Two days of actions against police brutality reveals unheard voices
Los Angeles was the recent scene of two actions that focused on police brutality. The first centered on police violence and community criminalization occurring across the country. The second sought a maximum sentence for a police officer convicted of involuntary manslaughter.
On Friday, Oct. 22, the October 22nd Coalition held its 15th annual march and rally against police brutality, repression and what it calls, the “criminalization of a generation.” The coalition, which was led by police victims, marched from Pershing Square to MacArthur Park.
Similar actions were held across the country.
Tiah Star, an organizer for the October 22nd Coalition, led the march and rally. At Pershing Square she pressed the point that police brutality is more common than most people think.
“This happens every day,” she said to the assembled crowd of roughly 200. “It doesn’t get announced on the news. People don’t get to hear it. That’s why today is so special.”
The event featured many speakers who were themselves directly affected by police misconduct. Following are a few of their stories:
Speaking at the rally in MacArthur Park was Keisha Brunston whose nephew, Deondre Brunston, was killed in a hail of bullets by Los Angeles County sheriffs on Aug. 24, 2003. What happened to Deondre Brunston was perhaps one of the more disturbing stories revealed at the rally.
After responding to a domestic disturbance call placed by his girlfriend, sheriffs found Deondre Brunston, 23, outside a nearby house. Although unarmed, he said he was and would shoot if the deputies released their dogs or began shooting first. However, he said he would surrender if he could speak to his girlfriend.
Instead of allowing Deondre Brunston to speak to his girlfriend or aunt, who was at the scene, emotions intensified and the sheriffs released their dog. When he moved away from the attacking dog, deputies opened fire, killing him and the dog. In a brief moment, over 80 rounds were fired and Deondre Brunston was shot 22 times.
“Before [he] could be buried,” said Keisha Brunston, “they had to wrap him in plastic because there were too many holes to even embalm him.”
The sheriffs, as was captured on videotape, then rescued their dog without inspecting the condition of Deondre Brunston. The dog was then medevaced by helicopter to, what is assumed, an animal hospital.
“He was still moving,” said Keisha Brunston. “They never tried to save Deondre.”
Richard Collender spoke to the crowd about his son, Julian Collender, 25, who was killed by Brea police in front of his home on June 30. He was unarmed.
Police suspected Julian Collender of being involved in an armed robbery in which some i-pods, cash and keys were stolen. When he exited his home to talk to police, he was shot.
A primary problem to getting justice for police shootings, said Richard Collender, was in finding a district attorney who would file charges, which, he said, few do.
“No matter who you are or where you live, the district attorneys don’t file,” he said. “The cop who shot my son, they gave him a three-day vacation and put him back on the force with no investigation.”
Richard Collender said he was detained in a police patrol car for hours and was not allowed to see his son’s body.
Alicia Alvarez spoke to demonstrators at Pershing Square. She is the mother of Jonathan Cuevas, 20, who was killed by Los Angeles County sheriffs on Oct. 10.
Sheriffs say Cuevas, while trying to run from them, reached for a gun, which they say was found at the scene. Deputies shot Cuevas twice in the back and five times in the front.
“They’re too quick to use their guns,” said Alvarez, who described the use of force as excessive.
She and Jorge Madrigal, the victim’s step-father, said witnesses later told them Cuevas was trying to surrender and that sheriffs denied him medical treatment. Madrigal said they are simply trying to get the facts of the shooting, as well as closure.
“We’re just trying to get to the bottom of this,” he said.
Luis Salazar, a friend of Cuevas, also spoke to demonstrators.
“After the second shot, he was begging for his life,” he said. “Seven shots, and for what? He just ran from the cops.”
Ian, who asked his surname be withheld for fear of reprisal, told demonstrators while gathered near the Rampart Division police station how he was abused by an LA County sheriff while in jail waiting trial.
“He handcuffed me. … He grabbed my head, pulled my hair back and hit my face into the table and split my lip,” he said. “The LAPD and the sheriffs don’t treat you fair. They don’t do their job right. They are hurting a lot of people.”
Beyond the individual stories of police brutality was a central theme concerning the overall criminalizing treatment of people, especially those of color and low-income, by the police.
Legal scholar and author Michelle Alexander has referred, particularly of the treatment of blacks in the legal and prison systems, as the “new Jim Crow.”
“There are more African Americans under correctional control today – in prison or jail, on probation or parole – than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began,” she wrote in March of this year.
Alexander blames the war on drugs for this condition, even though, she says, studies have shown that poor people of color do not use or sell illegal drugs anymore than whites.
“The war on drugs waged in these ghetto communities has managed to brand as felons millions of people of color for relatively minor, nonviolent drug offenses,” she said in an interview with Democracy Now. “And once branded a felon, they’re ushered into a permanent second-class status, not unlike the one we supposedly left behind.”
UC San Diego student and African Black Coalition member David Ritcherson attended the demonstration. He said even though the United States has a black president and many say we live in a “post-racial” society, many people of color are being funneled into the prison-industrial-complex.
“I try not to stay out late when I’m in Los Angeles,” said Ritcherson. “I’m always on the look out for cops because I’m a target for just stepping out of my house.”
A second action was conducted the next day, Saturday, Oct. 23, regarding police brutality. A rally was held by the Los Angeles Coalition for Justice for Oscar Grant at the corner of Crenshaw and Martin Luther King Jr.
Called a “speak out,” it acted as a forum for people to express their grievances and demand justice for Oscar Grant, an Oakland man who was killed by then-Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer Johannes Mehserle.
Since then, Mehserle has been found guilty of involuntary manslaughter. His sentencing date is Nov. 5. Organizers are demanding that Judge Robert Perry apply the maximum sentence to Mehserle. They are also showing their support for a possible Justice Department investigation into civil rights violations.
The Oscar Grant case has gotten considerable attention, garnering support from Bay Area longshoreman, and even British MP John McDonnell.
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums are supporting the Justice Department’s examination. On Aug. 6, Rep. Waters wrote a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, calling Grant’s death a “brutal police killing” and requested a thorough investigation into the matter.
“It is critical that the Justice Department ensure that all civil rights statutes were properly enforced and that no federal laws were violated during the course of the prosecutorial stage, jury selection, and trial process,” wrote Waters.
Larry Aubry of the A. Philip Randolph Institute spoke at the rally calling Grant’s death an “absolute abomination.”
“We got to stop this kind of thing,” said Aubry. “This has to do with the whole thing of racism in this country. Make no mistake about it. That’s the bottom line, whether we like it or not.”
Although organizers had no permit for the rally, police managed to keep a low profile while the approximately 70 people gathered and listened to speeches.
Vershell Hall shared the story of her losing her son, Richard Tyson, to Inglewood police on May 9, 2007. After fleeing police on his bicycle for a municipal code violation, – riding a bicycle on the sidewalk is illegal in Inglewood – police found Tyson, 20, hiding in some bushes. While surrendering, police thought Tyson reached for a weapon and shot him.
Hall showed reporters her son’s coroner’s report. It showed bullets had entered his body in a downward trajectory, meaning officers were standing over him when they shot.
“[The police] shot my son six times,” said Hall to the gathered crowd. “My son surrendered. He got down on the ground. This officer walked up to my son and shot him point blank – twice to the back of the head, twice to the back, once under the heart and once in the arm.”
Hall said she wakes up every morning with her son on her mind. In the three years since her son’s death, she said she has yet to receive a police report. Instead, she said, she got a “letter of justification.”
“We need to come together … all the families,” said Hall speaking to reporters. “We need to get this on national TV. … [Otherwise,] it’s not going to stop.”