Valley Improvement Projects (VIP), a fiscally-sponsored project of Social and Environmental
Entrepreneurs (SEE), is accepting applications from motivated individuals to fill a part-time
Community Organizer position in Stanislaus County.
VIP seeks to preserve the natural resources of the San Joaquin Valley by working towards minimizing or eliminating environmental degradation within our communities. Rural communities in California’s Central Valley suffers a disproportionate amount of negative health, social, and economic impacts due to disproportionate environmental degradation. VIP upholds the principles of environmental justice through direct action, movement building, advocacy, and resident engagement in all of its efforts. VIP is looking for candidates who share our organizational values and are interested in working in the field of Environmental Justice Issues in Stanislaus County.
The part-time Community Organizer position is responsible for conducting outreach in disadvantaged communities in Stanislaus County and building community capacity by educating and engaging residents in current initiatives aimed at advancing environmental justice. The organizer will work closely with ally organizations to address disparate environmental impacts on low-income communities of color caused by pollution associated with pesticide applications, the local waste incinerator, as well as other stationery and mobile polluting sources. The Community Organizer will report directly to the VIP Project Directors.
This is a non-exempt part-time position. It is expected that this person will work approximately 20-25 hours per week, with the possibility of evolving into a full-time position depending on funding availability.
Specific Responsibilities include (but not limited to):
• Educate community members on basic environmental literacy concepts and methods to
identify and report environmental problems
• Educate and engage residents and community groups in disadvantaged communities in the development of Community Air Monitoring Networks and other community science projects aimed at documenting various types of pollution. This will be accomplished by organizing community meetings, doing door-to-door canvassing, and using other community organizing methods as needed.
• Develop and maintain a central database of all data collected through air monitoring networks and other community science projects
• Engage residents and youth leaders in environmental justice advocacy campaigns at the local, regional, and state levels that focus on equitable policies that protect overburdened communities
• Work with regulatory agencies to understand the policies and programs (i.e., Community Air Protection Program, Methane Rule) that are created to reduce pollution and monitor its proper implementation
• Attend meetings
• Maintain social media accounts
• Attend meetings on behalf of VIP or tend to other duties related to the organization as assigned
• Collaborate with other local organizations and across the state to advance environmental justice issues affecting Stanislaus County residents
• Other duties as assigned by VIP Project Directors
• 1-2 years of community organizing experience
• Strong communication skills both oral and written
• Bilingual English and Spanish. Ability to do basic translations of materials and to provide interpretation during meetings
• Ability to work well with diverse groups
• Must work with limited supervision—create sound work style and be able to develop his/her own schedule in order to complete project tasks
• Proficiency with Microsoft Office and Google products and applications
• Strong commitment to social/environmental justice and the mission of VIP
• Ability and willingness to travel within the county and other parts of California and to have a flexible schedule as needed
• Current driver’s license and fully-insured personal vehicle
• Completed courses in an accredited college or university on Environmental Science, Social or Health Sciences
• Experience doing advocacy work
Working Environment & Travel
This position is based out of VIP’s office in downtown Modesto, and regular travel within the county is required. Occasional travel outside of the local area may be required to attend coalition events across the state. Due to the nature of community organizing, the organizer will be required to work some nights/weekends.
Project Directors will conduct a formal review at the end of the first three months and thereafter annually.
Starting Date: Open until filled
How to Apply
Interested candidates must send an email that includes a cover letter, resume, and 3 work and/or school references to email@example.com with “VIP-Stanislaus County Community Organizer” as the subject line.
Valley Improvement Projects
Did you know VIP members and the local community have been fighting waste incineration for decades? Here are some pictures of a rally that took place back in 2006 in the town of Crows Landing, where the incinerator is located.
VIP and other orgs across the central valley are joining forces to make electric vehicles accessible to low income families and individuals.
We are the Electric Vehicle Empowerment Collaborative- check out our site for more info about the various orgs involved-http://cencalasthma.org/cvec/
Let me tell you why we consider it an equity issue- For many years electric vehicles were thought to be for the wealthy class, and now CA is making electric vehicles for everyone with the various incentives available to make them affordable for all. What we are doing is making this information more accessible. We help you through the process.
Our next webinar workshop will give you more details about how to access these rebates, and can help you, and others, decide which vehicle would best suit your needs. Electric or Plug in Hybrid? We will also go over the steps you will need to take, no worries because we will guide you through every step of the way.
