Thursday, June 20, 2013
Justice for Our Communities! Families Organizing to Resist Police Brutality and Abuse conference at Oxnard
"Statewide Conference in Oxnard Marks a New Chapter in the People’s Movement Against Police Brutality"
2013-06-20 by "THE TODO PODER AL PUEBLO COLLECTIVE (All Power to the People Collective)" [http://todopoderalpueblo.org/2013/06/20/statewide-conference-in-oxnard-marks-a-new-chapter-in-the-peoples-movement-against-police-brutality/]:
United in Struggle: Many of the family-victims of police terrorism had met each other for the first time at the Oxnard conference
On April 27, 2013, hundreds of people from across California came to Oxnard for the Justice for Our Communities! Families Organizing to Resist Police Brutality and Abuse conference, the first statewide event of its kind. Fueled not only by embitterment and trauma, but also by dignity and hope, families from across the state came together to attend an unprecedented and successful daylong gathering that consisted of several keynote addresses, workshops, and a people’s assembly. The goal of the conference, hosted by Oxnard College MEChA and organized by the Colectivo Todo Poder al Pueblo, was to begin charting a new course for the people’s movement against the brutal and daily violence of the police.
Over the last several years our communities have witnessed an acute increase in the adoption of military tactics and technologies by civilian police agencies and the implementation of severely draconian social control implements such as gang injunctions and police partnerships with the Department of Homeland Security. These trends have resulted in a precipitous rise in incarcerations, as well as daily tragedies running the gamut from casual bullying and racial profiling to brazen extra-judicial killings in broad daylight. This coincides with a boom in the establishment of privately owned and operated prisons and detention centers, as well as the increased reliance of American corporations on profits generated by the coercive (enslaved) labor “employed” in these same modern-day dungeons.
As we noted during the opening statement to the conference, “The poor themselves have been criminalized. Whether it’s mental illness, drug addiction, an inability to pay child support, a lack of documentation for economic refugees, et cetera – all these problems, rooted in poverty and desperation, have become equivalent to high crimes… Then there’s driving while black or brown, or walking while black or brown, both of which we’ve seen are capital crimes in the eyes of the pigs. These problems are inseparable from the nature of capitalism itself.”
We’ve also witnessed positive signs in the form of a vocal and visible mass sentiment that rejects these hopelessly adverse conditions. The era of the protracted “economic crisis” and the post-September 11 “Homeland Security State” has become increasingly punctuated by the emergence of spontaneous outbreaks of rage and demands for justice on a mass scale. These have manifested themselves in differing degrees and in different ways, from the uprisings surrounding the police killings of youth such as Oscar Grant in Oakland and Manuel Diaz in Anaheim, to the Occupy movement’s demands for political representation for the “99%” (the overwhelming mass of common people), to the migrante justice movement’s impatient demands for immediate legalization. The outspoken popular perception of “rogue” LAPD officer Chris Dorner as a modern-day folk hero is just one of many signals indicating the defiant undercurrent that seethes within communities across the U.S.
Increasingly, it’s become clear that a common thread binds these disparate social movements and phenomena: the recognition and rejection of the unrestrained force and brutality utilized by the police. Police aggression and the militarization of civilian life, long an intolerable burden for working-class Raza and African communities, now plagues a large cross-section of U.S. society. Trigger-happy “peace officers” (many of whom were recruited from the ranks of formerly enlisted armed forces personnel) have organized themselves into associations and unions that hold unchallenged political sway, legitimizing and protecting their ability to act in a manner that utterly negates our rights. Our communities have fallen in the cross hairs of a campaign of extra-judicial killings by police that claim, on average, between one and two lives per day.
Faced with these grim realities, families and grassroots forces from across the state united to build the April 27 conference in the agricultural community of Oxnard, California. The purpose was clear: the time had come to qualitatively improve the level of inter-regional collaboration, formulate a common strategic vision, and fight for the fulfillment of our communities’ urgent demands for justice.
The conference began with a family panel, which drew in the participation of the survivors and relatives of victims of extra-judicial killings such as Teresa Ramirez, mother of Robert Ramirez (Oxnard), Becky and Claudia Limón, the sisters of Alfonso Limón, Jr. (Oxnard), Cephus ‘Uncle Bobby” Johnson, uncle of Oscar Grant (Oxnard), Damian Ramirez, close friend of Michael Nida (Downey), Genevieve Huizar, mother of Manuel Diaz (Anaheim), Rosemary Dueñez, mother of Ernest Dueñez (Manteca), Cindy Mitchell, sister of Mario Romero (Vallejo), and Tara Mahoney, sister of Michael Mahoney (Oxnard). Many of these families met each other for the first time, and their grief and power resonated throughout the conference hall.
