Some of you may be aware that since 2000, there have been 64 police related deaths (streets and jail) in Sonoma County. But what about before that?
Almost 20 years have passed since local activists began tracking this nationwide trend. In 1995 and 1996 alone, we experienced six unnecessary deaths by local law enforcement. Then in 1997, eight more died at the hands of the police and we started organizing. After the highly publicized deaths in 1997 of 28-year-old Saloman Hernandez who forgot to pay for $5 worth of gas and then Kuan Chong Kao, who was drunk and brandishing a stick, we started a campaign to invite the U.S. Civil Rights Commission to come to Sonoma County to conduct hearings. After much lobbying they finally came in 1998 and issued their report in May 2000. The government does move slowly.
Anyone following the national shame of police killing the civilians they are sworn to protect will know that one population heavily impacted is that of the mentally ill and/or those under stress from daily living. Police training in how to handle those with mental issues has been needed, yet ignored for decades. Another problem in investigating these killings is the "blue code of solidarity" where even "good" cops will not speak up to expose their brothers who have killed. Further, our local DA's have consistently supported this code by ruling these deaths "justifiable," just as Jill Ravitch did with Deputy Gelhaus. Withholding both mental and physical treatment in jails is another overlooked factor causing unnecessary deaths. For communities of color and disaffected youth, all this has been a dynamic for decades. Fortunately, the growing recognition by the larger population is on the rise and we need to take advantage of that momentum.
Fast forward to the fall of 2014, the first anniversary of the Andy Lopez killing. Not much has changed since 2000 except that 64 more people have died at the hands of local law enforcement in Sonoma County.
Due to the recent killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, these deaths are finally being recognized as a national trend and the militarization of the police has become an important issue. Locally and nationally there is renewed urgency to expose this concept. This issue goes back at least two decades starting with the "War on Drugs" and followed by 9/11 and the "terrorism" threat. This month, those interested in exposing and ending the militarization of police will begin meeting to explore the several manifestations of this concept.
United we will stop the growing militarization of our police and stop unnecessary killings in our community and across the globe.
Mary Moore and Karen Saari are longtime activists on police abuse issues and are currently working with the Justice Coalition for Andy Lopez in Sonoma County.