A statewide conference titled “Justice for Our Communities! Families Organizing to Resist Police Brutality and Abuse” took place at the Oxnard Community College in Oxnard last Saturday in what is being recognized as a historic congregation of families of victims of police brutality. Hundreds of supporters, community and family members attended the conference, some arriving as early as Friday night, from cities throughout California, as far north as Redding and as far south as San Diego.
The conference was organized by the Oxnard-based Todo Poder Al Pueblo Collective and was presented as a “component in the ongoing grassroots community resistance that has been spurred on across the state in response to a soaring rise in police militarization, brutality, and officer-committed abuse in working class neighborhoods and communities of color.” It also intended to “create an opportunity for the planning, coordination, and organization of statewide events and actions to address and bring an end to these injustices.”
The conference included the attendance of families of police killing victims such as Oscar Grant (Oakland), Ernest Duenez (Manteca), Alfonso Limon Jr. (Oxnard), Manuel Diaz (Anaheim), Michel Lee Nida II (Downey), Marcel Ceja (Anaheim), Tony Francis (Bellflower), Javier Arrazola (Reseda), Jose de La Trinidad (Inglewood), Martin Angel Hernandez (Anaheim), Robert Ramirez (Oxnard), Mario Romero (Vallejo), and Joe Whitehouse (Anaheim), among others.
There was also a strong presence of community-based organizations and collectives such as the Oscar Grant Committee, The National Brown Berets, Chicano Mexicano Prison Project, Chicanos Unidos of Orange County, 50/50 Crew, 30+300, Decolonize Oakland, Union del Barrio, Homies Unidos, Occupy the Hood, The Oscar Grant Foundation, Oxnard College Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano/a de Aztlan (M.E.Ch.A.), People’s Community Medics, Nida’s Rydas, People Organizing For The Defense and equal Rights (P.O.D.E.R.), Raza Press and Media Association, inLeague Press, Renegade Popo, Stop LAPD Spying, Youth Justice Coalition, Copwatch Santa Ana and San Fernando Valley, KEYS Youth Leadership, and Colectivo Todo Poder al Pueblo amongst numerous others.
The Todo Poder Al Pueblo Collective was the first to take the stage to explain the purpose of the event and introduce some of the guest speakers.
The first set of speakers consisted of a panel comprised of friends and family members of police killing victims such as Teresa Ramirez, mother of Robert Ramirez (Oxnard), Alfonso Limon Jr.’s sister, Damion Ramirez, friend of Michael Lee Nida II (Downey), Rosemary Duenez, mother of Ernest Duenez (Manteca), Cephus “Uncle Bobby” Johnson, uncle of Oscar Grant (Oakland), Genevieve Huizar, mother of Manuel Diaz (Anaheim), Tara Mahoney, sister of Michael Mahoney (Oxnard), and Cindy Mitchell, sister of Mario Romero (Vallejo).
In an emotional sharing of stories, the panelists described the pain of losing a loved one at the hands of police and the injustice of allowing the officers to continue patrolling the streets.
“These officers are still working, they got four days paid vacation for the murder of my son,” shared Teresa Ramirez as she held a poster with photos of the officers that killed her son in front of the audience, “two of these also murdered Limon. Why are they still working? Why are they still free to continue hurting and killing our children? They should be locked up where they belong, and our chief of police needs to be fired.”
The families, some who had met each other in person for the first time, also shared words of encouragement for each other.
“We stand here with you today and share the same pain, grief, anger and frustrations as all of you,” explained Alfonso Limon Jr.’s sister, “We must stand united, organized and peaceful to get justice for every single one of our loved ones whose lives were cut short too soon.”
“We fight together and we fight hard cus family don’t fail each other” explained Damion Ramirez, “we’re all family now! You know how long I've been looking forward to coming to Oxnard to meet you people, to meet our family? – We all fight for the same thing! No Justice, no peace – there’s no peace in my life because they killed my friend. There will be no peace in my life until he gets the justice he deserves!”
