Thursday, May 28, 2015

35th Anniversary of Food Not Bombs Celebrated by Hundreds in Santa Cruz

By combining social and environmental justice activism, nonviolent direct action, and a philosophy that emphasizes sharing over charity, Food Not Bombs has differentiated itself from other global organizations that distribute food to the hungry. These distinctions were especially evident at the organization's 35th anniversary gathering in Santa Cruz on May 24, where those needing nourishment were greeted with live music and an especially celebratory atmosphere, in addition to the free food, a free market, and a variety of other free services.

Food Not Bombs is comprised of hundreds of autonomous, volunteer-supported chapters that share free vegetarian meals with the hungry around the globe. There are no leaders running Food Not Bombs; local groups use the consensus process.

The organization first formed in response to the arrest of anti-nuclear activist Brian Feigenbaum at the May 24, 1980 occupation attempt of the Seabrook Nuclear Power Station. The original collective, comprised of Keith McHenry, Jo Swanson, Mira Brown, Susan Eaton, Brian Feigenbaum, C.T. Lawrence Butler, Jessie Constable and Amy Rothstien, organized "Bake Sales to Buy A Bomber" street theater to raise funds for Feigenbum's legal effort, and to increase awareness about his case and the dangers of nuclear power.

In Santa Cruz, Food Not Bombs began sharing food at the Clock Tower downtown in 1988. At that time Food Not Bombs volunteers were beginning to experience a massive crackdown in San Francisco, with many arrests. In total, the city arrested over 1,000 people for sharing food during this time period, and Amnesty International declared the volunteers "prisoners of conscience." Among those arrested early on was the organization's co-founder Keith McHenry, who himself would eventually be arrested 94 times for sharing food.

The Santa Cruz chapter has gone through many changes over the years, and has served food at locations all over the downtown, as well as at political protests and other events such as court hearings. The anniversary party was held in front of the downtown post office, where Food Not Bombs has shared meals on the weekends for several years now.

Hundreds of meals were shared over the course of the six hour celebration. A private solar shower booth was set up, and stylists cut people's hair for free. Books, clothing, and plant starts were available as part of the free market. A number of bands and musicians performed together and separately, and social justice organizations set up informational tables.

Food Not Bombs co-founder Keith McHenry was in attendance, and his birthday was also incorporated into the celebration. Food Not Bombs volunteers joined hands with other revelers to capture and roll McHenry into a giant human cinnamon bun.

Keith McHenry at the Food Not Bombs table.

Jozseph Schultz of India Joze restaurant fires up the wok.

Curtis Reliford of Follow Your Heart Action Network volunteers.

Free haircuts.

Shower booth with the Santa Cruz Clock Tower in the background.

Solar shower.

Dru Glover of Project Pollinate.

Brent Adams of the Santa Cruz Warming Center.

Free books.

Homeless United for Friendship and Freedom (HUFF).

Abbi Samuels speaks as Keith McHenry looks on.

Rolling Keith McHenry into a giant cinnamon bun.

Thank you to the donors.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Vigil Marks One Year Since Osmar Hernandez was Killed by Salinas Police

Community members in East Salinas held a vigil on May 9 to mark the day 26-year-old Osmar Hernandez was killed by Salinas Police in 2014. Osmar's family members were in attendance; Maria Guardado-Hernandez spoke, and Asuncion Guardado stood by solemnly while holding a lit votive candle. Also in attendance were the family members of two other men killed by Salinas Police in 2014, Frank Alvarado and Angel Ruiz. In all, five Latino community members died at the hands of Salinas Police in unrelated incidents in 2014. Four were shot and killed, and one died after being tased. In 2015, community members have been honoring the victims with vigils. On March 20, a vigil was held for Angel Ruiz, and a vigil is planned for May 20 to honor Carlos Mejia-Gomez at the location of his killing.

