Tag Archives: police

The Aftermath

Dolores Piper (left), great aunt of Derrick Gaines, and Gaines’ half-brother Michael Red (right), 7, pose for a portrait in their home in South San Francisco. Gaines, 15, was fatally shot by South San Francisco Police Officer Joshua Cabillo on the night of June 5, 2012. Photographs by Joel Angel Juárez

HOW FAMILIES COPE AFTER POLICE KILL THIER LOVED ONES

By Jennah Feeley

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n May 2012, two weeks before his high school graduation, Alan Dwayne Blueford, 18, ate one last piece of candy and left his house to meet up with some friends. In the hours that followed he was shot and killed by an Oakland police officer.

Two months later, 15-year-old Derrick Gaines walked with a friend in his hometown of South San Francisco when police approached him. The confrontation turned into a foot-chase that ended with Gaines dead in an ARCO gas station lot, having been shot in the neck by an officer.

In February 2014, San Jose State University police gunned down Antonio Lopez Guzman just beyond the campus borders. Footage from the lapel and dashboard cameras have yet to be released to the public — and details of the confrontation are ambiguous.

Disparities among police records, accounts from family members and media coverage persist in each incident. While the facts in many cases remain uncertain, the concern with police brutality in the Bay Area and beyond is clear. A fatal shot by Oakland police on Nov. 15 marked the 1,000th death at the hands of law enforcement in the U.S. this year alone, as reported by The Counted, a database maintained by The Guardian.

Some cases grabbed the nation’s attention, enraging the public on both sides of the law-and-order conflict, and spread like a shotgun blast across social media platforms. All at once, friends and family of the deceased were swept up in a whirlwind of interviews, police investigations and community uproar. But when the limelight dimmed, those families were left in darkness to deal with the aftermath. Despite the trauma of losing a son, a partner, a father or a friend, people have had to somehow pick up the pieces and find a way to continue their lives. And that’s what Alan Blueford’s mother, Jeralynn Blueford, finds so difficult – that nobody thinks about what happens to families after the police kill their loved ones.

RELIVING THE NIGHTMARE

Blueford thinks about the night she lost her son everyday. She remembers granting him permission to go out with his friends — a moment she can’t take back — and the phone call she received the next day telling her he was gone forever. She recalls a feeling of disbelief, of puzzlement. She thought, “they were wrong, this can’t be. Not my Alan.” She relives the sinking feeling that took over as her husband’s fist repeatedly pounded the counter and she saw the candy wrapper their son had left behind the last time she saw him.

Along with her husband, Adam, Blueford went to the police station for answers, but ended up leaving with more questions: What happened that night? Why had the police killed their child? What could Alan have done to deserve losing his life?

  • Jeralynn Blueford, mother of Alan Blueford, has dedicated herself to a life of activism after police killed her son in May 2012. Click the buttons to hear audio from Jeralynn Blueford.

In the months that followed, Blueford lost herself in grief. While dealing with a lawsuit over the murder of her son, defending his honor in the face of demonizing media accounts and trying to maintain a strong front for Alan’s two siblings, she didn’t think she could carry on. Anger consumed her and the sadness was paralyzing. She stopped working. She felt like she couldn’t move, sometimes like she couldn’t breathe. She said the sensation was worse than having the wind knocked out of you. “It’s like you gasp for air and there’s no air there.” She was on the brink of suicide when she came to the realization that she needed to pick herself back up for her family.

“I was like, ‘damn, it’s unfair for me to end it for me. I have other people, what about Aaron, what about Ashley, what about the grandkids,’” Blueford said. “They deserve to make memories with me. They deserve to share and know who I am. How will they learn about Alan if I’m not around to tell them?”

DEVASTATING AFTERMATH

Like Blueford, Dolores Piper had to learn how to push herself through the intense moments of sadness. Several years have passed since Piper lost her nephew, Derrick Gaines, but his death is still the first thing she thinks of when she wakes up sleepless at night. Having adopted him as a child, Gaines was a son to her, and his sudden death was devastating.

