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An Open Letter From Copwatch Santa Ana To The Santa Ana Police Department and The City of Santa Ana


Copwatch Santa Ana (CWSA) is an all-volunteer, horizontally-organized collective of individuals based in Santa Ana. The collective works to observe and document police activity within the confines of the ‘law’ while revealing the rampant police misconduct and brutality that plagues not only the SAPD but local municipal police departments across the country. CWSA believes that observing police activity is a crucial first step in organizing towards radical self-determination and building an effective self-defense against state-sponsored violence. By engaging in direct action, indigenous strategies, guerilla tactics and providing various workshops to educate ourselves and our communities about their rights with the police, CWSA attempts to build a broad based movement in which every single individual knows what to do when confronted by police or witnessing police interactions. And in affect, every individual plays a pragmatic role in actualizing police accountability.

We are writing this as an effort to shine a light on the violent terror and harassment of local community copwatchers by Officers James D. Berwanger, Officer John G. Rodriguez, the Santa Ana Police Department (SAPD) and Mayor Miguel A. Pulido and his council. This is an open letter to expose not just what this system is capable of doing, but what this system is designed to do. It is also a warning to our communities. Based on our own encounters with the Santa Ana police, it is accurate to conclude that these particular officers and the entire department are granted free reign to do whatever they want. There is no accountability, no justice, and no safety. There is only fear and oppression.

Since March 2014, Officer Berwanger of the SAPD has systematically targeted and perpetuated a pattern of abuse against various community members who engage in legal and peaceful copwatching activities.

On October 1, 2014, Officer Rodriguez of the SAPD targeted and violated the rights of two individuals engaging in the same legal copwatching activities, ultimately leading to their arrests.

It is important to realize that while this city sponsored repression may be happening to those who decide to directly and actively challenge the police, this happens to our marginalized and often forgotten communities on a daily basis. Here's some of what's been happening:

Checkpoint Actions

A checkpoint action consists of local residents legally and peacefully holding signs warning targeted communities about a scheduled checkpoint/reten. This is done because these checkpoints are notorious for being intentionally placed around impoverished neighborhoods where immigrant and low-income communities reside. In addition, the police strategically use checkpoints in order to dominate and seize the property of these communities. Checkpoint actions seek to change this power dynamic.

On the night of July 11, as a local community member made their way out to support a checkpoint action, they were targeted, stopped in their vehicle, and ticketed by the police for supposed minor traffic violations.

Later that night, a younger community copwatcher was harassed, criminalized and violated by Officer Berwanger. After trying to provoke the young individual with homophobic slurs, the officer illegally searched through the young detainee’s phone, and went on to chastise and humiliate the individual and his parents after being escorted home by multiple officers in the back seat of a patrol car.

Into the early morning around 1:30 AM, Officer Berwanger began his efforts to intimidate two other community copwatchers by criminalizing, harassing and even stalking them for close to an hour. After being clearly followed by police, they were surrounded and ambushed at their vehicle by an excessive amount of police units while the two volunteers were preparing to head home. With other cops lying in wait nearby, they followed the two individuals as they drove away and quickly stopped and accused them of a minor traffic violation. After receiving two citations, the driver was able to leave the area following an hour of perpetual harassment.

On the night of August 29, a group of Santa Ana residents came to support a checkpoint action at 10 PM. At around 1 AM, after successfully diverting traffic away from the checkpoint, two volunteers decided to walk back towards their vehicles. At this point Officer Berwanger began to intimidate and stalk the two individuals by closely following them and intermittently flashing his headlights on them. After roughly 10 minutes of Officer Berwanger’s aggressive behavior, another group of volunteers came to their aid, slowly approaching the scene in their respective vehicles and began observing the police misconduct. Officer Berwanger then proceeded to follow and park his motorcycle behind their vehicle, illegally detaining and questioning the individuals. After another officer arrived at the scene, Officer Berwanger illegally took the driver out of their vehicle and led him to the officer who continued a series of questioning. At the same time, Officer Berwanger began to humiliate, patronize and falsely accuse the passenger, a young girl and minor of having an intimate relationship with the driver, her brother. Unaccompanied by her parents and alone in the car, Officer Berwanger continued to unlawfully and aggressively question the young girl. He made patronizing comments such as, “You are not such a drama queen now are you?” when alone with her. Not only is the questioning of a minor illegal, it is repulsive for a grown man to harass and make unreasonable claims of an intimate relationship to a underage girl sitting in a car by herself in a dark parking lot while her only other relative was being harassed by another officer. At 1:30 AM, the detained siblings were allowed to leave.

