An Open Letter to the Organizers of “Police Legitimacy in Communities of Color” at the Monterey Institute of International Studies

To Dr. Pushpa Iyer, Professor Edward Laurance and anyone else it may concern:

On October 9th, Salinas Police Chief Kelly McMillin is scheduled to speak on a panel titled “Police Legitimacy in Communities of Color” presented by the Center for Conflict Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. Under Chief McMillin’s command, four unarmed Salinas community members — all Latino men — were shot and killed by officers in a span of four months. Between March and July of 2014, Salinas police officers shot and murdered Angel Ruiz, Carlos Mejia, Osman Hernandez, and our dear friend and activist Frank Alvarado. Mejia and Hernandez were allegedly shot because officers felt threatened by work tools that they were carrying. Ruiz had a pellet gun, and Alvarado had a cell phone.

We believe it is unethical and disrespectful to give Chief McMillin such a privileged voice in a space that is uncritical of his department’s policies and the violence he has continually justified. None of the community activists, family and friends of the murdered men were invited to present on the panel and likely view the space as hostile — given that they would have had to sit across from the person ultimately responsible for these deaths.

Chief McMillin did ask the Department of Justice to investigate some of the murders, but not all of them. In any event, law enforcement and county officials have been extremely slow to take any significant actions to demonstrate that they take this series of deaths seriously, or to address police brutality more broadly in Salinas. Instead, Kelly McMillin has been actively justifying the murders; by saying in a recent Town Hall that, “to characterize the people who were shot as innocent victims is a disservice. To call the Salinas police officers who were involved in these things killers is a disservice and, frankly, an insult.” With these words, Chief McMillin is repeating a pattern that we have seen across the country, from the murder of Oscar Grant and Alan Blueford in Oakland to Mike Brown in Ferguson and countless others. These premature deaths all have one thing in common: they were all unarmed victims of police violence who are demonized by the police and corporate media as criminal and unreputable men destined to die at the hands of police because they had nothing positive to offer their families and communities. We reject this narrative — the men who died had families, friends and comrades in struggle who cared about them. Any mistakes that they may or may not have made in the past do not justify their murder at the hands of police.

We are not surprised that McMillin has been speaking out against the idea of a civilian oversight board and has instead encouraged city council to simply “update” an already-existing Police Community Advisory Committee. When he expressed concern at the cost of creating an actual citizens’ board, he said that “in the grand scheme of things, the city needs a lot more police officers… before something like a civilian oversight board.” In other words, he is calling for the expansion of a system that we are currently very skeptical about, that we are trying to hold accountable for immense wrongdoing. And he is trying to do this instead of agreeing to actual oversight.

The Salinas police chief who oversaw the killings of four Latino men in four months is not welcome in our communities. We demand that all involved Salinas police officers be held accountable, including Chief McMillin and those officers identified by SPD as killing residents in 2014. We support the families’ call to investigate anti-Latino discrimination and violation of federal rights. More broadly, we call on our community to stop giving Chief McMillin a platform to espouse militarization policies that disrupt and destroy the lives of Salinas residents. Stop promoting the view that the police are legitimate and honorable members of the Salinas community. Prioritize the voice of community activists and family members of people victimized by the police, especially when organizing events that explore the impact of policing and militarization.

Inviting Chief McMillin onto this panel will not initiate an honest or productive discussion about the relationship between police and communities of color. To the contrary, his presence would itself be an act of legitimizing police brutality in communities of color. For these reasons, we request that you ask him to step down as a participant.

Sincerely,

Sin Barras & The Alvarado Family

Signed by:

The Direct Action Monterey Network

Ni Una Muerte Más

The Bay Area Stop Mass Incarceration Network

Flying Over Walls, SF Bay Area

Critical Race & Ethnic Studies Student Working Group, UC Santa Cruz

Ana Barrera, Salinas Educator & EON/BAMN Caucus Member

Bruce Neuburger, Instructor, City College of San Francisco, Vice President CFT Local 4681

