By Carl Muhammad Featured in Worker’s World
Sacramento, Calif. — This Oct. 22, the National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation,marked another historic day for Californians as several hundred people rallied at the state Capitol in Sacramento. Some came from as far as Utah; others traveled from cities in California as far away as San Diego and Los Angeles. Many of the attendees and organizers of the event were also at the historic “Justice for Our Communities! Families Organizing to Resist Police Brutality” in Oxnard, Calif., on April 27.
The event’s Facebook page reads: “We are a statewide network of 50+ families affected by police brutality, joining with labor, educators, lawyers, students and community organizations to unite Californians to address the epidemic of police brutality and killer cops.”
The page also lists dozens of attending coalitions formed by the families, each one bearing the name of their slain loved one.
The rally was staged on the steps of the Capitol building. Families and organizations lined up on either side of the mall, most displaying banners and pictures of their loved ones as well as tables filled with buttons and literature. In one corner of the mall stood a scale replica of Pelican Bay State Prison’s infamous “secure housing unit.” Currently thousands of California prisoners spend 22.5 hours a day isolated in these 8-by-10-foot, windowless cells with a concrete slab for a bed, a toilet, a concrete stool and a small shelf.
Families demand justice
“My cousin, Ernest Duenez Jr., was murdered on June 8, 2011, by John Moody of the Manteca Police Department. And since that day my family has fought every single day to try to get justice,” said event organizer and co-chair Christina Arechiga in her opening remarks. She talked about the need to demand random drug testing when an officer is involved in an incident such as car accidents, shootings or killings.
Many who spoke at the event demanded a change in the police officers’ Bill of Rights, saying officers accused of crimes invoke the Bill of Rights to escape public accountability. “The police officers’ Bill of Rights has got to go!” said Cephus “Uncle Bobby” Johnson, uncle of Oscar Grant, who was killed by Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer Johannes Mehserle in Oakland in 2009.
Ron Thomas, father of Kelly Thomas, who was beaten to death by six Fullerton police officers on July 5, 2011, talked about continuing his fight for justice for his son. His son’s murder was recorded by digital audio recorders that the officers wore as well as nearby city surveillance video cameras. “So for the first time in Orange County’s history … on-duty police officers have not only been charged with murder, they’re now going to trial and it starts next month.”
Thomas attributed this remarkable feat to the tenacity of “Kelly’s Army,” a group of activists and organizers who rallied in the streets of Fullerton on Kelly’s behalf. “Two chiefs of police, a mayor, two City Council members, a captain — all gone.” He concluded, “None of it could have been done without the people.”
The morning rally included other family members telling their stories, speakers and entertainers, some of whom sang, rapped or recited poetry about police brutality and the need to fight back.
Jeralynn Blueford, mother of Alan Blueford, killed by Oakland police officer Miguel Masso on May 6 of last year, riled the crowd up and prepared them to march through the streets of Sacramento. “You came here to march. You came here to hear us speak. Nobody wants to march around all sad and dragging around. You better get some pep in your step!” The crowd roared its approval. “They don’t care about my kids; they don’t care about your kids. But they do care when we all come together and take a stand. All power to the people!”
With that, hundreds of people stepped into the streets of Sacramento, chanting “No justice, no peace!” and “The whole system is guilty!” The spirited marchers stopped and rallied in front of the office of state Attorney General Kamala Harris. They carried a small black coffin to the doors of the building, and each family was invited up and given a rose to place in the coffin as a symbol of their fallen loved ones. Each time a rose was placed and the name of a police brutality victim was read, marchers responded with “Justice!” The Justice for Alan Blueford Coalition kicked off a campaign there to demand that Kamala Harris do her job and prosecute killer cops.
Marchers then went back to the Capitol, where more families told their stories. The day concluded with organizers urging people to continue the fight for justice in their own cities.