There can be no justice without peace and there can be no peace without justice. – Martin Luther King, Jr.
By Doug Porter
There were no elections in 2015. No candidates or ballot measures competed for our attention. No promises or threats interrupted our TV viewing pleasure.
A lack of voting opportunities allowed other forms of activism to come to the fore. Non-electoral efforts, like demonstrations, rallies, and petition campaigns are, to my way of thinking, critical components of our national discourse. As Howard Zinn and other historians have pointed out, our nation’s history is chock full of agitation and dissent as a precursor to many of the institutions central to our society.
I’ll be looking back at 2015 this week, reviewing many of the issues and causes important to progressives in San Diego and around the nation. Today it’s about fighting the most brutal forms of injustice.
21st Century Persecution, San Diego Style
A hundred years ago, Wobblies daring to climb up on a soapbox were ridden out of San Diego by vigilantes after they filled the local jails to overflowing.
With public oratory no longer a viable option, modern day messages of rage and frustration have adapted. Now it’s Facebook, YouTube videos and digital street poets turned rappers.
The local gendarmes have adapted as well, as DA Bonnie Dumanis showed with the indictments of Brandon ‘Tiny Doo’ Duncan and Aaron Harvey, two men from Southeast San Diego charged under the gang conspiracy law Penal Code 182.5.
The conspiracies consisted of Facebook postings and rap recordings portrayed as benefits from crimes. Unsubstantiated allegations of affiliation with a gang were all to took to cross the line in the District Attorney’s book.
These charges offered local enforcers the opportunity to throw people with no criminal record in jail for life. Aaron was literally taken at gunpoint by swat teams from his Las Vegas apartment and brought back to San Diego.
While Aaron’s and Brandon’s charges were ultimately dismissed, their cases speak to the systematic over-criminalization of men of color. Public prayers and protest led to this injustice being publicized nationwide.
Justice4SD33, formed because of these cases, is now a grassroots organization rooted in Southeast San Diego empowering communities to fight injustices.
Another Local Rallying Cry
While these cases may have been the most well-publicized, there were others on the minds of local activists, who staged rallies and protests responding to what many are calling a national epidemic of the use of deadly force by law enforcement officers.
Locally, the case of Victor Ortega, shot and killed by SDPD officer Jonathan McCarthy back in 2012, has been a rallying cry. His family’s lawsuit has gained traction as a city motion to have the case dismissed failed earlier in 2015.
From Voice of San Diego:
In denying the city’s request to throw out the lawsuit, the judge ruled that McCarthy’s story has enough holes that a jury needs to sort out what happened.
“Plaintiffs,” Burns wrote, “have submitted evidence that would give a reasonable jury pause.”
Ortega was killed almost three years ago, but his case shares some of the same characteristics as other disputed police shootings that have recently inflamed communities across the country. A police officer pursued an unarmed criminal suspect. A struggle ensued with conflicting evidence about what occurred. And the suspect ended up dead.
So-Called Reforms at the SDPD
Two officer-involved shootings in San Diego during 2015 point to the weaknesses of so-called reforms instituted following numerous incidents of abuses of power over the past decade.
Last week a judge ruled video footage of a police shooting fatality taken by a private company’s surveillance camera could be released to the public by the victim’s family.
The circumstances involving the death of Fridoon Rawshan Nehad are at the root of this controversy. San Diego Police Officer Neal Browder failed to activate his body-cam, so this video footage is considered critical evidence.
District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis cleared Browder of any wrongdoing in the case, saying the officer reasonably feared for his life, given that Nehad was brandishing a silver colored pen.
An employee of the firm that owns the camera says the footage shows otherwise.
Nehad’s family has filed a lawsuit against the city, and the family (which has seen the recording) says this footage should be released.
From a Voice of San Diego interview with Nehad’s family members:
They initially wouldn’t tell us anything. Everybody that I talked to they would say, “In light of what’s going on around the country we can’t tell you anything. We can’t you anything in light of all the protests that’s going on around the country. We have to be careful…”
…Then the press release came out and it said that he was unarmed. Then the officer called me and he was apologetic. He said, “I’m really sorry.” He used the F word. He said, “We completely F-ed up. I told you that I was going to give you the information before going to the media and unfortunately the people above my pay grade just went over and told the media that your brother wasn’t armed. That shouldn’t have happened.” So I found out from the press release or the media coverage that he never had a weapon.
All the information we were getting was from the media. We found out that there was a video that captured the shooting.
