Via Infoshop News
In September of 2010, the Modesto Police shot and killed Francisco Moran, a family man who was in the middle of a heated argument at his home. In his waistband, Moran had a wooden spoon, which police claimed at first was a knife that he used to try and attack them with. Police shot and killed Moran in cold blood, and later admitted that the knife was in fact just a “spatula,” although family members contend it was only in fact a wooden spoon. Then in later September, the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department killed Rita Elias, a mother, in West Side Modesto. Rita was shot by Kari Abbey, an off duty Sheriff who was helping her landlord parents evict Rita. An argument ensued (wouldn’t you be pissed?) and Rita was shot to death by the off duty Abbey. Days later, police then claimed that Rita just happened to have a realistic looking bb gun on hand, and had pointed it at Abbey. Abbey shot and killed Rita in self-defense. Of course, we’ve heard this story a million times. Alberto in 2000. Sammy in 2004. Moran and Rita in 2010. How many more must die?
At the same time, 6 people died in the County Jail in the past year, half admittedly due to police tasers, and half of the victims families are suing the Sheriffs. Couple this with explosive protests in Modesto, including large scale mobilizations in West Side, roving marches in the downtown, and the distribution of large amounts of anti-police brutality literature – and the pigs in this city were starting to feel the pressure. The dam really started to break however, when a retiring police officer sent out an email talking about the “good ol’ days” when police would do “B and Rs,” or “Beat and Releases.” This was followed by another email that was anonymous, but also stated that the brutality detailed in the first letter was still happening – and everyone in the police hierarchy knew it was going on, despite internal protests. Read that email in full here.
The email also specifically calls out certain officers for brutality by name, and one in particular in connection to the shooting death of Francisco Moran. As the letter reads:
Veteran employees Kelly Rae and Dave Brown, to name only a few, have directly reported police brutality and mistreatment of Modesto Citizens to upper management. These two 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 ganger types and helpless citizens. Lamantia just killed a man armed with a spatula.
A media storm followed, as television and print media ran to the police (notice, not those impacted by police brutality) to hear their side of the story. The police, and their head pig, Mike Harden, were quick to dismiss the charges. Stating that they had never heard of “Beat and Release” and that the charges were bogus. According to the Voice of Modesto blog, “The Mayor and City Council have all taken money from the MPOA (Modesto Police Officers Association) and pressure is already being applied on the named Officers to deny the claims.”
However, with state agencies strapped for cash due to budget cuts, many are calling for an outside law firm to investigate the police. Others, such as the Voice of Modesto blog, call for an investigation from the FBI. The VOM blog is run in part by former Modesto Mayor, Carmen Sabatino, who presided over the City in part during Chief Wasden’s reign, and during the brutal police murder of Alberto Sepulveda, 11. Where were the calls for a large investigation then? Where were the firings of officers? None. Wasden went on to win fame by handling the Levy murder case, and later secure a 200K a year job as Turlock’s city manager, (while he cut young workers all the while!), as his cops were engaged in case after case of rampant brutality and murder.
And while blog sites like the Voice of Modesto blog provide great “muckraking” articles on things happening in the city, we strongly disagree with their calls for the FBI to investigate the Modesto Police. What will the investigation by the FBI tell us that we don’t already know? Do we really believe that the FBI, who works closely with police all the time, is going to discipline it’s cops? It is also important to keep in mind that the FBI is responsible for the violent destruction of many social movements for liberation and freedom in poor and working class communities throughout this country. It helped to break apart the labor movement. Go after civil rights organizers. It even launched a program in the 1960’s and onward that was called, “COINTELPRO,” or Counter Intelligence Program, which was designed to disrupt and destroy various social movements that were aimed at changing American society. The FBI doesn’t care about stopping brutality. That’s its business just as much as the cops.
Furthermore, by removing the burden of confronting the police from ourselves and our own communities, and instead, giving it to some outside government agency, that may or may not rule in our favor, and will probably never act totally in our favor, we simply are waiting around for more police murders and assaults. It is time for US, we who feel the brunt of police violence, to stand up and do something for ourselves! To put the power back in our hands, on our streets, and in our total control. Calls for FBI investigation in other Central Valley cities have also gotten people no where. Police in Woodland, who shot and killed Luis Gutierrez as he came out of the DMV (police were dressed as gang members and ran after Luis, only to shoot him in the back), faced protests and ongoing calls for investigation. Nothing ever happened. Power, does really, not care about poor people dying.
So what if the FBI investigates the police? What is the worse that they could do to them? Fire certain officers? Have Harden step down as police chief? Investigate what goes on in the jail? Bring charges against certain officers? Even if these things could be done by the FBI – they still would not change the relationship between the police and everyone on the street. Police will still have the power to kill, beat and rape who they want – they will keep doing it because they know they can get away with it. It is only when people start to fight back, that we show the police that we are powerful, and that we are not afraid to resist, that they will back down.
If we are looking for an end to the police brutalizing and killing us on our streets then we have to begin to confront the police where we are – and where we are brutalized. Just as workers strike on the job, at the point of where the exploitation is taking place, so must we strike back against the police, and confront them where our exploitation is taking place day in, and day out.
One of the tactics that we have promoted over the years and engaged in is Copwatching. Copwatch is the simple idea that people can organize themselves and monitor and document police interactions on their own streets. By documenting and confronting the police, we can build community solidarity between ourselves and also make the police more and more afraid to brutalize us. We can also come together when we can – exploding against the police. In Oakland, riots have broken out several times in the wake of the Oscar Grant, attacking the police, looting corporate stores, and holding the streets. These actions forced the city government to try Grant’s killer in court, and although he was let off with an extremely light sentence, the movement that was started because of the ongoing rebellions brought many people together who started to talk and organize.
The system needs the police. It needs to keep the inequalities that exist within this system between those that work and those that own, those that take orders and those who give them, firmly in place. It might make examples of certain officers, but it isn’t going to change the very nature of the police at all – and that is one of brutality. It is up to us to build a counter power against the police. To find ourselves in the streets together.