Saturday, December 18, 2010

Modesto CopWatch to Jeff Jardine’s “Modesto: A sleepy little burg — with anarchists?”

As participants in the recent protest at the MPD’s re-accreditation meeting Modesto CopWatch members were deeply disturbed (although not very surprised) by the lack of facts, perspective, and, well, anything of value in Jeff Jardine’s column about it, which served as a weak answer to critics who asked why the Bee had not covered the event a week ago.

Mr. Jardine assumed he wouldn’t get a response to his e-mail, why? It merely shows his ignorance of the people involved in the protest. Jardine has the nerve to assume that we wouldn’t engage in conversation with him as he writes his ignorant and obviously bias opinion about us. The truth is, simply, that his message had not been read yet, as soon as it was we immediately began a response.

It is true that the mainstream media (even down to the level of the pathetic Modesto Bee) is useless to us and our cause. It is owned by and serves the interest of businesses and the profits they chase. Rarely do these news sources go against the owners and advertiser business interests. The Bee routinely takes the word of the police as truth while ignoring eye-witness accounts that go against the cop’s story. Reporting that MPD shot a man with a knife when there were plenty of people on the scene that weren’t interviewed is a good example of this. Jeff Jardine’s horrible attempt to cover this protest after the Bee initially ignored it is another example.
From the start Jardine’s column suggests a laughable premise: Modesto was an innocent farm-town but has since lost its innocent because “anarchists” live here.
Aren’t we the car theft capital of the country? Wasn’t Modesto just judged to be one of the worst cities in the nation due to pollution, drug use, lack of services, jobs, housing, education, and even entertainment? Not to mention that the history of Modesto and the Central Valley is one of blood and struggle from Estanislao to Cesar Chavez (remember the history of Gallo?) and still continues today. Did you miss the 10,000 that marched through town for May Day 2006?

Currently, Modesto’s “good ol’ boy” dusty innocence takes the form of environmental racism/classism where the most harmful chemicals and pollutants are strategically placed in the darkest and poorest parts of the Valley (Covanta, the landfill, pesticides, diesel fumes, etc). It takes the form of continued criminalization of poor youth of color with police and prisons while cutting education and opportunities for young people. Dealing with the homeless, mentally-ill, and addicted like the major causes of our town’s problems as opposed to the symptoms of its failures. It takes the form of deals for developers, big-business, and conservative-elites against the interests of jobs, affordable housing, and even the health of the working-class and poor.

Guess what we’re trying to say is: Jardine’s pathetic attempt to make his article interesting is written from an extremely narrow point of view and ignores the story of those who have struggled in this area for generations. If someone ever writes “A People’s History of Modesto” get Jeff a copy (RIP Howard Zinn, a great anarchist).
It’s no wonder why Jardine’s article is lacking of any important content, he wasn’t even there. Another Bee reporter was, and she didn’t bother to actually write about what happened. Instead they ignored it until people complained and then they have a columnist write a weak opinion piece to try and make up for their lack of journalism. Then Jardine has to rely on the reporting of Modesto Anarcho to get the real facts of what took place on Monday night. He shows how MA did a better job than his newspaper at covering an event while simultaneously attempting to discredit the group.

The rest of the column’s contents are no better, the “anarchist” focus merely gives Jardine an opportunity to ignore the real who/what/whys of the incident and instead play on the reader’s emotions and fears about anarchism (or at least what they think anarchism is).

Of the dozen or so participants in the protest a few of them are involved in the Modesto Anarcho group, who have been running web-sites, publishing a journal and other literature, and putting on various other community service events and projects (almost monthly) in the area for nearly a decade. The beliefs of Modesto Anarcho have always been available for the public to read for themselves, which they should do before making judgments.

A few others protesters are part of the Modesto CopWatch network (go to to see the videos). Jardine mentions a 20 person protest (that went down despite rain), but not the West Side protest in which 100 attended, free BBQs for the homeless and hungry attended by 50-75 each, and an anti-police abuse Hip-Hop concert on Crows Landing where over 300 gathered for the cause. The Bee wouldn’t know about these events because, in most cases, they didn’t cover them.
The other protest participants were students, youth workers, and other working-class community members, and a few were friends and immediate family members of Rita Elias and Francisco Moran. The backgrounds, jobs, interests, genders, ages, and ethnicities of the protesters spanned a wide spectrum from teenagers to middle-aged, half were white and half were Latino (the protesters made up ALL of the Spanish-speakers in the room and ALL of the under 30 year olds). Almost all were born and raised in Modesto and all currently live here, despite what Chief Harden says about us “allegedly being part of the community.” How many of our cops are actually from here? Of the other 15 or so people in attendance, all were 40-70 years old, 90% white, 90% male, and most were involved in law enforcement or city government. Was this supposed to be a representation of the population of Modesto?

