I was recently asked to write a message to the city and people of Salinas CA. Today, August 14, there is a town hall meeting there to address the police killings of four residents (two Mexicans and two Salvadorans) this year alone. With the current unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, after police killed teenager Michael Brown--and the highly publicized recent police murders of Eric Garner in New York City, 13-year-old Andy Lopez in Santa Rosa CA, Alex Nieto in San Francisco, and homeless Kelly Thomas in Fullerton CA--we must all speak up. Here is my statement:
To the City and People of Salinas:
For a few years I’ve come to Salinas to speak at high schools, colleges, and other venues, including once sponsored by the John Steinbeck Museum. I address how best to work with youth, about gang intervention, and the powerful means of mentorship, rites of passage, the arts, treatment, and restorative justice practices. I’ve also spoken at Soledad Prison a few times over the past 20 years.
Recently, I’ve spent time in Salinas as a Green Party endorsed candidate for governor. Although the primary elections are over, my platform continues to be: 1) End Poverty; 2) Clean and Green Environment for all; 3) Transform the California Prison System; 4) Free & Quality Education for Everyone; 5) Free & Quality Healthcare; 6) Access to Art, Writing, Dance, Theater, Murals, Festivals, and more in every neighborhood.
I feel vested in Salinas as I do throughout California.
Therefore, I condemn the police killings of four residents this year alone. The community deserves a thorough and meaningful investigation, true accountability, and a perceivable change in the Salinas Police Department and its rancorous relationship with the community.
It appears to be normal in Salinas and elsewhere for police to kill people for having mental illness, being drunk, discourteous, and/or talking back. None of these are cause for murder. The Salinas police chief at one press conference suggested that one of the victims may have smirked at a police officer—although the victim could have been exhibiting the effects of being tasered. This man was shot in the face, although he was on the ground and not a direct threat to anyone at the time.
The community demands an end to these killings. A citizen’s council should be enacted. An independent investigation made. And the names of the police officers involved must be made public.
Police hiding behind their badges while holding the power of life or death over the community must end. Everyone knows there are tried-and-true ways to deal with any and all people and incidents. Deadly force is not only a last resort—it can only be applied in clearly dangerous situations to officers or people. Not, for example, when someone is on the ground, tasered, and “smirking.”
The Salinas Police Department needs to be transformed from the ground up.
I’m connected to other communities who have also lost loved ones to unwarranted, blatant police killings. The recent killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and of Eric Garner in New York City are a couple of the most publicized police killings, indicating a growing national tragedy. In California alone we have the deaths of 13-year-old Andy Lopez in Santa Rosa, Alex Nieto in San Francisco, Kelly Thomas in Fullerton, and others. I’ve been involved in these struggles for 40 years—in my teens, I lost four friends to police, although these victims were unarmed.
This is not the community, state or country we should settle for. We deserve the best, including among our police officers. I have family members who have been in law enforcement. I’m not against police officers per se—many are hardworking, patient and needed. We simply cannot allow these shootings to be “normalized” so we get numb when another person is shot for not “acting right.”
With others in a burgeoning California network of community-based leaders, organizers, thinkers, writers, and politicians, I’m willing to offer positive, meaningful and lasting proposals to end these killings once and for all.
Luis J. Rodriguez