The May 9 vigil was held in front of the Mi Pueblo Market on Alisal, near where Hernandez was killed. Individuals wrote a variety of messages in colored chalk on the sidewalk. One message posed the question: "Tony Barrera - Where are You?"

Barrera is the city council member elected to represent District 2, where the Mi Pueblo Market is located. Those at the vigil explained Barrera has been silent and inactive in response to the police killings. Council member José Castañeda, however, was in attendance and spoke to the group.

Supporters standing at the corner of Alisal and Sanborn chanted statements such as, "no justice, no peace, no racist police," and, "hey hey, ho ho, McMillan has got to go!"

Ever since rallies protesting the Salinas police killings began in 2014, community members have consistently called for the resignation of Salinas Chief of Police Kelly McMillin. In a civil rights/wrongful death lawsuit filed on behalf of the parents of Hernandez in September of 2014, McMillin was called out specifically by the family's attorneys for acting with "deliberate indifference" when setting the departmental policies that govern complaints of officer misconduct relating to the excessive use of force. The lawsuit also alleges wide-spread internal corruption within the department.

Osmar Hernandez, whose first name has widely been misreported as "Osman," was shot and killed on May 9, 2014 outside of the Mi Pueblo Market at Alisal and Sanborn when he was reportedly acting erratically. He was carrying on his person a lettuce knife, a tool of his work, at the time of his killing. According to an SPD press release issued on May 9, officers "contacted" Hernandez and, "quickly realized that he was not going to comply with simple commands based upon his behavior. When it became apparent to the officers they were not going to get any cooperation from this individual they tried to subdue him with a taser."

Very little information has been released by authorities concerning the details of Osmar's killing. A year later, the Salinas Police Department still has not announced the completion of its investigation into what happened before and after police made contact with him at the market.

The lawsuit filed in September, however, has helped shed more light on these details.

Three officers shot at Hernandez on May 9, according to he lawsuit. Sergeant George Lauricella and Officer Derek Gibson, both of the Salinas Police Department, were named as the officers who killed Hernandez shortly after the lawsuit was filed. The lawsuit states that all three of the officers who shot at Hernandez had been implicated in previous shootings. One was involved in three prior shootings as a police officer, and the other two had each been involved in two prior shootings.

The lawsuit alleges that Salinas Police used, "excessive and unreasonable force," against Osmar Hernandez when they tased him and then shot him ten times, and that his killing was, "without provocation or just cause."

The lawsuit states that officers failed to communicate in Spanish with Hernandez as well as witnesses on the scene. Hernandez spoke only Spanish, and he had no arrest history in the City of Salinas, according to police. Additionally, Chief McMillin has acknowledged the department knew that immigrant workers sometimes carry lettuce knives as tools of their employment.

The lawsuit alleges that Hernandez at no times posed a significant threat to others, and that none of the three officers involved gave Hernandez any warning before killing him, even though, "a warning was feasible and proper." In addition to the three officers who shot at Hernandez who were all wearing bullet proof vests, there was a K-9 officer on the scene.

The lawsuit alleges that it was the conduct of the police that led to the escalation of events on May 9, 2014, and that they were not properly trained or supervised in the, "proper use of force, the proper method of investigation, the proper use of tasers, and the proper use of firearms."

"They knew or should have known that the taser or Electronic Control Device had been effective in subduing Mr. Hernandez after he was tased the first time. Yet, they failed to use any other restraint attempts with non-deadly force, such as the use of the taser the second time, physical restraint, or the use of other control devices such as pepper spray, batons, and specialty impact munitions," the lawsuit states.

Numerous examples of "deliberate indifference" on the part of Chief McMillan and the city with regards to the inadequacies of the policies that protect the public from the use of excessive force by police are alleged in the lawsuit.

The department has failed to provide proper psychological "testing and/or treatment" for officers to determine which were prone to use "illegal and/or excessive force" so that employees who posed a risk of harm to citizens could be "retrained, dismissed, or transferred," the lawsuit states.