So please share this with as many people as you can, and join us! Even if you aren’t considering purchasing a new car at the moment, it’s always good to know what your options are even before you have the need to know. We would also appreciate your feedback.
All pre-registered participants will be entered for a $50 gift card. I’m telling you- It’s worth joining us. ( you can also help us by sharing this on your social media!)
Webinar about Clean Vehicle Incentives in San Joaquin Valley- making resources for clean vehicles equitable by making them accessible. Let us plug you in!
September 25th 5 pm- English -Register at: tinyurl.com/CleanVehicle-VIP
Seminario sobre Incentivos de Vehículos Electricos en la valle de San Joaquin.- estamos haciendo que estos recursos para comprar carros electricos mas equitativos y accesibles, dejenos conectarlos!
Septiembre 25- 6:15 pm- Español-Registrese aqui: tinyurl.com/Ahorros-VIP
PS.- did you read about Gavin Newsom executive order to ban sales of gas-powered cars and trucks by 2035??? Don’t miss our workshop! Now is the time!
Read about the executive order -https://www.npr.org/2020/09/23/916209659/california-governor-signs-order-banning-sales-of-new-gasoline-cars-by-2035
Valley Improvement Projects (VIP) is a non-profit grass-roots organization from Modesto, we work on social and environmental justice issues. Our mission is to improve the quality of life of underrepresented and marginalized residents of California’s Central Valley by advocating for social and environmental justice.
The Environmental Justice 101 Youth Academy is one of VIP’s projects, targeting 12 youth in Stanislaus County between the ages of 13-18. Participants will engage in a series of projects to develop their leadership skills and equity lens when investigating issues of environmental justice.
These Academy was created to train you on the knowledge, skills, and resources you need to tell the story of Environmental Justice in your community and DO something about it. This is based on cutting-edge science education pedagogy because it anchors learning in deeply local issues and real-time data collected by experts in the field.
Youth who join this club will have the knowledge and tools to drive environmental justice work within their own communities.
All participants will receive an enrollment gift for registering. Gifts will be mailed out after attending the first session.
Every weekly session will end with a raffle, participants must be present (online) to enter. Some of the prizes include $25-50 gift cards, Zero Waste Starter Kit, solar speaker, solar backpack, & more!
Participants that attend all 8 sessions will get a $100 gift card and will get a chance to enter the large prize raffle, to be disclosed at a later date. (we wont disappoint!- we want to get to know you first)
1. You must be between the ages of 13-18 years old
2. You must be able to attend all eight class sessions starting late September
3. You must have access to wifi/data and a device with a camera
Hosted by: Valley Improvement Projects
Dates: Starting late September- Once a week, for 2 hours, for a total of 8 weeks
Location: ZOOM (Thanks COVID!)
Contact us at (209) 589-9277 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Space is limited so register now! To Register Click Here.
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:
- Community Review Boards for police conduct with real authority
- Drug testing for officers especially following an incident of abuse
- Immediate release of unedited body/dash camera footage involving incidents of abuse
- State review of police abuse incidents and state authority to charge and prosecute officers
- Full repeal of California’s “Police Bill of Rights” law
- Separate the roles of Stanislaus County Sheriff and county coroner
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:
- Sept 2000: Modesto SWAT officer shot and killed 11-year-old Alberto Sepulveda during a drug raid. The city eventually agreed to pay $2.5 million to the Sepulveda family.
- Dec 2000: Billy Hull was killed by Modesto police in his front yard after drinking and having an emotional breakdown over a recent divorce and holding a cap gun.
- April 2002: Police killed 35-year-old Jose Luis Quezada near downtown Modesto after he allegedly steered his van at them.
- Aug 2004: Modesto police shot and killed 22 year-old Sammy Galvan during a disturbance call. Galvan’s family has said that Sammy was holding a knife but never had a chance to comply with officers’ commands and was far enough away to not be a threat to the police.
- Oct 2007: A Ripon police officer was sentenced to only probation for committing a lewd act and attempting sexual intercourse with a minor.
- March 2008: A co-founder of Modesto CopWatch and VIP has his camera forcibly confiscated by a Stanislaus Sheriff’s deputy while recording the arrest of a community member. Sheriff Adam Christianson returned the camera with an apology and a promise to not interfere with those legally recording police.
