Bob McPhail 6:31 a.m., May 19
People's Power Assembly decries police violence
A group organized by the Committee Against Police Brutality filled the World Beat Center in Balboa Park on Saturday, March 9 for a San Diego People’s Power Assembly, modeled after a national format that came to life through the Occupy movement.
Co-facilitators Gloria Verdieu and Carl Muhammad introduced the organization and some of its goals. The Committee formed in 1999 following the July incident in which former NFL player Demetrius DuBose was shot 12 times by San Diego Police Department officers.
“One of the first things we did was challenge the Citizens’ Review Board,” says Muhammad, referring to the group set up by the city to review complaints against the police and officer-involved shootings, among other functions. “The Board has done nothing to negate the violence and the pressure that the community faces from police,” he continues, “so we’re calling for a Board with subpoena power, with independent investigative power, with the power to indict.”
Another issue the Committee challenges is the practice of “curfew sweeps,” where youth in minority-dominated communities such as City Heights found outdoors between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. are detained and transported to a holding area until parents can be contacted to retrieve them.
“We say this is nothing more than a pipeline to prison program. It’s introducing kids to being used to being handcuffed and put in the back of a car simply for being outside,” said Muhammad, noting teens had sometimes been picked up on the sidewalk in front of their houses or apartment common areas.
Larry Hale, a national Assembly organizer, further offered criticism of policies that treat policing differently based on the racial or economic makeup of areas. Reverend C.D. Witherspoon, in from Baltimore to speak to the group, continued the theme, and called for a national rally demanding attention for inner city communities to take place in Washington on May 11.
A discussion panel involving families of people who had been killed by police was convened, with parents and siblings of shooting victims including Alan Blueford of Oakland, Mario Romero of Vallejo, CA, Oscar Grant of Oakland, and San Diegans Victor Ortega and Billy Venable. Common themes in families’ emotional talks included questionable police procedures, contradictory statements given by police and witnesses (sometimes altered after witness video surfaced, such as in the case of Grant) and excessive use of force in either the number of shots fired or in shootings that allegedly took place after a suspect was subdued.
“I used to think that police were good. I was never the type that thought I had to worry about police officers,” said Shakina Ortega, Victor’s widow. “I realize now that the police, they’re liars,” she said before launching into a story about how she was involuntarily transported to a hospital and held for four hours without being informed of her husband’s death, which witnesses believe occurred after he was subdued and handcuffed, though police reports state that Ortega was reaching for a secondary gun that an officer had dropped during his arrest.
Billy Venable was killed by officers in 2003 after his brother was stopped for a traffic violation. Police report that Venable was struggling with officers and reached for one’s gun after being removed from the car, but his family reports that the 135-pound man was pinned to the ground by two officer weighing over 200 pounds each when he was shot by a third. His father, who identified himself as having a federal law enforcement background, did not dice words when speaking about District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis’s handling of the case.
“When the officer rolled off [of Billy] his gun was still in the holster and the holster was still strapped. And the DA said ’justifiable,’” intoned Mr. Venable. “When it comes to the DA, have no trust.”
Venable also told the audience that the same officer involved in his son’s shooting death fired eight rounds into the chest of a homeless man Downtown one year later.
After the families spoke, a second panel of activists representing various organizations convened, offering their perspective to the community on solving the perceived issues with police violence.
“The power of the majority must be limited to protect the rights of the individual,” asserted Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, representing the American Civil Liberties Union, one of a handful of panel speakers. To that extent, she offered examples of actions taken by the ACLU, including offering “know your rights” education.
“We talk about how to protect your civil rights. It’s not necessarily fighting on the street, but being prepared and knowing what to do on the street so that you have a fighting chance in court.”
The Committee plans to reconvene the Assembly in about a month with a roundtable strategy discussion.