Chief McMillan, "either knew or should have known," that officers within the department were the subjects of, "numerous disciplinary violations," and that the wrongful death of Hernandez was the result of, "a deprivation of specific constitutional rights," that had been occurring to other residents before his killing on May 9, the lawsuit states.

As a result, McMillan failed to implement a training program for officers with the Salinas Police Department that would have prevented the killing of Hernandez.

The lawsuit alleges that McMillan and the City of Salinas tolerated the use of excessive force and unlawful deadly force, and that they covered up previous violations of citizens' Constitutional rights. This includes their failure to properly investigate previous reported incidents of the use of excessive force, and failing to properly investigate and discipline officers engaged in unlawful activity.

McMillan and the City failed to, "properly evaluate and monitor its own internal affairs policies," the lawsuit states, and that they allowed or encouraged, "a code of silence," among police department personnel, where officers did not provide, "adverse information," against fellow officers or other members of the department.

Another allegation is that the department, "allowed and/or encouraged," officers to file incomplete police reports, and to, "make false statements, intimidate, bias and/or coach witnesses to give false information, and/or attempt to bolster officers' stories, and/or obstruct or interfere with investigations of unconstitutional or unlawful police conduction, by withholding and or concealing material information."

McMillin also tolerated inadequate procedures for investigating complaints of officer misconduct, according to the lawsuit, and the procedures for handling complaints of officer misconduct were improper under California code. Additionally, McMillin failed to take, "necessary remedial action," after improper police conduct had occurred.

The lawsuit states that the policy at the time of the killing of Hernandez, which was set by Chief McMillin, was that all SPD officer involved shootings were investigated by police officers and co-workers within the department, which does not provide for, "a meaningful objective internal review," of officer misconduct.

2014 Salinas Police Killings

Angel Ruiz, killed on March 20, 2014
Officers who killed him: Sergeant Mark Lazzarini, Officer Daniel DeBorde, and Officer William Yetter, all of the Salinas Police Department.

Osman Hernandez, killed on May 9, 2014
Officers who killed him: Sergeant George Lauricella and Officer Derek Gibson, both of the Salinas Police Department.

Carlos Mejia-Gomez, killed on May 20, 2014
Officers who killed him: Sergeant Danny Warner and Officer Josh Lynd, both of the Salinas Police Department.

Frank Miguel Alvarado, killed on July 10, 2014
Officers who killed him: Sergeant Brian Johnson and Officer Scott Sutton, both of the Salinas Police Department.

Jaime Garcia, died after being tased by Salinas Police on October 31, 2014

Maria Guardado-Hernandez

Asuncion Guardado

Frank Alvarado Sr. speaks about his son Frank Alvarado, who was killed by Salinas police on July 10, 2014.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Monterey Police Take Names, Issue 'Warnings' at Latest Sit-Lie Demonstration

Monterey Police have portrayed their enforcement of the city's sit-lie ban as a friendly process where first-time violators are simply given a "warning" when found sitting or lying on sidewalks located downtown and in other commercial districts. On May 1, community members participating in a sit-in held on the sidewalk of Alvarado Street to protest the new law demonstrated the process isn't quite that simple. More than a dozen individuals were confronted by police and forced to give them their name, date of birth, and home address as part of the verbal warning that they were in violation of the site-lie ordinance. For the past several months, community members have been organizing sit-ins to oppose the ban, which they say unfairly targets homeless people and travelers.

As the warnings were being issued, a few individuals joined the group and sat down right in front of police. Some did comply with the warning and stood up during the encounter, but the majority continued to sit. Three police officers were deployed to the scene; two issued the warnings while Sergeant Bob Guinvarch photographed several people and looked on.

Officer Roobash instructed individuals several times they shouldn't be opposing the ordinance by openly defying it.

"You need to take this to the City Council and proper channels," he said.