The panel concluded with a standing ovation for the families as they walked off stage.
The panel was then followed by the first of four keynote speakers that were scheduled to speak throughout the conference. These included former Supreme Court Justice, Cruz Reynoso, former L.A.P.D. officer and private investigator, Alex M. Salazar, Minister Keith Muhammad, and Los Angeles-based independent Journalist Thandisizwe Chimurenga.
Minister Keith Muhammad, who has worked with the Oakland community after the murder of Oscar, talked about police violence perpetuated onto communities of poor people of color.
“You are not justified in being a mad man, a berserker, going shooting on poor people because you just don’t like them,” explained Keith Muhammad, “the problem is, in their minds they were not killing another human being, in their mind they are taking down savages and animals. See, we now have to stand up and demand, and command our human rights. We are victims of human rights violations.”
Minister Keith also spoke on the media's manipulation of information to criminalize the victims and favor police agencies.
“Most of the families testified that when law enforcement murdered their children, among the first things they did was criminalize your children,” explained Minister Keith, “to look in the news and be told that your loved one is a parolee – that in other words, that’s an excuse for shooting you.”
“The media has become a proponent for the lying of the police,” continued Muhammad, “that’s a different religion I can’t read…the religion is lies and money. If you get the L.A. Times here, what’s the religion? If you get The Examiner newspaper, what’s the religion? - Advertising dollars. So this religion is based on greed and manipulation of the people.”
After the minister’s discourse, the conference broke out into a number of diverse workshops that included presentations on neighborhood copwatch tactics, creating community medics collectives, legal advice for families going through wrongful death cases against police departments, creating independent media outlets, and exercising alternative forms of community self defense against “the aggressions of the government”. One of these sessions also included a family circle reserved for immediate families of police killing victims that allowed for them to meet and dialogue in person.
As a final component of the conference, attendees broke out into dialog sessions where groups discussed specific goals and changes that their community wanted to see within the next year. Some of these goals formulated during the breakout sessions included amending the Police Officers’ Bill of Rights (POBOR), which grants officers special protections and privileges that most citizens accused of crimes aren’t entitled to, having immediate drug tests for officers involved in fatal shootings, and making an officer’s personnel file public following a shooting.
The largest of these proposals included marching to the California State Capitol in Sacramento, where families from across the state affected by police violence would protest the injustices and put pressure on the state’s government. The conference attendees’ excitement was apparent with the mention of a statewide march to Sacramento and some family members began proposing fundraising strategies and planning some of the actions that would take place.
Once the conference officially came to an end, families continued to exchange words of encouragement and support. Many of the families present only knew each other via social networking mediums or through phone conversations, but the conference offered them a space to meet in person and share feelings that weren’t electronically transmittable.
The show of support and solidarity continued throughout the day as families and supporters gathered at Plaza Park just a few hours after the conference to hold a vigil in memory of 21-year-old Alfonso Limon Jr., who was “mistakenly” shot and killed by police last October.
Joining the march were families of other police killing victims from different cities throughout California.
Candles illuminated the streets as the march traveled through the streets of Oxnard into the La Colonia neighborhood in the east side of town. Chants of “Policías asesinos, fuera!” or “Out with the killer cops!” grew louder through the old neighborhoods as the group neared the site where Limon Jr was killed, near the intersection of Cooper St and Garfield St.
Here, people were greeted with a makeshift memorial for Limon where a picture of him was placed on a sign that read, “Gone, but never forgotten.”
The night ended with the Limon and Ramirez families partaking in a rosary at the Mision Catolica Cristo Rey church, just around the corner from where Alfonso was killed. Towards the end of the prayer, the priest asked the families to join all their candles, to fuse them and make one unifying candle – this candle would represent the unifying fight for justice for their loves ones, just as their commitment and solidarity with other families has created a unifying movement against police violence in California.