Angelica Garza, Frank Alvarado’s sister

Anthony D. Prince, National Executive Committee, National Lawyers Guild

Harold Hardin & Fox, Critical Race & Ethnic Studies, UC Santa Cruz

Paul Boden, Western Regional Advocacy Project

Sharon Martinas, Catalyst Project

Debra Ellis, Cognitive Liberty

Marjorie Langdon

Leslie Potenzo

Miguel Marquez

Barbara Hayes

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Our Letter to the Editor at the Sacramento Bee

Last week, Emily Harris of Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB) came to Santa Cruz to facilitate a Letter to the Editor Training. We collectively wrote a letter at the training, Courtney submitted it, and it got published! Check it out:

Cut health care costs by cutting incarceration

Published: Wednesday, Sep. 10, 2014 – 8:09 pm
Last Modified: Friday, Sep. 12, 2014 – 10:48 am

Re “Health costs for counties with influx of inmates” (The Public Eye, Sept. 8): Thank you, Brad Branan, for writing a piece that illuminates the disastrous difficulty of asking county jails to provide adequate mental health treatment.

Our county jails are hemorrhaging. For Jerry Brown, realignment has meant the literal shift from prison overcrowding to jail overcrowding.

Let’s make sure we don’t make the same mistake that was made when the state decided to build its health care prison in Stockton, which proved to be a $900 million disaster. To cut health care costs, we must cut incarceration by responding to the War on Drugs as a medical crisis, rather than a criminal issue.

This looks like investing in community-based treatment centers that have a long-term vision of quality healthcare for everyone.

– Courtney Hanson, Santa Cruz

Oct. 2 – A Racial Justice & Equity Event

Sin Barras, The Pachamama Alliance, and the Resource Center for Nonviolence is co-sponsoring a ‘Racial Justice & Equity Event‘ with the Santa Cruz County Coalition to End Racism on Thursday October 2nd:

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The event will expose the disastrous impact of Mass Incarceration and the “War on Drugs” on impoverished communities,and Communities of Color. We will address Racism in its institutional and structural forms through screening Michelle Alexander’s lecture: “The New Jim Crow” Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

We will begin with a short introduction describing Four Techniques for Revealing Racism, and the Four Levels of Racism, Personal, Interpersonal, Institutional, and Structural.

Protestors Confront Salinas Police Chief at Bookstore Appearance in Santa Cruz

by Alex Darocy of Santa Cruz Indymedia

To send a strong message that “killer cops” are not welcome in Santa Cruz, community members gathered on August 26 to protest a speaking engagement at Bookshop Santa Cruz featuring Salinas Police Chief Kelly McMillin. “We are creating a public presence to say loud and clear that the Salinas police chief who oversaw the killings of four Latino men in four months is not welcome in our community,” read a flyer provided by Sin Barras, the Santa Cruz-based organization that called for the demonstration. [Top photo: A protester displays a sign inside Book Shop Santa Cruz. Scroll down for more photos.]


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Between March and July of this year, four individuals have been killed by officers with the Salinas Police Department.

Outside of the book shop, which is located in downtown Santa Cruz, one demonstrator held a sign that declared, “Salinas: Our Ferguson.”

Several dozen individuals attended the protest, with some traveling from Salinas and other areas in Monterey County to make their voices heard. Organizers say they did not intend to disrupt the speaking event.

Six uniformed Santa Cruz police officers were present at the book shop for security, as was SCPD Deputy Chief Rick Martinez, who personally escorted Chief McMillan in and out of the building and was his driver.

Another sign held by demonstrators read: “Chief McMillin cannot speak for peace while justifying police murder.”

McMillin was invited to speak at Bookshop Santa Cruz by Monterey Herald reporter Julia Reynolds as part of a signing event for her book “Blood in the Fields.” According to the shop’s website, the book documents the history of Operation Black Widow, “the FBI’s questionable decade-long effort to dismantle Nuestra Familia [a criminal organization], along with its compromised informants and the turf wars it created with local law enforcement agencies.”

One of those agencies was the Salinas Police Department, and Reynolds made it clear she was a supporter of Chief McMillan’s, heaping praise on him for his efforts with regards to youth violence.

Community members seeking justice for those killed by Salinas police this year, however, have had to grapple with the department’s lack of transparency and accountability. McMillan has refused to release the names of the officers responsible for the killings.

