by Elliott Gabriel, submitted on behalf of the Todo Poder al Pueblo Collective.
With a strong sense of distaste, the Todo Poder al Pueblo Collective and the families of Oxnard’s police brutality victims read Williams’ guest column.
The chief apparently feels that the community’s expectations of justice can be silenced through intimidation alone. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Oct. 13 marked the one-year anniversary of the shooting of innocent bystander Alfonso Limon, Jr. by nine Oxnard police officers, as well as the extrajudicial killing of Jose Zepeda. That day, the families, friends and neighbors of Robert Ramirez, Michael Mahoney and Limon stood shoulder-to-shoulder in a nonpermitted yet entirely peaceful mobilization that showed the remarkable dignity, vigilance and discipline of our community.
However, Chief Williams seems to feel as though gestures like the offering of “parking accommodations” can help heal the deep wounds resulting from her officers’ actions. Her insensitive tone suggests a clear disconnect with the community whose public safety she’s sworn to assure.
Until her appointment by scandal-plagued former City Manager Ed Sotelo in fall 2010, Williams was an assistant police chief in Phoenix. As a newcomer, she shouldn’t misuse her privileged role to lecture Frank Barajas, a respected educator and local historian.
Instead, Williams should familiarize herself with his writings, where she can learn of the countless fighters who put their lives, comfort and safety on the line to secure the rights of residents in the face of harsh exploitation, institutional racism and routine police brutality.
Referring to the popular mood of past generations, Barajas wrote, “Police relations in La Colonia had become strained to the point that many residents, particularly its youth, viewed law enforcement as not their protectors but as an agency that violated their rights with impunity.”
Once Williams sets aside her contempt for the inconvenient lessons of our shared local history, she’ll discover that she’s echoing former Chief of Police A.E. Jewell, who also wrote Opinion pieces to protest community outrage.
In an op-ed published April 9, 1962, in the Oxnard Press-Courier, Jewell complained of the widespread allegations of criminal abuse of power under color of law: “Charges were hurled recklessly of police brutality in general.”
Civil rights partisan Juan Soria responded: “It certainly is appalling to see that these things exist in Oxnard. It is time for a change to take place.” What’s past is prologue.
Some changes have taken place, yet the OPD’s entrenched culture of disrespect toward the city’s Chicano, immigrant and working-class residents still persists. This is precisely why we refuse to take part in inconsequential public-relations spectacles hosted by the department.
For many in our community, police misconduct remains the foremost threat to public safety — just ask the families of the victims.
Meanwhile, our collective continues to receive complaints of police abuse from residents across the city.
We won’t be lulled into a false sense of security through the repetition of sweet-sounding yet hollow phrases like “community policing.” Taxpayer dollars shouldn’t be squandered on outsourced private vendors such as the misleadingly-named Office of Independent Review.
We prefer democratic solutions that serve the public interest like an elected, independent civilian review board that has the power to hire, fire and impose disciplinary measures. Officers implicated in killings must be removed from our streets, and an independent prosecutor should be appointed to investigate police negligence and malfeasance.
Chief Williams’ guest column wasn’t her first threat to arrest participants in Oxnard’s anti-brutality mobilizations. She has launched similar threats in the past, privately through her proxies.
At the time, we responded: “According to the OPD’s perverse notions of ‘justice,’ officers are free to kill the innocent and spray densely populated neighborhoods of families with high-caliber gunfire while jaywalking and writing on the pavement with sidewalk chalk somehow constitute serious crimes.
“However, while chalk can easily be washed away with water, the spilled blood of the victims doesn’t evaporate — it sinks deep into our streets and becomes embedded into the memory and consciousness of our community. Despite recent threats from the Oxnard Police Department to arrest organizers who continue to fight against police brutality, our belief is that the only true power lies in the people standing strong against all forms of aggression or humiliation.”
We stand by these words; bullying approaches won’t win the community’s confidence.
No justice, no peace!