- Aug 2008: 21 year-old Joey Pinasco of Escalon is shot six times in the head by California Highway Patrol as, police say, he was trying to hit them with his truck. Witnesses and physical evidence have contradicted the officers’ version of what occurred and his family eventually won a $2 million lawsuit.
- Oct 2008: Turlock police officer Jorge Cruz pled guilty to committing sodomy, oral copulation, and sexual intercourse with a minor, all felonies, and was sentenced to 16 months. The victim was working with the officer as part of the Turlock Police Department’s Explorer program.
- Jan 1st 2009: Oscar Grant is shot in the back by a police officer in Oakland while face-down and handcuffed, video of the killing goes viral.
- Jan 11th 2009: Richie Robles is shot and killed by Modesto police officer Latisha Leap in front of the Double Tree Hotel after refusing to drop a sword. Robles’s mother stated that Richie struggled with mental health problems, but was not violent.
- Jan 30th 2009: Modesto CopWatch/VIP founders went on their first “patrol” on a Friday night in downtown Modesto in response to complaints that MPD had been harassing any young men of color who stand on the sidewalk in one place for too long. A copwatcher informed 2 young women, being questioned by MPD officers, of their right to not answer questions and to leave if not being detained. Later that night the same MPD officer approached 2 of the 4 copwatchers and asked them for IDs. There were dozens of other people standing in the same area but police only approached 2 of them. After refusing to show IDs they were placed in handcuffs, told they were under arrest (but not what for), had their pockets emptied including cell phones, and put in the back of separate cop cars for over an hour. They were eventually released with citations for “loitering” and “obstructing a sidewalk,” which were dismissed in court.
- April 2009: Several guards at the Stanislaus County jail repeatedly used tasers and pepper spray to subdue their former co-worker Craig Prescott, one of the few African-American Sheriff deputies working at the jail who was arrested after having an emotional breakdown, Prescott died shortly after.
- May 2009: Sheriff’s deputy Alfred Huskey admitted to having sex with a minor under the influence of alcohol and meth but was only sentenced to a year in county jail and did not even have to register as a sex offender. Many local attorneys agreed the deputy got an unprecedented “sweetheart” deal, which was approved by current DA Birgit Fladager.
- Oct 2009: Local activists and community organizers, including future VIP founders, held the “Keep Ya’ Head Up Hip Hop Festival” on Crows Landing in South Modesto to raise awareness about local police brutality, racist gang injunctions, and immigrant rights. The event included performances from LA, Bay Area, and 209 Hip-Hop artists, free food, raffles, guest speakers, a bounce house, face painting, vendors, film screenings, and a graffiti wall.
- Dec 2009: Elizabeth Catherine Kropp, a Modesto women with life-long mental health issues, walked onto the campus of Everett Elementary School with a knife and began cutting herself. Although reports say she didn’t harm or threaten anyone but herself, when MPD officers arrived they quickly shot her to death.
- May 2010: Modesto CopWatch, NAACP, and other community members host a town hall meeting with Sheriff Chistianson. At the meeting Christianson admits that racial profiling happens in his department, that he won’t allow victims of police abuse to bring another person to their complaint interview (MPD does allow), and tells a Latino man who shared a story of police abuse “you don’t look like the kind of guy who is intimidated by law enforcement.” Years later Christianson would sit next to president Trump and praise his work on immigration. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GKYHJMXJqsQ&t=24s and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vp4BwVNnx-w)
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 24th 2010: After instigating a physical confrontation with a tenant, off-duty Stanislaus County sheriff Kari Abbey shot and killed Rita Elias in West Modesto. Police say that Elias brandished a bb-gun at Abbey (who never identified herself as law enforcement) as a way to scare her away. Instead of leaving, Abbey retrieved a gun from her car and shot Elias. When agents searched Abbey’s home they found 100 marijuana plants, an illegal sawed-off shotgun within the reach of children, illegal steroids, and other items that went missing from the Hayward Police Dept. where Abbey’s husband worked. Abbey, her father, and boyfriend were charged with conspiracy to enter tenant homes and Abbey was also charged with embezzlement for committing some of these acts while on the clock as a Sheriff Deputy. (https://www.modbee.com/news/local/crime/article3139204.html)
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.