The workshops represented the diversity of practical resistance tasks that forces across the state have undertaken. These included presentations on best practices in neighborhood copwatch activities and direct actions, “’know your rights” trainings, legal advice for families pursuing wrongful death claims against police departments, skill-sharing and advice for media operations workers, the formation of community medic collectives, the development of community self-defense capabilities, and information on the fight against civil gang injunctions.
Keynote speakers included Nation of Islam Minister Keith Mohammad of East Oakland’s Muhammad Mosque #26, who played a key role in the fight for justice for the family of Oscar Grant, who was brutally slain in 2009 by BART police officers in Oakland. Cruz Reynoso, the first Chicano Associate Justice of the California Supreme Court and professor emeritus of law at UC Davis, also spoke on matters of judicial bias, police brutality, and the importance of our keeping up the fight. Alex M. Salazar, a former officer with the LAPD Ramparts Division, revealed his own insights on the impacts of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) amongst officers and the racism engrained in the culture of police agencies.
In a concluding keynote address, independent community journalist Thandisizwe Chimurenga noted the importance of networking across geographical and cultural boundaries, and the need for persistence:
“Your families are needed in the movement, and the movement is needed in your families. You have a responsibility to have as much clarity as possible, to get it and to give it, about the nature of this struggle that you now find yourself in. That means that you have to study; you have to read and analyze and discuss with folks who have been doing this work for years; you have to travel outside of your immediate communities; and you have to travel outside of this country to see firsthand that you are not alone in having lost a loved one to police – to the violence of the state; that you are not alone in organizing to extract justice from the police and system that employs them.”
The conference ended with breakout sessions where attendees held a dialogue on the specific goals and activities that participants could undertake in the coming year. The Conference resolved to: a) foster the organizational development crucial to continuing our fight on the statewide level; b) deepen a collective perspective; c) consolidate our array of media and communications tools; d) further implement tactics that have yielded practical results in the fields of base-building and leveraging change, and e) further coordinate statewide activities, mobilizations, and conferences.
The 805 Weekend of Resistance concluded with families participating in a rally and unity march through Oxnard the following day, Sunday, April 28, 2013.
This included calls to challenge the Police Officers’ Bill of Rights (POBOR), a notorious document that protects the ability of individual officers to act with impunity, and a call-out to converge on Sacramento for events such as 2013’s October 22 National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation, and 2014’s National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, an event that ignores the plight of victims of police brutality.
Upcoming statewide mobilizations in the immediate term include a Thursday, July 11 protest against the National Gang Conference in Anaheim, and a Statewide Unity March Against Police Brutality, also set to take place in Anaheim, which will take place on Sunday, July 21, 2013. This action will commemorate the 1-year anniversary of the brutal slaying of Manuel Diaz at the hands of Anaheim Police officers.
The conference was immediately followed by a family-led vigil from Downtown Oxnard’s Plaza Park the Colonia barrio, where Alfonso Limon, Jr. was shot to death on October 13, 2012 in a so-called “incident” involving nine cops while he was out for a jog. Two of those same cops were among the seven implicated in the June 23, 2012 homicide of Robert Ramirez. The 805 Weekend of Resistance concluded with families participating in a rally and unity march through Oxnard the following day, Sunday, April 28, 2013.
As Thandisizwe Chimurenga concluded: “This is not an easy fight. This is not a quick fight. At times this may be a bitter and ugly fight, but it must be a fight in collective fashion. In numbers we have strength, we have power, and we will have victory.
A Luta Continua – The Struggle Continues – E Vitoria e Certa – Victory is Certain – We Will Conquer Without a Doubt – The People United Will Never Be Defeated.”
Thandisizwe Chimurenga: Closing Keynote at “Justice For Our Communities” Police Brutality CA Statewide Conference in Oxnard, 4/27/13
posted 2013-05-27 [http://todopoderalpueblo.org/2013/05/17/thandisizwe-chimurenga-closing-keynote-for-justice-for-our-communities-police-brutality-ca-statewide-conference/]:
The following keynote was delivered by independent community journalist Thandisizwe Chimurenga at the historic CA Statewide Conference, “Justice For Our Communities! Families Organizing to Resist Police Brutality & Abuse,” held at Oxnard College on April 27, 2013. Thandisizwe Chimurenga is an independent L.A.-based fighter and people’s journalist.
I’m not going to be longwinded. I want to give you just a few words about this struggle that you are now a part of. And I am going to start with some of Kristian Williams’ words from his book, Our Enemies in Blue: Police and Power in America. He says, “What are police for? Everybody thinks they know. But to assume that the police exist to enforce the law or fight crime is akin to beginning an analysis of military policy with the premise that armies exist to repel invasions. The ends an institution pursues are not always the same as those it claims to pursue. I begin, then, with a call for skepticism, especially about official slogans and publicly traded justifications. Let us focus less on what the police say they are doing and instead asses the institution based on what it actually does.”
