Saturday, June 28, 2014

Santa Cruz Vigil for Iraq and Iraqis

In response to the recent threat of U.S. military attacks in Iraq, community members in Santa Cruz held a vigil for the Iraqi people on June 23 at the Town Clock. Those who participated in the vigil are calling for nonviolent diplomacy, reparation and repairs, no military intervention in Iraq, and an end to weapons sales in the Middle East.

"We are sick and tired of violence being thought of as a way to prevent violence," a UCSC student said at the vigil.

"We want the government to know that we don't support military intervention, and that if we think about the Iraqi civil society and what they want, and the ones who are ultimately dying, the innocent people who don't want any of this war, who don't want the U.S. to intervene, then we can start to understand there are other solutions."

She was one of a number of UC Santa Cruz students present at the vigil who were protesting the connection between the University of California system and war profiteering.

"At UCSC we are supposed to be a very diverse, engaged, and active community, but being up there I realize that most students don't realize we are this involved," she said.

"The UC system invests in bomb labs and is profiteering from going to war. The UC is getting money this way, and that's not OK."

She says students don't understand that when they contribute to the UC system, they are unknowingly contributing to the war, which besides having such an negative impact on human lives, also negatively affects their education.

Sandino Gomez of the Resource Center for Nonviolence (RCNV) said he was at the vigil for the same reason he attended a similar demonstration at the Town Clock over a decade ago, when the United States originally invaded Iraq.

"I though it was a bad idea then," Gomez said, "and unlike these waffle politicians, flip floppers, I'm still consistent. I'm still against the war. I'm still against U.S. militarism."

Many participants at the vigil, including Gomez, highlighted how the cost of financing the wars in Iraq has affected the funding of social programs in the United States.

"We could be spending that money on so many better things," Gomez said.

Besides showing support for the people of Iraq, Ryan Souza said he attended the vigil to support the anti-war community in Santa Cruz that came to his aid when he needed it in 2009. A that time, Souza was stationed in Las Vegas as an F-15 crew chief and was attempting to leave the military as a conscientious objector.

"I needed help writing my package to exit the military," Souza said. "It's a very arduous process."

Souza received help through the process from individuals with the G.I. Rights Hotline, as well as from volunteers with the RCNV in Santa Cruz.

Souza said several people at the RCNV donated a large amount of their time to him.

"I'd definitely like to give them props where props are due," he said, "because I didn't have much help in Las Vegas."

"If you are nervous or scared about speaking to military chains of command, you can go to the Resource Center for Nonviolence and speak with very well trained people there."

Other supporters at the vigil included individuals from the Faith communities of Santa Cruz, WILPF SC, the Palestine-Israel Action Committee of the Resource Center for Nonviolence, and Jewish Voice for Peace SC.

Organizers say they will be holding similar vigils at the Town Clock in support of the people of Iraq in the near future.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Family Demands Transparent Investigation Into Killing of Yanira Serrano Garcia

On June 18, Tony Serrano stood before the Half Moon Bay City Council to demand justice for his sister, Yanira Serrano Garcia. Yanira was killed by San Mateo County Sheriff's deputy Menh Trieu on June 3 when she was having a health crisis outside of her home at the Moonridge housing complex. The Serrano family and their supporters are asking the Half Moon Bay City Council to support a number of resolutions, including one that calls for a transparent criminal investigation into the killing of the 18-year-old.

The family is also asking that June 3 be named "Yanira Serrano Garcia's Memorial Day" by official proclamation in Half Moon Bay, and that the council call for the establishment of a sub-committee to study the lack of social services devoted to Moonridge.

Yanira's brother asked for those in the audience who support the resolutions to stand, and the majority of those in the public seating area quickly stood.

"It is really overwhelming what is happening to the family," he said.

At the city council meeting, supporters were given time to speak before the public comment period, and more was learned about Yanira's health issues. Belinda Arriaga, a Half Moon Bay resident who has provided support to the family, referred to Yanira's condition as "schizophrenia." She described what life is like for a person suffering from it: everyday they require medication, treatment, psychiatric counseling, and support.

A family member later explained in an interview that schizophrenia was one possibility, but a doctor Yanira was seeing thought she was still too young to be diagnosed for certain.

Arriaga said the family is calling for a town hall meeting with the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office take place at Moonridge as soon as possible.

She noted that there is a Sheriff's substation located at the large housing complex, but there isn't a mental health crisis unit that can serve the community.

"I know San Mateo County has it. I know they are very involved in mental health," Arriaga said, "but we need it here on the coast, and had we had it that night, it might have made a very big difference and this family wouldn't be sitting here right now with the loss of their loved one."

"Today it is Yanira. Tomorrow it might be one of your relatives. It might be one of our relatives here," she said. "You need to give this Latino community the justice they deserve."

"I think this is one of the first times you have seen this many Latino families here in this city hall, or in this building," she added.

One Half Moon Bay resident suggested the killing of Yanira might not have occurred if the Half Moon Bay Police Department, which was disbanded in 2011, was sent instead of the San Mateo Sheriff's Deputy. Half Moon Bay Mayor John Muller, however, was pointed out earlier in the meeting that whatever occurs in Moonridge is an "unincorporated situation."

The Moonridge housing complex is close to Half Moon Bay's city limits, but technically it is located in an area that is governed by the county. The mayor said that although Moonridge is out of the city's jurisdiction, "we as a city have stepped up." He listed several upcoming events the city has planned.