He asked if any of them had written the city to complain, and several demonstrators explained they had been contacting local officials since 2013 when the Monterey City Council initially discussed the matter and decided not to move forward with a sit-lie ban at that time. The council reversed course in 2014, however, and enacted a re-submitted proposal for a sit-lie ordinance.

"Monterey City Code 32-6.2 Hurts the Community"

There was some irony in Roobash, a police officer, instructing demonstrators to complain to the city. It was Monterey Chief of Police Phil Penko who pushed hard for a sit-lie ban, and he authored the 2013 and 2014 city staff reports that requested council members approve one without any alternatives presented.

Additionally, Monterey Police have dedicated an entire section of their website, which is titled "Homeless Issues," to give business owners and the public instructions on how to report homeless people to the police.

"The following information is provided to assist business people and individual community members in properly addressing incidents and concerns regarding the homeless and related quality of life issues," the Monterey Police website states.

A tab on the homeless issues page lists what it calls "related city code," a list of ten ordinances that can be applied to street people. The new sit-lie ordinance is not on the list yet, but the other laws referenced include: "begging prohibited," "camping prohibited outside of designated areas," "obstructing sidewalk or street prohibited," "11 p.m. curfew for minors," "loitering in parking facilities prohibited," and "camping in vehicles prohibited on public property from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m."

While receiving a warning for sitting at the May 1 demonstration, one person told police, "I invite you to give me a citation and I am not getting up until you do." He later explained that he wanted to be issued a citation for sitting so that he could fight it in court and have the law "invalidated."

Another demonstrator told police that he was a "homeless man" and he felt "extremely offended" that officers were attempting to prevent him from sitting on the sidewalk. He explained later how he uses alcohol to cope with life on the streets, which puts him at risk of violating the sit-lie law, and being targeted by police.

"I drink myself to sleep every night," he said.

After some time was spent debating the demonstrators, the police announced they were leaving, and that individuals who had received a warning from them would be cited under the ordinance if they were found sitting on the sidewalk again by officers.

"If we come back and you are still sitting here, we will give you a citation," Officer Roobash said.

One officer left the area completely, but Officer Roobash and Sergeant Guinvarch stationed themselves several storefronts away from the demonstration and looked on for about an hour. Most of the demonstrators continued to stay seated on the sidewalk until the end of the two-hour sit-in. Roobash and Guinvarch eventually left without issuing any citations. 

The May 1 sit-in was the fourth in the series of demonstrations on Alvarado Street organized monthly by Direct Action Monterey Network (DAMN) to oppose the site-lie ordinance, which went into effect in October of 2014. DAMN has stated they are opposing it by clogging the city's "bureaucracies" with "lot's of citations."

Six Monterey police officers monitored DAMN's first sit-in in February, but never made contact with demonstrators. During the March and April sit-ins, no police were present, but individuals experienced tense interactions with My Attic Bar & Lounge owner Jason Coniglio, who threatened to call the police on the group.

The new ordinance (Sec. 32-6.2) states that sitting or lying on sidewalks in commercial districts of the city is a crime between 7:00am and 9:00pm. To issue a citation, police must first warn an individual.

"No person may be cited for a violation of this section until a peace officer first warns said person that his or her conduct is unlawful and said person is given a chance to stop said conduct," the ordinance states.

Strategically, demonstrators have scheduled the sit-ins to occur monthly, so that individuals may participate every month without risk of citation if they stand up after being warned by an officer.

The ordinance does not specifically outline in what manner the warnings are to be issued, and mentions nothing about the amount of information police may or may not request from those found sitting.

Coincidentally, May 1 was the last day on the job for Chief Penko, who announced in April his impending retirement from the Monterey Police Department.

Demonstrators say they plan to return to Alvarado Street in June for another regularly scheduled sit-in, which will coincide with the expiration of the police warnings.

Monterey Police Sergeant Bob Guinvarch.

Monterey Police Officer Richardson "warns" demonstrators they are violating the sit-lie ordinance.

Monterey Police Officer Roobash "warns" demonstrators.