Advocating for Social and Environmental Justice in Stanislaus County and the Central Valley
The last few days have been heartbreaking for those of us at Valley Improvement Projects. In late 2008, years before starting VIP, our co-founders also started “Modesto CopWatch,” a group with the goal of ending police harassment and abuse of our local community members, especially young men of color who we had witnessed be routinely stopped, asked questions, searched, and many times told to leave the area without any legal justification. Today we are left with the overwhelming feeling that nothing of substance has changed in over a decade.
In 2008 we had just begun attending trainings on observing police in public, knowing your rights when being stopped, and making official complaints against officers who engage in harassment and abuse. Then, on New Year’s Day 2009, a young black man named Oscar Grant was killed by a police officer who shot him once in the back while he lay face down and handcuffed at the Fruitvale BART station in Oakland. Johannes Meserle, the BART officer who shot Grant was found guilty of the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter and spent less than 2 years in prison. Almost overnight we were reminded that keeping law enforcement accountable was not only a matter of principle, but a matter of survival.
Over 10 years later and the world has watched yet another black man have his life taken from him by another white police officer while he lay face-down in handcuffs. This time his name was George Floyd. His name has also been Eric Garner. Mike Brown. Tamir Rice. Freddie Gray. Philando Castile. Stephon Clark. Sean Bell. Amadou Diallo. And these are just some of the names that might have made it to national headlines, but there have been so many more, yes even here…..
This is why we at VIP know it is important to continue our law enforcement accountability work by providing CopWatch and “Know Your Rights” workshops, assisting community members with the complaint process, and supporting the families of local victims of police violence. VIP also advocates for several important policing reforms such as those recently signed into law as part of AB 392 which changed the police “use-of-force” standard and made it easier to obtain official records. While some progress has been made we recognize there is still a long way to go before we truly have a more equitable justice system. Some reforms that VIP and many other organizations have been long advocating for include:
VIP will continue to be a supporter of the movement to end police brutality and the racist policies and structures that enable and often encourage it. Here is a brief history of just some of the local and national police abuse scandals compiled by VIP over the years, as well as some of the work done by our co-founders both before and after VIP was established:
July 2010: A coalition of Stockton, Sacramento, and Modesto activists, including Modesto CopWatch/VIP founders, hosted a town hall meeting in Stockton, attended by over 100 people, to discuss police abuse in the Central Valley. Not even 24 hours later officers Eric Azarvand and Gregory Dunn from Stockton PD and John Thomas Nesbitt of the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department shot killed 16 year old James Rivera the day before his 17th birthday. Cops claimed the van Rivera was in started to back up towards them, but several witnesses in the neighborhood interviewed by copwatchers said that the crash was so bad that Rivera was unconscious and the van inoperable and that police opened fire with both assault rifles and handguns almost immediately.
Sept 5th 2010: Modesto police officers Joseph Lamantia and Robert Laxton shoot and kill Francisco Moran after mistaking his spatula for a knife. About a week later Modesto CopWatch and others organize a protest in front of MPD.
Sept 30th 2010: About 200 people protest on the corner of Paradise and MLK in West Modesto to demand justice for Francisco Moran and Rita Elias.
by Manteca police officer John Moody as he exited the back seat of a truck and his leg became entangled in the seatbelt. Initial reports claimed Duenez had a gun, knife, or other unidentified weapon and the officer was allowed to return to work 2 weeks after the shooting even though the investigation was still ongoing. The Duenez family eventually received a $2.2 million settlement. Warning graphic footage – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tJQNBclpnrE
and Environmental Justice in downtown Modesto, offering services for the homeless, youth, and other community members, hosting regular meetings and events, as well as monthly “Know Your Rights” workshops and “CopWatch” trainings. (https://valleyimprovementprojects.org/community-center-for-social-environmental/)
June 2016: Ex-Stanislaus Sheriff deputy Kari Abbey, her husband, and her father all receive sweetheart plea deals (approved by DA Fladager) allowing them all to avoid jail time for their many crimes. VIP organizes a protest which marches from the DA’s office and around the county courthouse and jail. (https://valleyimprovementprojects.org/2016/06/30/vip-protests-lenient-plea-deal-for-ex-sheriff/)
This list is not even close to a complete one, not even the local incidents. Police in the United States kill about 1,000 people per year and our country has the largest prison population in the world; both disproportionately affecting young black men and other people of color and poor people. The structural racism and classism runs deep because our country was founded on it and therefore it must be pulled down like a confederate statue and pulled out from under every stubborn rock, until then this list will just get longer. With so much power and authority police must be held accountable at every turn. Please join with VIP and many other organizations and community members in fighting against police brutality and for the reforms listed above, learn about your rights when dealing with law enforcement, and promote copwatching in your local community. RIP George Floyd, #SayHisName #ICantBreathe #BlackLivesMatter #JusticeForAll #NoJusticeNoPeace