On Thursday, June 19, there will be a public meeting held at Moonridge with a District Attorney's representative to "explain the process of an investigation," and on Thursday, June 26 there will be a community meeting at 6pm at the IDES Hall in Half Moon Bay to "further discuss the issues," according to the mayor.

Tony Serrano speaks with Council Member Rick Kowalczyk before the meeting

Tony Serrano speaks with Mayor John Muller before the meeting

Tony Serrano

Half Moon Bay City Council, from left to right: Allan Alifano, Rick Kowalczyk, Mayor John Muller, and Naomi Patridge. Vice-Mayor Marina Fraser was absent.

Family and Friends Bid Farewell to Yanira Serrano Garcia

The family and friends of Yanira Serrano Garcia bid farewell to her at a public funeral and procession held at Our Lady of the Pillar Catholic Church on June 14. The family is still reeling in the wake of the devastating loss of 18-year-old Yanira, who was shot and killed outside of her home in Half Moon Bay by San Mateo County Sheriff's deputy Menh Trieu on June 3.

A long service was held inside of Our Lady of the Pillar, which was overflowing with people paying their last respects. Throughout the day, Aztec ceremonies were held as well. The funeral concluded with a procession that traveled around the church, whose property coincidentally borders, and affords a view of, the San Mateo Sheriff's Half Moon Bay substation. The lights were on, but it wasn't apparent if anyone was present at the station as Yanira's coffin was rolled by.

Yanira's mother was wailing in grief and she received help while walking in the procession. She witnessed the killing of her daughter and she has suffered greatly as a result.

The family has not discussed the exact details of how Yanira was killed, but her brother Tony has maintained it was unwarranted and an injustice has occurred.

Yanira has been described as having a condition for which she was prescribed medication, and when she was having a health crisis her family called emergency medical personnel to their home in Half Moon Bay for help. A San Mateo County Sheriff's Deputy was sent, and within 20 seconds of arriving at the scene he shot and killed Yanira, who was deemed a "threat." The Sheriff's office claims she was "wielding" a knife, but friends of the family have said it was simply a butter knife that was in her possession.

After Yanira's coffin was driven away from the church by the attendant, and the funeral and ceremonies had concluded, one of Yanira's friends shouted out to the crowd, "What do we want?"

"Justice!" people shouted back.

The funeral was open to the public, and individuals and organizations in support of justice for Yanira from around the Bay Area were in attendance.

Since Yanira's death, several vigils have been held for her, and supporters have also marched to the Sheriff's station to demand justice.

Yanira's Mother

Yanira's Brother, Tony Serrano

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Commemorating the 14th Birthday of Andy Lopez

An energetic life celebration and march through Santa Rosa was held on June 7 for Andy Lopez, who would have celebrated his 14th birthday earlier in the week if he had not been shot and killed by Sonoma County Sheriff's Deputy Erick Gelhaus on October 22.

Young people were abundant at the birthday celebration. Some who appeared to be not much more than elementary school aged could be seen helping organize the proceedings, with many guardians simply watching and playing more of a background role at the demonstration.

Andy's family and friends, were joined by a wide range of local and statewide supporters. Their core support comes from the Justice Coalition for Andy Lopez and Andy's Youth.

Andy's Youth is a grass roots community group comprised of young people from Santa Rosa and Sonoma County who have played a central role in organizing demonstrations. In the days after Andy's killing, the news swept across the schools, and justice for him became a crucial issue to the area's youth.

"I want to thank you guys for setting the example for everyone else," a member of the Brown Berets said to Andy's Youth at a rally at Old Court House Square held at the end of the march.

"But I want you to be very careful. When you organize in somebody's name, against the oppressive pigs, you automatically put a target on your back. That means anything you do, your friends do, will reflect upon the movement as a whole," he warned.

The advice was appropriate. As organizers, Andy's Youth have faced harassment at school from teachers and other school officials, as well as from law enforcement officers who patrol their neighborhoods.

Very little information about Andy's killing has been released by the authorities in Sonoma County, and the community continues to wait for District Attorney Jill Ravitch to announce whether there will be charges filed against Gelhaus.

What is known, is that within 10 seconds after first seeing Andy, Sheriff Gelhaus shot him seven times. In a press release issued the day of the killing, deputies claimed they first observed Andy walking with "what appeared to be some type of a rifle." After Gelhaus killed him, Sheriffs say they "learned" that the rifle was a replica of an assault weapon and not a real gun.

From an independent autopsy report, the family was able to find out how many times Andy was shot, and where the bullets entered and his body.

Bullets entered Andy's body in the following locations: his chest, his left arm, his left wrist, his right wrist, his right buttock, his right lateral buttock, and his lower back.

During the march on June 7, one demonstrator carried a mannequin that displayed precisely where on Andy's body the shots entered.

Last week, the Sonoma county Sheriff's Office announced that Michael Schemmel was the deputy who was present with Gelhaus when Andy was killed, and that he did not fire his weapon on that day.

The Justice Coalition for Andy Lopez continues to call for the indictment of Sonoma County Sheriff's Deputy Erick Gelhaus.

Autopsy mannequin

A Brown Beret elder gives Andy's Youth some advice

Andy's Parents, Sujay Cruz and Rodriho Lopez, with Jonathan Melrod

The Andy Lopez Memorial Sky lists 57 officer related deaths that have occurred in Sonoma County since 2000.