Oops, We Did It Again
Lamontez Jones died on a downtown street in October, following a chase during which he alleged pointed a replica gun at two SDPD motorcycle officers. Controversy followed when it was revealed the officers in question had failed to activate their body cameras before or during the encounter. Department procedure was supposed to be to turn them on prior to arriving on the scene.
The two officers involved told investigators they did not have time to turn on the cameras.
Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman came to the defense of the officers at the press conference.
“I want everybody to — this was a rapidly evolving and dynamic situation,” Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman said that the officers did not violate the camera policy, since the rule states that officer- and public- safety concerns trump the use of the devices.
Officers in the field inevitably will find themselves unable to turn on the cameras in some volatile situations, such as suddenly “facing the barrel of a gun,” the chief told news crews at downtown SDPD headquarters.
In light of recent revelations from other cities, where officers deliberately sabotaged their cameras, this incident points to the potential dangers of the “blue wall” between law enforcement officers and the people they are supposed to be protecting.
Tallying the Totals
Local researchers going back over decades of materials have now documented more than 500 fatalities at the hands of local law enforcement agencies. Not all these deaths were disputed, but the lack of any basic data stands in the way of an informed public discussion about the use of force by every branch of law enforcement.
Protests in cities following deaths related to law enforcement activity have led to several news organizations instituting investigations tracking the frequency and data surrounding these incidents.
Best known among these is The Guardian’s The Counted project, which has tallied up more than 1100 deaths in 2015.
Data about race and ethnicity collected via this project confirms what many civil rights activists have long suspected: people of color die at the hands of law enforcement at a significantly higher rate (in proportion to the population) than white people.
California, with 203 deaths, ranks #1 in terms of the total number killed and #11 per capita.
Black Lives Matter, a decentralized network of activists with chapters in dozens of cities, have organized over 1000 protests since the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. They’ve gained a reputation for direct action tactics aimed at making people uncomfortable enough so that they must address the issues at hand.
They are a modern day civil rights movement, going beyond the narrow confines of the media narrative assigned to them in the wake of their early protests.
From the Black Lives Matter website:
#BlackLivesMatter was created in 2012 after Trayvon Martin’s murderer, George Zimmerman, was acquitted for his crime, and dead 17-year old Trayvon was post-humously placed on trial for his own murder. Rooted in the experiences of Black people in this country who actively resist our de-humanization, #BlackLivesMatter is a call to action and a response to the virulent anti-Black racism that permeates our society.Black Lives Matter is a unique contribution that goes beyond extrajudicial killings of Black people by police and vigilantes.
It goes beyond the narrow nationalism that can be prevalent within Black communities, which merely call on Black people to love Black, live Black and buy Black, keeping straight cis Black men in the front of the movement while our sisters, queer and trans and disabled folk take up roles in the background or not at all.
Black Lives Matter affirms the lives of Black queer and trans folks, disabled folks, black-undocumented folks, folks with records, women and all Black lives along the gender spectrum. It centers those that have been marginalized within Black liberation movements. It is a tactic to (re)build the Black liberation movement.
When we say Black Lives Matter, we are broadening the conversation around state violence to include all of the ways in which Black people are intentionally left powerless at the hands of the state. We are talking about the ways in which Black lives are deprived of our basic human rights and dignity.
Tomorrow: Taking on the Environmental Challenges…
The Starting Line Over the Holidays
It’s getting to that time of year where newsworthy events start to thin out due to the holidays, so I’ll be changing things up over the next two weeks.
It’s my intent to write some essays reflecting back on the Year That Was, noting accomplishments good and bad that have come across my screen. Unless something really big breaks, there will be no columns December 24th, 25th and 31st, along with January 1st.
The Friday Progressive Calendar of Events usually found in this space will resume on January 8th.
This “dark and curmudgeonly journalistic savior” wishes you and your families all the best for all the holidays.
On This Day: 1790 – Powered by children seven to 12 years old working dawn to dusk, Samuel Slater’s thread-spinning factory went into production in Pawtucket, R.I., launching the Industrial Revolution in America. By 1830, 55 percent of the mill workers in the state were youngsters, many working for less than $1 per week. 1913 – Arthur Wynne published a new “word-cross” puzzle in the “New York World.” The name was later changed to “crossword.” 1970 – Elvis Presley went to the White House to volunteer his services to President Nixon on fighting the nation’s drug problems. He gave Nixon a chrome-plated Colt .45 and Tricky Dick gave Elvis a Narcotics Bureau badge.
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