Professor Frank P. Barajas is a Professor in the History Program at California State University Channel Islands. He is the author of Curious Unions: Mexican American Workers and Resistance in Oxnard, California, 1898-1961 (Race and Ethnicity in the American West). The following was reposted from his blog: http://frankpbarajas.blogspot.com/
It was a peaceful expression of frustration in response to the Office of the Ventura County District Attorney deciding that the killing of Alfonso Limon, Jr. by Oxnard Police Department officers was a justifiable homicide. It was also a vigil in memory of Robert Ramirez, Michael Mahoney, and Juan Zavala. On separate occasions, all three also died during the course of their contact with the OPD.
At about 3 o’clock approximately 80 participants—men, women, children, and teens—formed a unity circle to observe an Aztec dance ceremony. They held placards with the slogans: “No Justice No Peace,” “Killer Cops Off the Street,” “I hope you sleep fine at night knowing that the police stopped and fined skaters,” “Welcome to the Police State: We are Watching you,” “Take Away Their Badges, “No Killer Cops,” “We Want Justice,” and “OPD Don’t Shoot.”
Between dances synchronized to the beat of a drum, the leader of the Aztec group paid homage to the animistic spirits of the earth and prayed for peace and harmony in the face of challenges in the Oxnard community. This was followed by Todo Poder Al Pueblo organizers expressing their rejection of the District Attorney’s July 9, 2014 “Report ON THE OCTOBER 13, 2012, SHOOTINGS OF ALFONSO LIMON, JR., JUSTIN VILLA, AND JOSE ZEPEDA, JR., BY OFFICERS OF THE OXNARD POLICE DEPARTMENT.”
Todo Poder also detailed the circumstances that back dropped the June 28th death of Juan Zavala.
In addition to the deaths in question, the protestors are concerned about the broad authority of law enforcement with ostensibly little accountability to the public. In this regard, the demand for a citizens police review board was made.
From the parking lot, the group marched to Plaza Park before venturing to Oxnard Boulevard. As the protest queued northward on the boulevard, stopped periodically on street corners, then continued westward on Second Street, the number of participants grew to over a 100. Well above the 20 to 25 reported in the Sunday, July 13, edition of the VC Star.
Throughout the procession and in front of the Oxnard Police Department, where the march concluded, people of diverse races and ethnicities blasted their automobile horns, shouted, and gestured, some emphatically, their support for the group’s cause as they drove by.
When I have been in contact with law enforcement in and out of Ventura County, under varying circumstances, I have been treated in a professional manner. The demeanor of the officers ranged from being good-natured, considerate, and tolerant. On one occasion a police officer was gruff but professional.
However, in my conversations with family, close friends, members of the community, retired peace officers, and from my work as an academic, I recognize that there are police that abuse their power and exercise excessive force. This is particularly the experience of the poor, people of color, and those on parole or probation.
For example, in 1997, an OPD officer shot a man of Mexican origin five times, leaving him blind in one eye and paralyzed in both legs. Controversy mounted as information surfaced that an OPD supervisor obstructed hospital emergency room treatment to interrogate the person shot.
In 2001, OPD shootings involved persons with mental illness, one resulted in the death of a 23-year-old African American man. Shortly after this, an African American family driving to church found themselves pulled over by an OPD officer. Subsequently, the police placed the father, face down on the pavement. During the course of the detention, 12 OPD officers drew their guns on the family.
In the end, the family was released; the OPD held that the incident was a case of mistaken identity.
Michelle Alexander, in her highly acclaimed book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (2010), also documents how law enforcement arbitrarily exercises its authority against the poor and, especially, African American men. Such scenarios are brought to life in the theater of Facebook.
Even John Crombach, upon reflection as Chief of the Oxnard Police Department in 2006, characterized the 2004 implementation of a civil gang injunction in the following manner, “We [the OPD] became an invading army in the community. . . That’s incredibly expensive and not the way we want to do business.’’
It is my hope that the OPD’s review of its policies and procedures results in a new way of conducting its business—for the good of all in our community.
A version of this post was published in the Sunday July 20, 2014 edition of the Ventura County Star.