- Oct 2010: In recognition of the National Day Against Police Brutality Modesto CopWatch and others marched from the Double Tree (where Richie Robles was killed by an MPD officer) to the Modesto police department to the the Stanislaus County jail and then to the recently privatized “Paperboy Park” where the homeless were currently being harassed by police.
- Oct 2010: From the Modesto Bee: An e-mail is made public by retiring MPD Sgt. Craig Plante about the “good ol’ days” when veteran police officers taught new recruits the “unwritten rule:” You could beat “anyone who ran from us.” “The bad guys knew it as well as we did,” Plante wrote. “If we chased you, it was coming…You were pummeled, taken to Scenic Hospital, put to the front of the line, patched up and booked.” The biggest “B&R event” — when officers would beat and release people — was Modesto’s Graffiti Night festivities, Plante wrote. Police would remove their name tags before doing it, the sergeant said. Plante said he wore another officer’s name tag from 1986 through 1991, the only dates referenced in the e-mail. “You’d start hitting, they’d start running and eventually they’d escape into the crowd,” Plante wrote. “The SWAT (team) had their own ‘Strike Squad.’…They’d pour out and start clubbing people…until everyone ran away.”
- Nov 2010: A letter from an anonymous MPD officer is sent to the Modesto Bee in response to the “beat & release” revelations. It states: “police brutality is still going on and the solid hardworking police officers have reported this ongoing activity to Captain Balentine and Chief Harden who have done NOTHING about it. Officers have also confronted Lt. Cloward. Cloward has directed sergeants to leave these guys alone. Lt. Cloward, Captain Balentine and Chief Harden are all K-9 buddies and will protect each other. The officers committing these acts are James Murphy, Orrin Nelson, Florencio Costales, and Joe Lamantia. All work together and pick on gangster types and helpless citizens. Lamantia just killed a man armed with a spatula. I suggest you subpoena all of these people along with K-9 use of force reports (especially Murphy’s dog) and I bet the chief will try and hide behind these use of force reports. Chief Harden has no credibility or integrity and will protect his upper management.”
- Dec 2010: Family and friends of Francisco Moran and Rita Elias, Modesto CopWatch and other local activists marched into the Modesto police department wearing masks bearing the faces of Moran and Elias during a meeting to discuss granting them re-accreditation by a national law enforcement organization. MPD Chief Harden threatened the group with arrest.
- Dec 2010: Four MPD officers, Eric Schuller, Matthew McMahon, Felton Payne, and Robert Laxton (who also killed Francisco Moran) shot and killed Jesse Eugene Watson after he rammed a cop car, not only killing Watson, but wounding the innocent passenger and putting bullets into their own police cars.
- Dec 2010: Modesto CopWatch and other community members gathered in Ceres for a potluck to donate Christmas presents and raise funds for the families of Francisco Moran and Rita Elias.
- Dec 2010: MPD officers shoot Brian Reed, a recently laid-off truck driver who was depressed, distraught over finances, and suicidal. “I’m angry as hell, they didn’t have to hurt him,” said the wife of Reed, who also stated that he was holding a small pocket knife to his own chest and made no threatening remarks or motions towards the officers. Modesto paid $850,000 to settle a lawsuit, Reed was left disabled and with cognitive deficits because of the lack of oxygen to his brain after being shot.
- March 2011: 19 year-old Ricky Miranda, an Enochs High and Stanislaus State student escaped from the Doctors Behavioral Health Center facility after he was admitted for being suicidal and was then shot and killed by an off-duty CHP officer when he began breaking the windows of a home and holding a piece of broken glass.
- March 2011: Modesto police officer Anthony Trock is arrested for seizing cocaine, meth, and marijuana and failing to submit them into evidence.
- May 2011: Modesto police officers shoot and kill Jeremy Atkinson during a chase, MPD claimed that he reached into his waistband, but did not state whether they actually found a gun.
- June 2011: Ernest Duenez Jr. was unarmed when he was fatally shot multiple times
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
- June 2011: CHP officers kill Eric Vigen with semiautomatic rifles, shooting him 55 times near Turlock. The officers involved were Sgt. Ian Troxell, Jonathan Box, and Adam Percey. According to Vigen’s family, Eric had bipolar disorder and was in a manic state before the shooting and they called police and told them that he needed help. Vigen told his mother he was armed but she did not believe him and the victim’s brother stated that investigators told him no gun was found on or near his brother.