We did wear masks bearing the faces of Rita and Francisco once we walked into the meeting, but what Jardine fails to report is that we also protested outside of MPD for an hour prior, mostly with no masks, chatting with various passers-by, and receiving numerous encouraging honks from drivers who supported the protest. The Bee was notified about this, but their reporter did not approach any participants or ask any questions about it.

Also, 2 of people from the group that addressed the crowd took off their masks while they spoke, and almost all of us took them off at the end of the meeting. A few approached the assessors and asked, out of all the PDs they’ve assessed, how many have been denied accreditation. Their response was that they couldn’t remember, not even a rough estimate. This shows how much of a mockery the accreditation organization and process is and the protest has given people a chance to see that. As another speaker stated that night, it’s ridiculous to even consider renewing accreditation to a department that is under investigation for corruption and brutality.

Jardine admits that the actions of local law enforcement “merit serious questioning” and that the type of current internal investigation “is not exactly a magnet for public’s trust.” If this is true then the natural question should be: “Then what are WE going to do about it?” Is the Bee doing anything to question LE or make the process more transparent? Instead of using his position to press the issue and raise awareness of the problem, Jardine takes the easy way out and writes a thin piece passing judgment on a protest based on things he heard second hand and complaining about anarchists.

Jardine says anarchists don’t care to get involved or hold government accountable. On the contrary, anarchists want people to get involved and hold so-called “leaders” accountable in the most powerful ways, directly. Instead of relying on bureaucrats and bosses to do the right thing while in the meantime you continue to suffer, get together with your fellow workers, neighbors, students, families, friends, and/or crews and get $#!+ crackin yourself! Don’t be afraid of the responsibilities that real freedom comes with.

Yes Jeff, there are Anarchists and CopWatchers here, and why would that be? Why, in a place where cops kill people in the streets and in the jails, would we want to protest the police? Why, in a place of horrible pollution and air quality, would people want a world where profits aren’t more important than our environment and health? Why, in a place where home foreclosures and unemployment rates are among the highest, would people want a world where workers aren’t exploited and families aren’t taken advantage of? Why would we want more to be put toward education and our youth and less for police and prisons? Why would we want to replace bosses with worker councils? Why would we want to give excess food to the hungry? Why would we want to put the homeless into empty homes? Why would we want to get rid of a system that is motivated by creating a profit margin?

Jardine says anarchists scorn the first amendment while relying on its freedom. We have nothing against the first amendment, we just wish America followed it. NO LAW establishing a religion but in God We Trust is on our currency, our kids recite One Nation Under God, we say Christian prayers before government meetings, swear on the bible in court, and let religion define who can join the military and our definition of marriage. NO LAW prohibiting or abridging the freedom of speech, but we have gag orders, disturbing the peace laws, censorship of literature and music. Freedom of the press? Printing presses, licenses, TV and radio station all cost big bucks and a small group of the rich own more and more of the media every day. Ask the WikiLeaks guy about freedom of the press. The right to peaceably assemble? Loitering and cruising laws, city curfews, permits that cost money, and privatized parks you have to pay for to even step in. What should be said is that we don’t believe that these rights come from the constitution or the US government, they comes from the birth-right of all people to live free and free of oppression.

Jardine remarks that “the Constitution can't guarantee anyone will take you seriously when you scream profanities in a public setting.” As stated before, the meeting was poorly attended, cops made up most of the crowd, so there was no one to convince to take us seriously. We weren’t speaking TO the community, we were speaking FOR the community, and the community that we know, and work with on a daily basis, tell us constantly that they are “f—king tired of the pigs in Modesto.” What is more profane, saying a “bad word” or shooting someone 7 times for holding a spatula and then lying about it? Individuals in the group also booed and yelled out things like “lies” and “stop killing our people” during Sheriff Christianson’s and District Attorney Fladager’s comments, guess it’s just hard sit back and hold your tongue while people, paid by our tax dollars, lie right in front of us. The other community members who spoke (that weren’t cops) were not interrupted.
Harden tells Jardine that he wasn’t “offended or disturbed” by us, but on the other hand admits he had to threaten arrest. To everyone there it was obvious that the chief was bothered by what members of the group had to say. When a friend of Francisco Moran’s family asked Harden to stop calling and harassing them, his face and bald head turned noticeably red.

