By THE TODO PODER AL PUEBLO COLLECTIVE
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.
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