- Oct 22nd 2011: On the National Day Against Police Brutality, Modesto CopWatch and future VIP founders help organize the ‘Caravan of Resistance,’ a one-day, three-city protest in Stockton, Manteca, and Modesto to protest recent police shootings. Over 100 people from Modesto, Stockton, Manteca, Davis, Sacramento, Merced, and the Bay Area attended.
- Dec 2011: Judge Ricardo Cordova dismisses murder charges against Kari Abbey stating that the killing was in self-defense because Elias had a bb-gun, even though Abbey was the aggressor and her own parents testified they told her to leave the scene. Judge Cordova admitted he had worked together with Abbey in the past but decided not to recuse himself from the case.
- Dec 2011: In Merced over 100 people protested outside of the Merced police station after officers, according to friends and family, shot and killed Vang Thao without any provocation and also hit a 17 year old in the leg. Police say they were shooting at another man in the area with a gun while neighbors say they heard no police demands, just a gunshot.
- Jan 2012: Modesto CopWatch and over 50 other supporters and community members held a protest in front of the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s office demanding that the cops who killed James Rivera, Ernest Duenez, and Joey Pinasco be brought to justice. One Sheriff Deputy was recorded saying to protesters “why don’t you go get a job?”
- Jan 2012: A scandal involving Modesto police is made public after a concerned community member sent the local media photos of on-duty officers posing with women in revealing clothing, both inside downtown night clubs and outside on their patrol cars. The citizen sent the snapshots with an angry letter stating “as a citizen of the city of Modesto, I am disgusted by the behavior of these officers and their conduct depicted in the photographs.”
- Feb 2012: In Sanford, Florida wannabe neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman fatally shoots Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African-American high school student who Zimmerman thought was suspicious. Zimmerman was not charged with a crime for nearly 2 months and eventually walked free, sparking protests throughout the nation, including in Modesto.
- March 2012: After a shooting in West Modesto the culprits ran through a family’s backyard and dropped the gun. Knowing police were in the area and not wanting them to enter his yard which held his 2 dogs, Greg Woody picked up the gun with his shirt and brought it out to the cops. Ceres police, Modesto SWAT team, and Stanislaus Sheriffs then proceeded to force the entire family out of the home and onto the ground, fire flash-bang grenades into their house causing extensive damage, and accuse one of the family’s children (Anthony Nunez, whose identical twin brother was also present) of involvement in the shooting. The family also stated that Anthony, a special education student, was questioned without a lawyer or family member for hours until he began repeating what police told him to. While Anthony sat in juvenile hall for months and missed his high school graduation no physical evidence was ever found linking him to the shooting, including from fingerprints and gun powder residue tests. While the Modesto Bee reported the police’s account of the events they ignored a neighbor’s statement that he saw the suspects and they weren’t Anthony or his twin brother. Modesto CopWatch and others helped the family and the neighbor make formal complaints against the police and organized a protest in front of MPD and the Modesto Bee’s offices for not reporting the full story. A judge eventually threw out the coerced “confession,” prosecutors dismissed all charges except resisting arrest, and the family filed a federal lawsuit.
- March 2012: Modesto police officer Lee Freddie Gaines was charged with sexually assaulting a woman in a motel room while on duty, wearing his uniform, and even using his handcuffs on the victim, who stated: “I want people to know what this cop is doing. I want them to know who he is, what his face is like, that he used his badge and his uniform to sexually assault a female.” Gaines was also in the news in 2010 when it was determined that he was at fault for a major car accident with an SUV while speeding in his patrol car on Scenic Drive, but remained on the force.
- April 2012: 32 year-old George Ramirez, who was suffering from depression is tased, shot, and killed by Turlock police in Keyes, no further information could be found about whether he was unarmed.
- July 2012: Robert Moreno, an off-duty Department of Defense police officer, pulls out a gun during a fight with a group of people outside a north Modesto bar and inadvertently shoots and kills his a fellow federal officer.
- Aug 2012: A Ceres police officer broke a handcuffed woman’s arm by slamming her down and had to eventually settle a lawsuit for $312,500.
- Oct 2012: Modesto CopWatch founders and other local activists and community organizers begin the process of creating Valley Improvement Projects, a nonprofit with the goals of growing local support for progressive causes, continuing to advocate for law enforcement accountability as well as tackling other regional issues such as support for the homeless, tenant’s rights, environmental justice, and air pollution.
