On Nov. 12, families that lost loved ones at the hands of the system and community members in solidarity gathered to call for justice in front of the Yolo County courthouse in Woodland, Calif.
The stories heard throughout the evening showed clearly why there is a growing movement in Yolo County against police impunity and misuse of the law. Not only are police officers and sheriff’s deputies in Davis, West Sacramento, and Woodland guilty of killing in cold blood, they are also actively working to criminalize the youth with the help of District Attorney Jeff Resig. Community reaction to cases like that of the Picnic Day 5 in Davis, the “Broderick is a Community, Not a Gang” coalition in West Sacramento, and the killing of Michael Barrera in Woodland are just a few examples that show Yolo County residents are organizing and pushing back. As oppression mounts against these communities, resistance grows against state-sponsored terror that has come in the form of both police killings and courtroom lynchings.
“We need to stand up and fight back before it happens to anyone else,” said Christine, mother of Michael Barerra.
In this spirit, the Rally for Justice started in front of the courthouse on Main St. with chants of “No justice, no peace!” “Shut it down!” “Black and Brown won’t take it no more!” and “Black and Brown in unity against police impunity!” After this, various families from the area shared experiences of injustice at the hands of Yolo County officials.
Those who spoke included Kristina Murphy, the wife of Christopher Murphy, who was killed in Woodland by CHP in December 2016, as well as Adrian Arias Gonzalez, the brother of Armando A. Gonzalez, convicted in Yolo County in 2015, for 18 years, 8 months-to-life. Gonzalez was driving when he had a seizure and crashed. The courts refused to recognize his medical condition despite numerous documents that were presented as evidence. Adrian spoke out particularly against DA Resig saying that, “He doesn’t deserve that power. He has abused it for too long and it is time we, the people, take it back.” Gonzalez went on to say, “They will destroy families and label good people liars. They are perfectly fine with destroying lives in the name of convictions and it is disgusting.”
“There is an estimated 10,000 wrongful convictions in the U.S. each year. I can also say that most are due to eyewitness misidentification, improper forensic science, false confessions, admissions, misconduct, scare tactics, informants and snitches that do not give the right information,” said a statement from James Olague. Nina, the wife of Olague, was joined by Ernie Arellano, the son of Ernesto Arrellano, and Blanca Cervantes, the sister of Oscar Cervantes. These three men were wrongfully convicted in Yolo County 15 years ago for the 2002 Halloween murders in Woodland. Prosecutors used the label of gang member to justify outrageously lengthy sentences. Their families continue to struggle for their freedom.
Cindy Fuentes, mother of Juan Carlos Fuentes, spoke out against her son being sentenced to 16 years in prison at 19 years of age in Yolo County in 2013. She described how he was given a gang enhancement like so many others for no other reason than for the local police department to get federal funding.
“I will not stop fighting until true justice prevails and the criminals wearing badges are held accountable for their misuse of the justice system to obtain federal grants.
“They stop these young boys and every incident report they mark ‘gang contact’ to obtain federal grants. My son was stopped from the age of 14 to age 17, 155 times and marked as a gang contact. He was constantly harassed by Woodland PD.” She continued, “They’re putting away our young boys and I will not see my son until 2031 at the age of 37 unless I fight for him. But I will not stop fighting for him.”
“They’re putting price tags on our kids heads,” said Yesenia Gonzales, the mother of Matthew Gonzalez, killed this year during a high speed chase with plain clothes WPD officers. “What its worth for them to have each one behind bars is a hell of a lot more than what it’s worth for them to have them out here.” She concluded by making it clear what must be done, “We need to speak up, speak out, and not let it happen anymore.”
“There’s new ones every day,” said Marissa Barrera, sister of Michael Barrera, as she pointed to a sign showing statistics of an increasing trend of police killings since 2014.
“We have to fight and repeal the Peace Officer’s Bill of Rights,” said Deana whose husband, James Nate Greer was killed by Hayward police using tasers. She spoke on the many unreported police killings that involve tasers.
“They do it because they can. They need accountability.”