking slowly away, he was not aggressive, he was not walking towards the police, he was not jabbing at them, and he was only making slight gestures.

Burris said the police could have been safer in how they approached the situation, and that, "under the Constitution and under the state law of California, a police officer cannot put himself in harm's way through negligent conduct, and then shoot himself out of it, and then expect the constitution and the laws to protect him."

The circumstances as to why Mejia was shot multiple times is a "clear mystery," Burris said, and it raises questions whether the police officers were properly trained, and whether they were trigger happy.

"It is very clear from the videos we have seen that it is the police officers who were the aggressors here and that they are the ones who put themselves in harm's way," he said.

Burris noted that before the videos surfaced, Police Chief Kelly McMillin made statements that Mejia was the aggressor and that he had attacked the police. After the tapes surfaced, however, it was clear he had not done so, which Burris said raises the question of, "whether there was an intended cover-up before the case was even properly investigated."

Burris was also concerned by reports that after the shooting occurred, police made an effort to take away phones from people at the scene, and that other videos may have been destroyed and intentionally not kept as evidence.

Particularly egregious to Burris were reports that the uncovered body of Mejia was allowed by police to remain on the sidewalk for a long period of time after he was already determined to be dead. Burris said this was an intimidating factor to the community and that, "it gives the impression this is what could happen to you."

Burris explained why civil legal action is necessary for the Mejia family to achieve justice. If legal action isn't taken, the police will never release documents such as the police and toxicology reports and they will claim the matter is "under investigation," which can be indefinite he said.

Families do this for transparency. "Transparency occurs when documents are released sooner than later," he said.

Additionally, the District Attorney's office is not typically a place where families of those killed by police receive justice, Burris explained.

"From my point of view, having been involved in countless countless police shooting cases over my career, I give little credit to a District Attorney's office investigating these kinds of cases. My experience has been that rarely if ever would a District Attorney's office do anything other than support the police officers' conduct."

"We are not seeking the District Attorney's office to do anything," he said, adding that if the family relied on the District Attorney, all they would see is a, "whitewash of the police officers' conduct."

When Burris asked if anyone had any questions, a reporter from KSBW was the first to jump in, asking if he had reached out to the family, or if they contacted him first for representation.

Burris stated that he doesn't reach out to families first, they contact him.

José Mejia, the brother of Carlos, was present at the press conference and he also spoke briefly to reporters.

The City Attorney for Salinas was ready and waiting for Burris when the attorney arrived at the City Clerk's office to file the legal claim. Likewise, shortly after Burris concluded the press conference and left, Police Chief McMillin appeared to answer any questions the few remaining members of the press had.

John Burris is greeted by the city attorney in the Salinas City Clerk's office

José Mejia

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Salinas Marches Against Police Brutality

In response to the recent killings of three residents by officers with the Salinas Police Department, a coalition of local political and labor groups organized a march and rally for "Respect, Dignity, and Justice" in East Salinas on May 25. The rally began at Closter park, and after hearing from relatives and family representatives of the deceased, the march visited two of the locations where the killings occurred. The event was organized by a number of political and labor groups, including the Salinas Council of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and United Farm Workers (UFW).

An organizer stated that the rally was the "first step" towards their objective, which she then described in more detail. Their list of goals includes: a convention to take place in Salinas in five weeks; a federal investigation of all fatal police shootings within the last 10 years; The firing of the Salinas Police Chief; the creation of a civilian review board; the review and update of police training; and the arrest and prosecution of the police officers that killed Carlos Mejia and Osman Hernandez.

The police killings began on March 20 of this year when Angel Ruiz was 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.

Following those two killings, the Salinas community was quiet until a video of the pursuit and killing of Carlos Mejia went viral. Mejias 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, and on the evening of May 21, hundreds of East Salinas residents spontaneously took to the streets to protest the police brutality.

During the march on May 25, individuals carried three small coffins for the entire route. A banner held at the front of the march read, "In Memory Of...María Irma de la Torre, Angel Ruiz, Osman Hernandez, Carlos Mejia, and Constantino Garcia."

Constantino Garcia was shot and killed under mysterious circumstances near the corner of Del Monte and Sanborn as the large protests on May 21 occurred.