- April 2013: Ceres police officer Christopher Melton kicked a suspect in the groin after he had already surrendered and was laying on the ground. He was tuned in by fellow officers who stated Melton’s actions were unreasonable and that he “seemed to be amused” by the act and later bragged about it.
- June 2013: Over 300 people, including VIP’s founders, took to the streets of Manteca to protest the killing of Ernest Duenez Jr. by officer John Moody on the 2nd anniversary of his death. The shooting had since been ruled “justified” by Manteca PD’s own investigation and Moody was still on the force.
- July 2013: In response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman, activist Alicia Garza starts the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter
- July 2013: Valley Improvement Projects opens the VIP Community Center for Social
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/)
- Oct 2013: 13 year-old Andy Lopez is shot and killed by a Sonoma County Sheriff deputy in Santa Rosa while playing with a toy gun.
- July 2014: Eric Garner died after being put in a chokehold by an NYPD officer in Staten Island, New York after allegedly selling loose cigarettes.
- Aug 2014: Mike Brown, who was 18 years old and unarmed, is fatally shot by officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri after being stopped for not walking on the sidewalk. Brown’s body was left in the street for hours sparking a week of large-scale protests, raising awareness of militarized policing, and eventually leading to a federal investigation that documented a pattern of racist behavior and practices by the Ferguson police department.
- Oct 2014: Laquan McDonald, 17, was killed by Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke who claimed that McDonald lunged at him with a knife. Police refused to release the dash-cam footage for over a year which showed that McDonald was walking away from the officer when he was shot.
- Oct 2014: Modesto police officer Dave Wallace shot a man in the stomach after he threw a junior high school yearbook at him. The victim survived the shooting but body camera footage would not be released to the public for over 5 years.
- Nov 2014: Tamir Rice, 12, was shot and killed while playing with a toy gun by a Cleveland officer only seconds after arriving on the scene.
- March 2015: An off-duty Ceres officer shot a killed a man in a Modesto park that he accused of sleeping with his wife.
- April 2015: Freddie Gray, 25, died after being taken into police custody in Baltimore and suffering severe spinal injuries during his arrest and transportation in a police van. The incident sparked large protests and while 6 officers were charged with Gray’s death, 3 were acquitted, 1 had a mistrial, and the last 2 had their charges dropped.
- April 2015: Walter Scott was stopped in South Carolina for a broken taillight and was unarmed and running away when Michael Slager, a North Charleston police officer, shot him in the back and killed him. The officer was tried with murder which ended in a mistrial, but was eventually sentenced to 20 years for federal civil rights violations.
- May 2015: An article in the Modesto Bee details how several Ceres police officers were secretly recording fellow female officers while changing clothes.
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/)
- July 2016: Philando Castile in shot and killed by a police officer in St. Paul, Minnesota after telling the officer about his legally registered handgun in the car and then reaching for his wallet. Castile’s wife broadcast the aftermath of the shooting on Facebook Live, drawing national attention and sparking protests.
- Aug 2016: Colin Kaepernick, Turlock native and starting quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, stays seated during the national anthem before a pre-season game for the first time. A few weeks later Kaepernick would kneel during the anthem joined by teammate Eric Reid. About a year later Kaepernick had not been signed by a single NFL team, president Trump referred to him as a “son of a bitch,” and the opinion spreads that he has been “blackballed” from the league. Years later hundreds of athletes around the world have taken a knee in solidarity and Kaepernick has donated millions of dollars to charity, including for Know Your Rights campaigns. The NFL eventually settled an employment grievance case with “Kap” but the details remain confidential.
- Sept 2016: VIP hosts The People’s Forum on Police Violence at the Church of the Bretheren in Modesto, providing information on the history of policing, local cases of abuse, how to use copwatching and knowing your rights as protection, and how generations violence from police in communities of color causes deep trauma.
- Oct 2017: Ceres PD officer Ross Bays and Sgt. Darren Venn shot and killed 27 year-old Modesto resident Nicholas Adam Pimentel whose truck was blocked in by officers that opened fire when he spun his wheels. The city eventually paid out a $2 million lawsuit.