“We believe it is anti-thetical and extremely disrespectful to give Chief McMillan such a privileged voice in a space that is uncritical of his policies and the racist murders he has overseen,” the literature from Sin Barras stated. The group also stated it sought to, “expose the brutality and racism of the Salinas cops and media.”

Since its founding, Sin Barras has primarily concerned itself with the intersecting issues of poverty and prison abolition. The Salinas police killings became an intense focus for the group, though, when they learned the fourth person killed this year was Frank Alvarado, who was a Sin Barras member and a dear friend.

Frank was killed on July 10 and since that time very little information about his killing has been released by authorities. They claim he was killed when Salinas Police perceived he was coming at them with a weapon. It was later determined to be a cell phone.

In May, Frank participated in a Sin Barras rally in Santa Cruz. He spoke about his recent release from incarceration, and why he opposed California prison expansion. He spoke passionately about his life and his family. The loss of Frank is still a fresh wound for his friends and fellow activists in Santa Cruz. After his death, Sin Barras immediately contacted his family in Salinas and is in close touch with them.

One member of Sin Barras held a sign at the book shop demonstration that read, “Rebuilding Trust? How about bringing back lives? Frank Alvarado, Carlos Mejia, Angel Ruiz, Osman Hernandez.”

Angel Ruiz was killed on March 20 by Salinas police outside of the Wingstop restaurant on Constitution Blvd. Ruiz had reportedly been going through alcohol and mental issues when police killed him after receiving reports he was spotted behaving erratically and in possession of a BB gun.

Carlos Mejia was killed on May 21 outside of a Bakery on Sanborn Rd. Osman Hernandez was killed on May 9 outside of the Mi Pueblo market on Sanborn. In both cases, Salinas police have explained the men were behaving erratically and that they were killed because they felt threatened by the work tools they were carrying at the time of their killing. Mejia was carrying a pair of garden sheers he used for work, and Hernandez was carrying a lettuce knife.

In their literature, Sin Barras presented a set of demands concerning the Salinas police killings. The group demands police release the names of the officers who killed the four men this year, and hold them accountable. They support the families’ call to investigate anti-Latino discrimination and violation of federal rights, and they want federal civil rights lawsuits filed.

“Salinas Police Chief Kelly McMillin denies police racism, but how else do you explain that Salinas’ population is 75% Latino, but 100% of those murdered by by Salinas Police were Latino?” the Sin Barras literature states.

After four police killings in one year, the perspective vocalized by many is that Kelly McMillin has clearly decreased public safety in Salinas. One sign held by demonstrators read, “Term Limits for Police.”

Near the end of the talk, a group of demonstrators holding signs entered the bookshop to display their messages directly in view of McMillan.

As the question and answer period commenced, demonstrators became more vocal as they realized the questions they submitted weren’t being asked.

McMillan may have sensed this, and the last question chosen was more critical, comparing the SPD to a criminal gang.

“I do understand the perception that cops are their own gang, that they are the best paid most well equipped gang,” he stated. He insisted, however, that the work they do as police is “entirely devoted to being effective at reducing violence.”

A Sin Barras member in the audience then shouted out, “effective at killing our friend…[who was] unarmed.”

“Our whole goal is to reduce violence and make Salinas a safe place,” continued McMillan.

People in the audience started hissing. McMillan then added he thought every police officer in Salinas was deeply troubled by the four killings. People shouted out in response that Salinas police were “murderers” and “terrorists.”

After one person in the audience stood up and attempted to ask McMillan one more question, the chief was silent and the person was cut off by the moderator, who concluded the evening.

When the question went unanswered, protesters began a loud chorus of booing and then chanted, “cops, pigs, murderers” repeatedly before leaving the book shop.

In an open letter penned to Sin Barras the day before the protest, and posted to her Facebook page, Reynolds stated that police legitimacy, “can and should be part of the conversation,” but that, “it is not all of the conversation.”

One individual addressed this issue in remarks made online directly to Reynolds: “You’re a tool of state power. Journalists should always be critical of power, or else they are complicit with it’s abuses. And providing a forum for the head of a murderous police department to spew out shit is an even worse form of complicity.”

“Police are so obviously on the front line of maintaining the poverty and oppression that leads to the violence that you pretend to be concerned about….you are either dangerously naive or willfully supporting their oppression.”