Harden’s comment that the meeting’s purpose was to hear from community members is a complete joke. 1) The meeting was minimally advertised in the community and even less in Spanish and I’m sure not at all to the homeless or mentally-ill. 2) The meeting was at 6pm on a Monday for only one hour. Most people were probably just getting home from work. 3) The meeting was at the police station and was crawling with cops. Most people who live in fear of the police are not going to set foot in that building. When the NAACP held a similar meeting at the King-Kennedy Center over a hundred attended and a dozen shared their stories of police abuse. 4) Although Modesto and the surrounding areas are over 50% Latino, and that is where most of the police abuse occurs, there was no translator for Spanish speakers to participate.
As for Christianson, to suggest that there is no need to be disruptive, because we can sit down and talk about issues, is ridiculous. When he met with the NAACP and other community members it was brought up by several different people that the Sheriff’s Department does not allow a third party to join a victim of police abuse to the police station when they give a statement. This means if you get beaten by a Stanislaus County Sheriff, in order to make a complaint you need to come in alone for your interview. Even MPD has the decency to allow that. When asked why exactly Christianson wouldn’t allow this basic aspect of the process, he replied it was because they never had done it before and then asked the citizens to drop the subject and move on because he wouldn’t change his mind (you can see the video on youtube). Sitting down with Christianson has proven time and time again to be useless. On the same note, Modesto CopWatch has made several calls to Chief Harden to sit down and talk about the recent officer-involved shootings and he never responded. At the meeting, one protester asked Harden if he would set up an appointment to meet and he replied “no, that’s not going to happen.”

Jardine states, “I don't believe that shouting ‘cops, pigs and murderers’ did much to advance their cause.” Maybe the 2Pac song should have been called “Wonda Why They Call U Pigs” and explained the history of police terror in our communities. We choose to follow Malcolm X or the Black Panthers, who repeatedly used the term pig, by being brutally honest about the character of those we are dealing with. Cops who murder are pigs, and should be called nothing less. Did we forget Fred Hampton, Rodney King, Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, Abner Louima, Oscar Grant, and countless others beaten and murdered by police. How about NYPD’s “Hip-Hop Cops” that conducted illegal surveillance on rappers, singers, and DJs or LAPD’s Rampart Division that planted evidence, committed abuse, lied, stole, and sold confiscated drugs? How about the Oakland Riders or the Modesto Road Dog case? Craig Prescott was spilling the truth about the involvement of jail guards in the trafficking of drugs to inmates. We know how that turned out. Can you explain why Chip Huskey got only one year and doesn’t have to register a sex offender?

Forward to our local revelations of the “beat & release” practices (which is no surprise to most of Modesto’s poor communities and people of color). It was also recently reported that 27 Fresno police officers were involved in 2 or more civilian shootings from 2002-2007 (some had shot 4 different people during that time). In addition we could mention how in his book “Let’s Get Free” Paul Butler states that 90% of officers who took the stand in his cases as a federal prosecutor lied in their testimonies. According to the documentary “After Innocence” of over 200 men who were freed from prison because of new DNA evidence, a fourth of them had been beaten by police and forced to give a false confession.

New videos from all over the Central Valley, state, country, and world of police abusing citizens are constantly surfacing. Police corruption rings and cover-ups have been revealed everywhere since the creation of police forces. Cops all over have been arrested or fired for domestic violence, eliciting prostitution, molestation, and substance abuse, just to name a few. MPD (like most other departments in the country) does not give officers random drug tests after their initial hiring. Cops aren’t even tested after they shoot someone, but if you drop a crate off of a forklift you’d immediately get tested for various substances).
We need to stop thinking of police officers as greater than ourselves, they have problems and make big mistakes and do “morally” wrong things every day, but beyond that and worst of all is their over-all place in society as protectors of the rich and their property and, as I once read, “they back the bosses in every strike. The ones who stand between every hungry person and the grocery shelves stocked with food, between every homeless person and the buildings standing empty, between every immigrant and her family. Police Everywhere, Justice Nowhere.” Even more importantly, we need to start thinking of ways to work directly within your own communities, neighborhoods, families, and crews to keep police from brutalizing and killing us (like CopWatching) and also creating alternatives to the police by making sure we know how to protect ourselves and our communities.

Even right now as we come together to write this we’re reading that four MPD officers just shot and killed another person who was trying to run in a vehicle, it’s even one of the same cops who killed Francisco Moran. The circumstances seem to be almost the same as in the cases of Joey Pinasco (killed by CHP in Escalon in ‘08) and James Rivera (killed by Stockton PD in July). The cops swear the cars came towards them while all other witnesses say the vehicles didn’t move and police just opened fire. Whatever happened to shooting the tires? I guess this ain’t the movies, and this ain’t no dusty little farm town.

- Modesto CopWatch, some of those knockin the dust off

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