- Dec 2017: Acclaimed doctor Bennett Omalu (played by Will Smith in the film Concussion), resigns as chief medical examiner of San Joaquin County alleging Sheriff Steve Moore, who was also the county coroner, of repeatedly interfering with death investigations to protect cops who had killed people. An assistant forensic pathologist also resigned, Moore eventually was stripped of his coroner title, the position was separated from the Sheriff’s department, and Moore was defeated in the 2018 election. The Stanislaus County Sheriff continues to also be the county coroner.
- March 2018: Stephon Clark, 23, is shot 7 times and killed by Sacramento PD officers who thought his phone was a gun, sparking protests and leading to police reforms in California.
- Aug 2018: Ross Bays, the same Ceres cop who killed Nicholas Pimentel, shot 15 year-old Spencer Carmen Mendez twice in the back as he ran through an orchard, his body camera footage revealed that no verbal commands were given and Bays emptied his entire clip at the Mendez within seconds. Mendez’s family was awarded a $2.1 million settlement. (https://www.modbee.com/opinion/editorials/article238732863.html)
- Sept 2018: Botham Jean, a 26 year-old black man, is shot and killed by a white female off-duty Dallas police officer who claimed she accidently entered his home believing it was her own.
- Nov 2019: VIP members speak at the Stanislaus Sheriff’s TRUTH Act Forum where Sheriff Dirkse gave information about how and the department works with ICE as required by the law. The forum is meant to be for the general public but was initially scheduled for 9:30am on a Tuesday, the forum was eventually changed to 6:30pm after VIP and other community members demanded the time be changed to allow for more public involvement.
- Feb 2020: Ahmaud Abrey, 25, is shot and killed in Georgia after being chased down and attacked while jogging by a former Glynn County police officer and his son because he looked suspicious. The father and son, Gregory and Travis McMichael, were only arrested and charged with murder in May after a video of the incident went viral.
- March 2020: EMT worker Breonna Taylor, 26, is shot 8 times and killed by police in Louisville, Kentucky after they entered her home on a “no knock” drug warrant and her boyfriend shot at who he believed to be burglars. Neither of them had a criminal record, an FBI investigation is ongoing.
- May 25th 2020: George Floyd dies handcuffed and laying face-down with Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s knee pressed on his neck, sparking the largest and most widespread protests against police brutality and racism ever in the United States; and they continue to spread around the world. 4 officers having been fired in connection with Floyd’s death and Chauvin has been arrested and charged with 3rd degree murder. In Modesto, VIP members protested with approximately 100 people on Saturday, May 30th and again with 1,000 people on Sunday, May 31st, one of the largest demonstrations in the city’s history.
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
Today is the 50th Anniversary of the first Earth Day!
This now internationally recognized day has its roots right here in California and was started after an oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara. Valley Improvement Projects and its members have long seen Earth Day as a great opportunity to raise awareness about the numerous environmental injustices occurring worldwide, and especially locally. Obviously, we would rather be out at events providing information on various issues, connecting with local community members, and enjoying some much missed sunshine but we understand the importance of protecting public health and are happy to do our part by making Earth Day virtual this year!
We’d like to provide our supporters with a quick history of our involvement with Earth Day throughout our history as well as information on our current and upcoming projects that we were not able to share with the community at Earth Day events this year:
-2009-2011: Before VIP was official created, its future co-founders routinely protested local trash incinerator/air polluter Covanta’s sponsorship and involvement with Modesto’s annual Earth Day Festival in Graceada Park and were asked to leave by event organizers (https://valleyimprovementprojects.org/2013/03/13/covanta-pollutes-the-central-valleys-air-then-sponsors-modestos-earth-day/)
-2012: During the time VIP was being formed we organized a “Chalk Action” where youth and other community members drew art and wrote messages about Environmental and Social Justice-related issues on the sidewalk in and around Graceada Park before and during Modesto’s Earth Day.