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Killer Cops Not Welcome -Salinas Police Chief in Santa Cruz this Tuesday

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Murderers not welcome in our town!

This Tuesday Salinas Police Chief Kelly McMillin will be in Santa Cruz for an event at Bookshop Santa Cruz featuring Julia Reynolds and her book “Blood in the Fields.”

We are creating a public presence to say LOUD AND CLEAR that the Salinas police chief who oversaw the killings of four Latino men in four months is not welcome in our community.

Kelly McKillin’ has been actively justifying the murders, one of which took our dear friend and fellow activist Frank Alvarado.

***Bring signs, banners, your friends and fam & meet in front of the entrance! If you have questions, feel free to contact Sin Barras via email: sinbarras@gmail.com

Facebook event here.

Official event description here.

Incredibly racist & patronizing piece recently written by the chief here.

Sin Barras statement about Frank’s murder here.

 

Beers for Abolition: A $in Barras Kickback

In need of some community lovin’?

Let’s share stories over delicious drinks and tasty tapas at Discretion Brewing this Monday!

20% of Discretion’s bar proceeds will benefit Sin Barras and we’ll be there all day. Since our group is completely self-funded and not tied to any state or foundation funding bodies, we need your help with the hustle.

Spread the word, bring a friend, and let’s affirm our ongoing fight to end the caging of our communities. See you there!

Fundraiser

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Photos: CA Hunger Strike Anniversary in Santa Cruz

Photo Credit – Bradley Allen

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On July 8, we held a rally to commemorate the 1 year anniversary of the California Hunger Strike. The rally was small but powerful because of who showed up. Cynthia Fuentes heard about the mobilization and drove from San Jose to participate. Her brother, an incredible writer, has been incarcerated in the SHU. And when the mic got to her, she shared her experiences of heartbreak, frustration, and edurance, and tears welled up in her eyes and those of folks listening.
His family, are pleading for his immediate parole or compassionate release – please sign this petition.

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Justice for Frank Alvarado & Support for His Family

by Bradley Allen & Alex Darocy

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In response to the killing of Frank, the Direct Action Monterey Network called for a rally on Saturday, July 12, 2014 at the corner of S Sanborn Rd & Fairview Ave in East Salinas against police violence and to demand justice for Frank Alvarado. Demonstrators, including friends and family of Frank from Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties, held signs with messages such as “Stop Police Brutality. Justice For My Uncle!,” “SPD Don’t Shoot Me. I’m On My Phone,” “Another Murder Brought To You By The SPD,” and “Stop Giving Cops Paid Vacation For Murder!”

Speakers at the July 12 rally included Frank Alvarado’s sister, Angélica Garza; Frank’s niece, Natalie Mendoza; as well as Courtney Hanson and Tash Nguyen of Sin Barras, a prison abolition group based in Santa Cruz.

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In Memory of Frank Alvarado

Frank Alvarado, a close friend and Sin Barras member, was shot and killed by Salinas police early Thursday morning. Frank was an extraordinary person with a big and loving heart. His contagious spirit, candid perspective, resilience, and compassion for those who are struggling inspired community-building and understanding around him.

We met Frank ​in April at the Walk to Stop the Silence in Watsonville, an annual event that raises awareness against childhood sexual abuse. Frank approached our table wanting more information about what ​Sin Barras does. We told him about the lobbying, prisoner rights’ advocacy, and reform work that we’ve undertaken, and he opened up about having just been released after eleven​ years inside. He ​started coming to meetings regularly, and finding a new voice for himself by speaking publicly about his own experiences with incarceration. Continue reading

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July 8 – A Day of Remembrance and Commitment

CA Hunger Strike Anniversary – July 8

On Tuesday afternoon, allies across the state will hold local actions. Here in Santa Cruz, we will gather at 6:30pm at the Water & Pacific Ave. Clocktower to make these struggles against torture and criminalization visible! Bring banners, candles, or signs to contribute.

July 8, 2013 is a day we remember to never forget the torture the state of California willingly inflicts on human lives. On that day, 30,000 prisoners followed the lead of their fellow prisoners locked in solitary confinement and refused to eat. By one account, close to 100 people went without eating for 59 days before agreeing to eat in exchange for serious concessions from the California Department of Corrections.
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