The situation is all too familiar. A 28-year old farmworker, Luis Gutierrez, is shot by Yolo County deputies. They make claims about the incident that appear to make the shooting understandable, but those claims are decisively refuted by witnesses and the autopsy report. It turns out he was repeatedly shot in the back. The "investigation" is being done by other employees of the same Sheriff who is in charge of the deputies who did the shooting. The community is outraged and fearful, and much of what they are told by officials turns out to be nonsense.

We have seen this situation repeated in city after city, county after county. In some of these jurisdictions, some form of police review is instituted, allowing for at least some independence in an investigation. And each time this happens, shooting deaths are reduced, law enforcement officers receive some needed training, and under the best review systems the most trigger-happy officers are removed from the force. There are still too many shootings, and too many killings, even in those jurisdictions, but community review offers an opportunity for improvement that should not be missed in Yolo County this time.

Without community review, under a system in which the Sheriff investigates himself (and finds only sterling performance), there is no way to identify and meet the need for protection of the community from police violence. Every large police force has many officers who need training, some officers who are too reliant on the threat of death, and all too often a few officers who actually enjoy looking for a "justified" opportunity to shoot someone. Most other officers are as relieved as everyone else when the trigger-happy ones are fired or jailed, though they know better than to say so in public.

The members of the community who are shot, particularly shot without any but a fictitious reason, are overwhelmingly working-class, and very often members of ethnic minorities, though those minorities may actually be the majority in a particular jurisdiction. Luis Gutierrez, a worker from a Mexican family, is a typical victim of an unjustified shooting. When the powerful in a community have little regard for workers and the poor, and little regard for immigrants and minorities, such people tend to become the victims of all the calamities inflicted by the wealthy and their agents. They suffer from unhealthy working conditions, underemployment and unemployment, high rents and evictions, bad housing loans and foreclosures, overpricing, inadequate transportation, unavailable childcare, unavailable or inadequate medical care, inadequate schools, an unjust and biased "justice" system, and even the threat and reality of death dealt out by under-trained, biased, and arrogant "law enforcement" officials. The solution is empowerment of working people. One aspect of this empowerment is a process of community police review.

Some say that this is not the time to make demands, to march, to rally, and to express the anger of the community at injustice. They are wrong. As the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass said, "Power concedes nothing without demand." To fail to make demands means to fail to achieve what is needed.

The Peace and Freedom Party commends the Yolo County community activists, and their friends in neighboring counties, who have demanded justice for Luis Gutierrez, demanded police review, demanded that the Yolo County Sheriff not be in charge of investigating himself, and put forward other ideas for empowering the working people of Yolo County and improving their lives. We hope and expect that this struggle will have positive results, and we promise to help as we can.

-Kevin Akin, California State Chair, Peace and Freedom Party

Statement issued on 01-June-2009 by Kevin Akin, State Chair, on behalf of the Peace and Freedom Party.
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