(Sep 2) Santa Ana City Council Meeting

CWSA was notified that Officer Berwanger was going to be awarded by Mayor Podrido at the beginning of the council meeting for 25 years of service with the SAPD. During the same fascistic ceremony, Officer Rodriguez was set to receive the same award. Concerned members of the community then decided to attend in order to voice their opposition and shine a light on Officer Berwanger’s rampant misconduct. When approached by Officer Rodriguez, a community member asked if he would be awarded that night and the officer responded by cracking his knuckles and answering, “You’re about to find out…hehehe.” Confused, the community member didn’t understand honoree Rodriguez’s answer until Mayor Podrido made sure to clarify that Officer Rodriquez loved cross fit, working out and being a buff patriarchal gun flashing murderer with a SWAT fetish. It was apparent, with the boos, applause, and expletives, that while Mayor Podrido believed that Officer Berwanger did his “job with a smile” and “helped citizens during difficult times” the community knew he only made times more difficult. The honored officers were offended and didn’t hide their anger and frustration. The truth made them uncomfortable because under the lights of the city council chambers their faces were exposed and they and their violence were no longer protected by the cover of darkness.

(Oct 1) Arrests

On October 1, while two copwatchers were legally observing police activity at a gasoline station on First and Grand, they were targeted and falsely accused of loitering and impeding pedestrian traffic while standing on a public sidewalk by Officer Rodriguez. He antagonized the individuals for around 10 minutes before he illegally detained, illegally searched, and illegally arrested both copwatchers. While sitting in the back of separate patrol units, Officer Rodriguez and his fellow officers launched psychological attacks on the arrestees, implying that violence and pain would follow their arrests. After being held against their will for hours, the copwatchers were released at 3:45 the next morning.

(Oct 7) Santa Ana City Council Meeting

Following the arrests, copwatchers decided to attend the council meeting in order to denounce the systematic harassment during their encounters with the SAPD. While quietly preparing notes for public comment, one copwatcher who adorned a hat with “Fuck The Police” was approached and asked by the city manager and chief of police to remove his cap because some found it offensive. The copwatcher respectfully declined. Many planned to speak during public comment, but Mayor Pulido and his council refused to start the meeting because they felt that an individual wearing a hat with “Fuck The Police” was just as disruptive and dangerous as if someone were to go “into a movie theater and yell fire.” Mayor Pulido ordered that everyone clear the city council chambers so that the police could deal with this individual on his own, but in a beautiful display of solidarity, a group of different attendees refused. After 30 minutes of being threatened with arrest, Mayor Pulido ultimately decided to cancel the meeting because it would be too dangerous to continue. This clear SAPD backed political repression by the Mayor and his council was not only a violation of our freedom of speech but a clear indication of the lengths the city and its police are willing to go in order to smash dissent.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the SAPD invests time and energy in holding community meetings like ‘Coffee with the Cops’ intended for public relations outreach, while at the same time harassing, stalking, ticketing, illegally detaining, illegally searching, illegally arresting, intimidating, threatening, and ultimately attempting to provoke community copwatchers with white supremacist, sexist, and homophobic slurs. These two faces of the SAPD are supposed to pacify the public while protecting private interests. They would not be able to accept money from the state or city if they were open about the internal culture of violence, sexism, racism and domination they are cultivating. CWSA knows that the main function of police has very little to do with crime or enforcing the law and is more directed toward maintaining existing social inequality, especially those based on race and class. It is a mistake to believe that the police can be reformed; this is why CWSA strives for the complete and total abolition of police. The collective believes our communities are capable of determining their own lives.

The police are agents of social control and pacification, a literal army of the rich, the strong arm of supposed law and order whose ultimate purpose is to instill fear and submission. Santa Ana police literally put people in cages but they also convince many to live in cages of their own, made out of fear. If we desire to take back our lives from the chokehold of all systems of social control like the prison world the police maintain, we must abolish all its incarnations, including the police, and end our enslavement to capitalism and its array of enforcers.

From Santa Ana to Palestine - Ferguson to Anaheim - Fuck the Police!