María Irma de la Torre, who suffered from epilepsy, had just had a seizure and had locked herself in her sister’s minivan in July of 2008 when she was killed by officer Steven Mattocks of the Salinas Police Department. According to attorneys who filed a civil suit against the city on behalf of her family, de la Torre was complying with officers' orders when she was killed. The city eventually wound up settling the lawsuit with her family for $2.1 million in 2010.

Individuals from throughout California and the Bay Area traveled to participate in the march on May 25, with organizations such as the Justice Coalition for Andy Lopez and the Kenneth Harding Jr. Foundation represented.

The look and feel of the march was affected when organizers attempted to limit the types of messages participants where allowed to communicate. When march chants were perceived to be too controversial, organizers would attempt to drown them out with the siren of a megaphone, or by asking individuals to "watch their language."

Family of Osman Hernandez

In support of Angel Ruiz

In support of Angel Ruiz

Family of Angel Ruiz

Marching past the location of the killing of Carlos Mejia

Jail Killer Cops

Marching past the location of the killing of Osman Hernandez

Luis Alejo, Bill Monning, Antonio Rivas

Salinas City Council member José Castañeda (on the right) was one of the organizers of the march.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Candlelight Vigil Marks Third Month Since Antonio Lopez was Killed by SJSU Police

A candlelight vigil was held in San Jose on May 21 to mark the three month anniversary of the death of Antonio Guzman Lopez, who was killed by San Jose State Police near the university on February 21. Antonio was shot in the back by police twice in broad daylight, and Laurie Valdez, the widow of Antonio and mother of Josiah Antonio Lopez, still has not received the police report or coroner's report on his killing from any agency. "I want answers and it's three months already and I don't have nothing at all," she said at the vigil. The San Jose Police Department and the University Police Department are not returning her calls or revealing what the officers' uniform-mounted cameras recorded that day.

The intimate vigil was organized at the last minute when Antonio's parents arrived from Nayarit, where they live and where Antonio is now buried. Antonio's mother, who spoke briefly at the vigil, wanted to see where her son died. In April Laurie described Antonio as a, "loving son, brother, father, and partner...a hard worker, and a friendly and generous person who was always willing to help others."

"As an undocumented immigrant Antonio would never jeopardize his presence here, if for no other reason than to protect and stay for our son Josiah. To risk deportation was not something Antonio would ever do, he never wanted to be separated from his son, but this has happened anyhow, permanently and tragically," she said

In addition to his four-year-old son, Josiah, Antonio was also a loving father to Laurie's daughter Angelique.

At the vigil, Josiah could be seen happy and playing, even though he has suffered greatly since the loss of his father. Laurie told the group that Josiah, "wakes up every night, crying, saying the monsters are going to get him," adding, "he tells me every other day that he wishes he could grow up so that the cops could kill him and he could see his dad again."

"My son is going to end up being a statistic of the crimes that are committed because he's going to be upset about what happened to his father."

Family, friends, and supporters are seeking "Justice for Josiah".

"Between all of us we will get the justice that Josiah deserves for not having a dad," Laurie said.

"If we can get Justice for Josiah, Antonio's death will not have been in vain."

Josiah's Grandmother and Laurie Valdez

Josiah and his Grandmother



Laurie Valdez interviewed by Telemundo

Justice For Josiah

Family, friends, and close supporters

Friday, May 16, 2014

Santa Cruz Residents Rally to Oppose Increases in Prison and Jail Spending in Governor's Revised Budget

Residents and representatives of community organizations in Santa Cruz rallied outside of the court house on May 14 to voice their strong opposition to the Governor's May revise budget, which calls for an increase in spending for jail and prison expansion. According to Californians United for A Responsible Budget (CURB), spending on corrections in the state will rise 2.9%, and total spending on prisons will top $12 billion if the budget revision is adopted. Similar rallies were also held in San Francisco, Bakersfield, Los Angeles, San Bernardino, and San Diego.

"We are out here today because we know that if we put this money toward restoring social services, and the social safety net for the state of California, that we won't be locking up as many people because these two things are directly related," said Courtney Hanson of the organization Sin Barras.

"They take funding away from services that people need to survive," she said.

Sin Barras has emphasized there is $5 billion that is available right now in the budget to fund social services, yet funding to begin the expansion of medical parole, to begin an elder parole program, and to create a parole process for non-violent and non-sexual second strikers has been cut to half what it was in the Governor's January budget.

