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Demonstration in Salinas turns into Copwatch-in-Action!
After a demonstration in protest of the police shootings of four Latino men in Salinas, cops are prevented from arresting a man by the newly formed local Cop Watch.
On Sunday, August 17 the Direct Action Monterey Network joined a group of Salinas residents at a demonstration against police violence (4 unarmed Latino men have been killed by police since March). Although the event was intended to be a community forum, the Cesar Chavez Public Library refused to let the group use their facilities. Giving a rather long list ofridiculous reasons for not doing so, it is clear that the Library staff is nervous about supporting such a strong stance against police violence. An organizer of the event was also told by Library staff that the City of Salinas was preventing them from letting us use the space. So instead of a forum, we held a demonstration to demand access to public facilities, as well as to continue speaking out against police violence.
Several dozen people joined throughout the afternoon, and we received countless honks from people driving by. We were joined by people from Sin Barras, a prison-abolition group in Santa Cruz; Toder Poder Al Pueblo, a community organization in Oxnard; and the ANSWER Coalition in Sacramento. The crowd enthusiastically chanted “No Justice, No Peace, Killer Cops Off Our Streets!” and “How do you spell ‘murderer’ (killer, corrupt, racist)? S-P-D!” Chanting grew noticeably angrier when ever a cop drove by. The names of the those murdered by police, Angel Ruiz, Osman Hernandez, Carlos Mejia, and Frank Alvarado, were also called out, followed by “Presente!” Signs were made to express solidarity with the people of Ferguson, as well.
Eventually we all gathered on the lawn in front of the Library and several people spoke, including the family and friends of some of the victims, as well as people from various organizations who came to show their support.
After the main demonstration ended, many of us gathered together in the park to discuss the next steps that we needed to take to get some kind of justice for the recent victims of police shootings. Many people agreed the first step was calling for the Salinas PD to release the names of the police involved, which they have still not done. However, this gathering was soon interrupted when someone came over to tell us that a man was being arrested across the street. A couple people immediately started walking back to the front of the library, but soon they were followed by 15-20 other people who were adamant about preventing the police from harassing, arresting, or hurting anyone else in our communities.
We quickly walked across the street and surrounded the two cops who had a man hand-cuffed and sitting on the hood of one of their patrol cars. People began filming the incident with their phones, while some started heckling the cops and asking why they were detaining this man. The cops, looking around nervously, yelled at people to back up. Some local residents recognized the detained man, who regularly hangs out at the intersection and occasionally panhandles.
People leaving the drug store where this was taking place started forming a larger crowd behind the former demonstrators who now began chanting at and against the police. Some of the newcomers who just happened to be walking through the shopping center picked up the chorus of “¡El pueblo unido, jamás será vencido!”, while others began filming the police with us. Shouts of “That’s not right!” and “No más racismo” could be heard. Some of the former demonstrators began passing out Copwatch flyers and explaining the situation to on-lookers, encouraging them to watch and film police interactions in the future. Meanwhile, more cops continued to show up until what seemed like half of the Salinas police was huddling around the man who they had detained.
After about 20-30 minutes the cops began to remove the handcuffs from the detained man’s arms and started leaving. The crowd cheered and chanted “Sí se puede!” The now-released man quickly walked away form the area, clearly distressed by the entire ordeal. From what was gathered by people listening to the conversation between the police and the detained man, apparently he was being chased by some people and when police showed up he kicked their car. However, we know that the police don’t even need such an excuse to harass homeless people, poor people, or people of color. They do so regularly and with impunity. Until we stand up against this, the cops will continue to do so.
We take heart in the sustained fight that people in Ferguson are waging. We also take lessons from the numerous places where people watch police and organize within their communities to defend themselves against this increasingly militarized occupying force. We hope that everyone who witnessed these events in Salinas on Sunday feel a little more emboldened to pull out their phones next time they see the cops stopping someone. The Salinas PD, and every police force, needs to know that we’re keeping an eye on them.