-2013: VIP organized and held its first “People’s Earth Day” event at Enslen Park, across the street from Modesto’s Earth Day Festival where we raised awareness about problems with the city’s event and local Environmental Justice issues. As part of our networking with Environmental Justice organizations across California, VIP members also spoke at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) office in San Francisco with over 65 other organizations to demand they protect our climate, health, and communities, not polluters! (https://youtu.be/nHH0VIM6d04)
-2014: VIP held our much larger second “People’s Earth Day” event where we distributed donations of clothes and food to the homeless, held a bicycle-repair workshop, a composting demonstration, various kids activities such as coloring and face-painting as well as guest speakers on local topics such as the barium contamination area near Needham and Hwy 99, the Covanta trash incinerator, and Gallo Glass which pollutes the air and was also being sued by the state for violating environmental regulations. (https://valleyimprovementprojects.org/2014/04/18/join-us-tomorrow-the-need-for-a-peoples-earth-day-in-modesto/)
-2015: VIP took the step of formally sending Modesto city officials a letter listing our issues with their Earth Day Festival and suggestions for improving the event, including banning gas-powered generators, styrofoam food containers, single-use chip bags, as well as polluters and climate denying sponsors like the Covanta trash incinerator, Boyett Petroleum, and local conservative talk radio station KFIV. (https://valleyimprovementprojects.org/2015/04/04/vip-seeks-to-improve-modestos-earth-day-festival/)
-2016: After the city of Modesto made several of our suggested improvements to their Earth Day Festival such as not being sponsored by local trash incinerator Covanta and oil company Boyett Petroleum, banning styrofoam food containers, adding more recycling bins throughout the park, and lowering the number of gas generators used at the event, VIP became an official participant and tabled at the event, speaking to community members and continuing to raise awareness about local Environmental Justice issues.
-2017: VIP once again participated in both Modesto’s annual Earth Day Festival in Graceda Park and a meeting with U.S. EPA officials in San Francisco with hundreds of members of the California Environmental Justice Coalition (CEJC) and other allies which was then followed by a rally and march to the SF Federal Building. (https://valleyimprovementprojects.org/2017/05/16/vips-earth-day-weekend/)
-2018: VIP collected over 200 signatures at Modesto’s Earth Day event as part of our #BringBacktheBlueBin project to advocate for curbside recycling in Modesto to minimalize the amount of recyclable material burned at the local incinerator. (https://valleyimprovementprojects.org/2018/05/28/vip-launches-bringbackthebluebin-campaign/)
-2019: VIP tabled at Modesto’s Earth Day Festival for the fourth time and tabled at Patterson’s first Earth Day Science and Sustainability Festival! (https://valleyimprovementprojects.org/2019/06/03/vip-hosts-awards-dinner-attends-earth-day-events-and-meets-presidential-candidate/)
-2020: In addition to tabling at Modesto’s annual Earth Day Festival, VIP was also in the process of helping organize a youth-led Climate Justice march and rally in collaboration with the Modesto Peace/Life Center during the event. VIP also reserved spaces at the Tracy and Stockton Earth Day events in order to promote the Clean Vehicle Rebate Project (CVRP), which offers incentives for purchasing electric and hybrid vehicles for San Joaquin valley residents. VIP members were also helping the California Environmental Justice Coalition (CEJC) organize a youth-led Climate Justice march and demonstration in San Francisco with Youth vs. Apocalypse that was expected to be attended by thousands. Hopefully these events will still happen at a later date.
In addition to the above mentioned events, VIP is currently working on several projects that, while slowed down at the moment, will be ongoing through 2021, they include:
-Continuing to raise awareness about the Covanta trash incinerator, the pollution it emits, and its contribution to the lack of curbside recycling in Modesto, as well as advocating against its classification as a generator of “renewable energy.”
-Raising awareness about other impact-full Environmental Justice issues in our community including air quality, safe drinking water, pesticide exposure, and sustainable community development and how they affect our most disadvantaged and vulnerable communities.
-The Stanislaus Community Air Monitoring Project (StanCAMP): VIP will be working with community members and schools to place several Particulate Matter (PM2.5) air monitors near disadvantaged and overburdened areas of Stanislaus County as part of a San Joaquin valley-wide network of community-controlled air monitors.
-Environmental Justice 101: A series of workshops for high school students on Environmental Justice, Climate Justice, leadership development, and community advocacy.
-Youth-led Climate Justice March and Rally: As mentioned above, being organized with the Modesto Peace/Life Center, local community members, as well as several high school and college students. Hopefully this becomes an annual event!
-As also mentioned above, providing information about rebate and other savings programs available for low and moderate income residents of Stanislaus County and the Northern San Joaquin Valley who purchase a new or used electric or hybrid vehicle. Ask us how you can get a $10 gift card for completing a survey!
-Also in the works: Assist with conducting surveys of local farmworkers to assess the short-term impacts of COVID-19.
….Oh, and by the way, Rest In Power to our co-founder Emiliano Mataka, without whom none of this would have happened! We miss you Emi!!