Also speaking at the rally was Frank Alvarado, a former inmate who described making it through eleven years of "hell" while incarcerated. He cautioned that building more prisons at the sacrifice of schools and parks would lead to devastating results for California.

"You will have your hell if you build those prisons," he said.

Members of the Santa Cruz branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Homeless United for Friendship and Freedom (HUFF), and Restore the Fourth Santa Cruz all spoke about the expansion of the law enforcement and corrections industries.

Simba Kenyatta of the NAACP discussed the need to expand drug court and social services for local youth, and tying it into what activists call the, "school to prison pipeline."

"We need to start thinking differently. One thing about working with youth I realize just how much money they don't get," he said, "[...]because we are trying to put them in prison."

Robert Norse of HUFF spoke about how recent changes in local ordinances now allow homeless people in Santa Cruz to be arrested and brought to jail if caught three or more times for the basic act of sleeping outside.

"There is a whole series of anti-homeless laws that continue to get worse in Santa Cruz," he said, "and jail is the option, the threat they are holding over the heads of the homeless."

Norse described how this process of criminalizing homeless people is increasingly being compared to the school to prison pipeline.

"This is the street to jail assembly line," he said.

Colin Campbell Clyde of Restore the Fourth Santa Cruz spoke about the escalating threat of the National Security Administration (NSA) to civil liberties, and how the expansion of spying and surveillance at the national level affects local law enforcement budgets, citing the example of the procurement of automatic license plate readers by the Santa Cruz Police Department.

Friday, May 2, 2014

UCSC Students Reflect on Labor Struggles, Continue to Resist Napolitano at May Day Rally

While reflecting on a long year of labor struggles at UC Santa Cruz, students looking to the future continued to call for the resignation of UC president Janet Napolitano at the 'No 2 Napolitano' May Day rally held at the university on Thursday. The opposition of Napolitano is central to their fight for justice for workers, especially those who are undocumented. "Janet Napolitano comes from the federal government as the head of the Department of Homeland Security. She has not only deported two million people but she has also separated many families and brought fear into undocumented communities," an event announcement for the rally read. In addition to calling for Napolitano's resignation, students also called for the university to settle a fair contract with UAW 2865, the labor union that represents Graduate Student Workers, and for all charges against the UCSC 22 to be dropped.

May Day is International Workers Rights Day. Since 2006, the workers holiday and day of activism has also become focused on international immigration justice.

At the UC Santa Cruz rally, individuals spoke at Quarry Plaza, and a small group also worked on a decorating a large new banner that read "Education Not Exploitation." One undocumented student spoke about her experiences at UCSC, and several other students spoke about relatives who were undocumented and how it affected their education.

Michelle Glowa, a graduate student and one of UCSC's contract negotiators for UAW, spoke and began by highlighting the most recent victory for workers at the university.

Graduate Student Worker Michelle Glowa of UAW Local 2865 speaks

"We just won the right on this campus to represent readers and tutors, so undergraduate students who are working are now going to be part of our union," Glowa said. "If you are working next year, come join us!"

Graduate Student Workers have been without a contract since September, and in addition to attempting to negotiate with the university over wages and health care, they are fighting for the rights of undocumented graduate students.

"One of our biggest demands, that we will not settle a contract without making serious progress on, is the rights of undocumented graduate students," Glowa said.

She went on to explain how graduate students without documentation are asked to work without pay and that they are not able to work as Teaching Assistants, which is how most graduate students fund their education.

"When TA-ships are not accessible to graduate students without documentation, graduate school is not accessible because we have to be able to pay our way through school," she said.

Additionally, Glowa criticized Janet Napolitano for militarizing the UC Santa Cruz campus during the April 2-3 UAW strike where riot police were deployed. As a result, 22 students who were attempting to maintain a peaceful picket line were arrested. Glowa urged individuals to call campus provost Allison Galloway to demand all of the charges be dropped against the students, who are now known as the UCSC 22, before their arraignment on May 6 in Santa Cruz Superior Court.

Glowa concluded her remarks by emphasizing the need for students to say no to a, "racist, militarized university."

Duncan, who is one of the UCSC 22, speaks