You, family members, loved ones of those murdered by the police, as well as activists and organizers, have a charge now: your charge is not only to receive justice for your loved one, but to advocate for other families who have experienced the same pain as you, and to advocate for other families to not experience/share your pain. We have a saying in L.A.: “Get Involved by Choice, Not by Force.” That’s what we’re talking about.
You must tell your stories of your loved ones; of the way they were treated and the way you were treated. You have a responsibility, because in the final analysis, at the end of the day, the poet Khalil Gibran’s words ring true: “Your children are not your children. They come through you but not from you. And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.”
In the final analysis, at the end of the day, Manuel Diaz was not murdered because he was the son of Genevieve Huizar; Kelly Thomas was not murdered because he was the son of Ron Thomas; Oscar Grant was not murdered because he was the son of Wanda Johnson; Alfonso Limon Jr. was not murdered because he was the son of Alfonso Sr. Trayvon Martin was not murdered because he was the son of Sabrina and Tracy; Kenneth Harding was not murdered because he was the son of Denika Chatman.
They were murdered because they were wearing the right uniform on that day. This – our appearance, our skin – was the right uniform; because it was not the uniform of the boys in blue, or the boys in black, what the police wear, it was the right uniform.
We live in a white supremacist society. Kelly Thomas’ white skin privilege should have shielded him. But because he had a disability, and was homeless, he was wearing the right uniform on that day.
Your families are needed in the movement, and the movement is needed in your families. You have a responsibility to have as much clarity as possible, to get it and to give it, about the nature of this struggle that you now find yourself in. That means that you have to study; you have to read and analyze and discuss with folks who have been doing this work for years; you have to travel outside of your immediate communities; and you have to travel outside of this country to see firsthand that you are not alone in having lost a loved one to police – to the violence of the state; that you are not alone in organizing to extract justice from the police and system that employs them.
This is not an easy fight. This is not a quick fight. At times this may be a bitter and ugly fight, but it must be a fight in collective fashion. In numbers we have strength, we have power, and we will have victory.
A Luta Continua – The Struggle Continues – E Vitoria e Certa – Victory is Certain – We Will Conquer Without a Doubt – The People United Will Never Be Defeated.
"California police brutality focus of statewide gathering for justice"
2013-05-17 by Charlene Muhammad from "The Final Call" newspaper [http://www.finalcall.com/artman/publish/National_News_2/article_9858.shtml]:
OXNARD, Calif. (FinalCall.com) - Victims’ families, activists, and a civil rights judge delivered messages of unity, power and justice during the first ever California Statewide Civil Rights Conference on Police Brutality.
Participants gathered April 27 at Oxnard College to resist what they called a clear epidemic of abuse from law enforcement. The epidemic of police violence goes beyond policy and the inherent sickness of the criminal justice system itself, organizers charged. Now more than ever, action and unity was needed, they said.
“So-called peace officers have organized themselves into associations and unions that hold unchallenged political sway in Sacramento, legitimizing and protecting their ability to inflict unrestrained force,” stated Elliott Gabriel, an organizer with the Colectivo Todo Poder Al Pueblo, an independent, grassroots community empowerment organization.
“Working class communities across the U.S. have fallen victim to a campaign of extrajudicial killings by police that claim on average between one and two lives per day across the country,” Mr. Gabriel said.
The day-long event, hosted by Oxnard College’s Movimiento Estudiantil Chican@ de Aztlán Student Group, was one way the community planned to address the problem. The conference included a sacred Native American blessing, several keynote speakers, break-out sessions to strategize for future actions, and workshops.
Workshop topics included gang injunctions, youth rights in schools, navigating the legal system, tips to gain media accountability, basic emergency first aid, and community selfdefense strategies.
According to Mr. Elliott, the only goal is peace, but peace is impossible in the face of direct aggression and the trauma of stolen lives. Take 26 year old Robert Ramirez, for instance. Teresa Ramirez, his mother, began family testimonies by sharing her son’s plight and her fight for justice. He was battling a drug problem, she said tearfully. He didn’t want to go back to prison and was trying very hard to better himself, she said.
“All he wanted was a family and a baby of his own. He never got that chance because on June 23, he got murdered by the Oxnard PD,” Ms. Ramirez said, referring to seven officers who allegedly tased and beat him.
The police have denied any wrongdoing. “They say it was a terrible tragedy … but in fact, just by looking at what they did to my son, they beat him to death,” Ms. Ramirez charged, as she put a life-sized poster depicting her son’s bruised face on the witness table.
On March 6, 2013, her family filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Oxnard, its police chief, and the officers involved. The suit alleges excessive and deadly force during the June 23, 2012 incident, when police attempted to restrain Robert Ramirez, according to court documents.
