On Oct. 22, several local activist groups from Sonoma County organized a protest against police abuse. What began as a Sonoma County demonstration turned into a North Bay movement. Groups and individuals from Napa joined others from Petaluma, Santa Rosa and Healdsburg in solidarity against police abuse. The Amnesty International club from Napa Valley College and Gathering of the Tribes affinity group joined with individuals ranging from Vallejo to Napa, to St. Helena. About 200 people total attended the protest.
In Sonoma County, 36 people have been killed by police since 2000. Many people, mostly mentally ill or young, were killed by Tasers, which are consider torture devices by the United Nations. One of the issues that brought out Napa groups were the DUI checkpoints. These checkpoints often victimize poor people and undocumented workers. They appear to be targeting immigrants, causing fear and intimidation within the Hispanic community.
People converged at the Santa Rosa police station. The rally began with testimony from victims of police abuse. Tracy, a mother whose young son is facing trial after a long history of police abuse, spoke. Diana, whose son is in jail, revealed that police are practically starving inmates that they deem as “gang members.” And Val, mother of Jesse, spoke. Jesse was tased, shot and tased again in early 2008.
Spoken word poetry was delivered by Dee Allen, a radical poet from San Francisco. Julio, from Napa, recited his poem, titled “Illegal extraterrestrial,” which tackles the dehumanization of immigrants. Camille, from Petaluma activist group Impact!, sang a song by Sam Cooke. And MEChA, el Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan, was heard.
After the speakers finished, grievances from CopWatch, the Police Accountability Clinic and Helpline, IMPACT!, the Peace and Justice Center, MEChA, and the ACLU were given to the police chief.
Next, the Hub Bub Club, a marching band known for performing at protests, began blaring. The crowd mobilized and began marching into the street. Between 150 and 200 people took to Brookwood Avenue and marched through the usually quiet neighborhood, dancing to the tunes of the marching band, and chanting “El Pueblo Unido Jamas Sera Vencido!”
Marchers carried crosses signifying the 36 people killed in Sonoma County over the last nine years. Black-clad anarchists marched alongside grieving mothers. White punk-rockers chanted with Chicano student activists. Lawyers in suits and veterans of the local peace movement joined the un-permitted march with smiles on their faces. Neighbors came out of their houses to applaud and take pictures. Some just smiled. Others looked a little nervous. The marchers turned right down another residential street and ended up on E Street. Marchers blocked the whole only lane of traffic there, as some motorists tried to swerve around them. Many honked their horns in approval. The march ended in downtown Santa Rosa. The white crosses carrying the names of people killed by police were laid out. Candles were lit to signify their lives.
People left the protest feeling empowered. Out of the injustice of police abuse, the seeds for broader social movement has been planted. This protest demonstrated that we are in the midst of a North Bay movement. A vibrant revolution for social justice, liberation and culture is uniting and spanning across the entire North Bay.
(Shantz lives in St. Helena.)