“I know that they murdered my son. And how could they cover it up? They hired a retired medical examiner to do his autopsy on Sunday morning … so that he can lie. He had nothing else to lose. And justice needs to be done because they did murder my son,” Ms. Ramirez declared.
Two of the officers accused in the Ramirez death were part of the officer-involved-death of Alfonso Limon, Jr., shot October 13. 2012 after police mistook him for a suspect, his sister tearfully shared.
Later that evening, participants held a prayer vigil for the 21 year old and the next day held the Oxnard Rally and March Against Police Brutality at Camino Del Sol Park.
Some of the families met for the first time in person at the conference. They included Cephus Johnson, uncle of Oscar Grant, who was fatally shot by a transit officer while lying face down on a train platform in Oakland, New Year’s Day 2009. Damian Ramirez (best friend of Michael Nida, killed in Downey, Calif.), Rosemary Duenez (mother of Ernest Duenez, Jr., killed in Manteca, Calif.), and others.
“One of the things that we fight for is the legacy because that’s all we have left … because their bodies are in the ground,” Mr. Ramirez stated. “We tell the truth. We tell the truth. We tell the truth. It doesn’t change but their lies change,” he continued.
Activists in Oxnard found that they weren’t alone and that people had been fighting police brutality for a long time. The Family Panel set the tone for the day’s activities and highlighted their efforts across the state.
“There are so many of us out there who are hiding because this is a hard thing to stand up to the cops and say we’re going to fight you back,” Mr. Ramirez stated. The families vowed to fight until justice for their loved ones are served.
Mr. Johnson urged all conference participants to get involved with the October 22 Coalition to Stop Police Brutality and mobilize for this year’s activities. “We will be in the streets. Let the world know we are tired of our families dying at the hands of these rogue police officers,” he said.
The peoples’ support held their family up, he said. “Had it not been for the community that stood with us, that prayed with us, that cried with us, that went back and forth to court with us, just there for us to lean on, and their utilizing their first Amendment right to speak to the injustice they saw happened to Oscar, we wouldn’t have been able to do this,” Mr. Johnson said.
“It was because of that, it was the first time in California state history that an officer was charged, arrested, convicted, and sent to jail … An officer needs to go to prison because that’s the only way we’ll be able to put a stamp on this issue,” he added.
Applause spread rapidly throughout the auditorium. “Hallelujah!” one man shouted.
Chants of “Whose streets? Our streets” and “No justice! No peace!” rang out during the transition from the family panel to the keynote addresses. Featured speakers were Student Minister Keith Muhammad (Muhammad Mosque No. 26B in Oakland), Alex M. Salazar (former Los Angeles Police Department officer,) Thandisizwe Chimurenga (Los Angeles-based independent journalist) and the Honorable Cruz Reynoso (civil rights lawyer, professor emeritus of law at the University of California-Davis, and the first Chicano associate justice for the California Supreme Court).
The problem is most police departments do not have a policy or practice to inform superiors of officers’ wrongdoings, according to Prof. Reynoso. That leads to a system saturated with an element of self-protection where very serious issues occur but are never reported, he said.
One remedy is a state attorney-appointed independent investigator, not local police or district attorneys, he said. Typically, the latters’ investigations focus on protecting the officers involved, he explained.
“This conference has the potential for being very important in organizing a statewide group to push for those aims, to get the legislature to pay attention to these issues, to get the attorney general to investigate them and to work with the local police chiefs to try to change the atmosphere in the police departments,” Professor Reynoso told The Final Call.
Minister Muhammad shared lessons learned while seeking justice in the Grant case. A study of the case revealed certain elements including the gross economic disparities that plague Black and poor America, the stripping away of constitutional rights, educational failures, wars on the homeless and drugs, and how these things are inextricably linked to vicious police murders plaguing the community, he said.
“It is our duty to learn of what’s going on, be inspired by what we learn, and organize our communities wherever they are in order to meet and overcome the obstacle called injustice … We are victims of human rights violations and we have to make these violations known,” Mr. Muhammad said.
Michael Prysner, an Iraq War veteran with the A.N.S.W.E.R. (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) Coalition, found the conference historic. It brought together more than a dozen families to tell their own stories and declare that they’re fighting back against the police, he said.
A.N.S.W.E.R.’s position is police brutality is rooted in the American system itself. “We reject the idea that there’s just some bad cops or just some bad apples. We don’t think that the police can be trained to be better. We think this comes to the core of the system, a system based on inequality, a system based on racism, where the police have license to go out and oppress poor communities, communities of color,” Mr. Prysner told The Final Call.
To really change the issue and end the scourge of police brutality, the fight must continue for accountability but ultimately, people have to change a system based on profits and inequality, he stated.