Piper was on her way home from a business trip in Sacramento the evening Gaines died, and didn’t find out he had been shot until her niece woke her with the news later that night. In the hours that followed, police officers arrived at her door to search the house. She recalls frantically trying to call people, but her mind was in such a fog she couldn’t dial the numbers correctly. The events of that night are still hard for Piper to fully remember.

“There was no describing it, where that night went,” Piper said.

Although the funeral brought forth an outpouring, support from the community wavered for Piper and her family in the weeks that followed. The media coverage, she felt, assassinated Gaines’ character almost immediately. Stories stated he had allegedly pulled a gun on an officer, and Piper couldn’t help but wonder, “who looks at ‘allegedly?’” She got the feeling that members of her community in South San Francisco thought Gaines deserved what had happened to him. She chose not to read the comments people made about the incident online.

Piper has instead held fast to the positive memories she has of her son. She remembers him as a chipper kid who could talk his way out of anything. She thinks back to the trips they took to Chicago, Seattle and Vancouver and how he indulged in hotel room-service. She read to Gaines every night, right into his 15th year — “I still have the book beside my bed that we were halfway through.” She’s held onto his books, his shoes, his clothes — all little mementos she keeps to remember him by.

Memories of Gaines linger everywhere in her life. She often drives past the ARCO station where he died and can’t help but think back to that horrible night. Before he was killed, Piper had never considered law enforcement a threat to her son. She doesn’t think Gaines ever believed cops were dangerous himself, either, and must have been shocked when met face-to-face with the officer’s gun that night.

“I think about how he must have felt at that very second, and how that must have been horrible,” Piper said. “If I dwell on those moments, I just get sick.”

These days, Piper still feels like she has to be on the defensive when she talks about Gaines. After reviewing the police report and talking to witnesses, she came to her own conclusion about what happened that night. She quit saying he was shot by police; now she says he was murdered by them. Speaking out about it and her involvement in activism against police brutality has become a means of healing.

POST-TRAUMA ACTIVISM

[pullquote align=”right”]”I feel so bad every time I have to tell my son — I have to re-traumatize him — ‘your dad is dead.’ I feel evil. I feel like a bad parent because I have to remind him every single time he asks.” – Laurie Valdez[/pullquote]

In the face of a similar situation, a turn to activism was obvious to Laurie Valdez. Her partner, Antonio Lopez Guzman, was shot down by university police just off campus at San Jose State. She couldn’t wrap her head around the incident and said it was unfathomable that Guzman would have done something to warrant that kind of reaction from police.

She didn’t think the cops had acted lawfully and realizing their 4-year-old son, Josiah, was going to have to live the rest of his life without a father, she knew she had to take action. Losing her partner was hard, but having to explain the situation to Josiah and his 12-year-old half-sister, Angelique, was agonizing. Angelique continues to try and be strong about the loss of her “papi,” who raised her since age 3, but Josiah still struggles to comprehend what happened. Almost two years later, Josiah still yo-yos between conceptualizing his father’s death and thinking he left to go back to Mexico. His pain is something Valdez “can’t put a Band-Aid on,” and it continuously breaks her heart.

“I feel so bad every time I have to tell my son — I have to re-traumatize him — ‘your dad is dead,’” Valdez said. “I feel evil. I feel like a bad parent because I have to remind him every single time he asks.”

  • Laurie Valdez poses with her daughter Angelique and son Josiah in their home. Since her husband was killed by police, she has been left to raise her children without him. Click the buttons to hear audio from Laurie Valdez.

As far as Valdez is concerned, there is no way of providing justice for Guzman, because he is already gone, but her little boy deserves someone to stand up for him. Valdez created the campaign, Justice 4 Josiah, to raise awareness about police violence and find solutions to help heal communities it impacts. She wants to prevent another child from losing a parent.

“My son is going to suffer, but if I can prevent that for another family somehow, some way Antonio’s death won’t be in vain,” Valdez said. “At least we will save somebody else from having to go through this.”

As Josiah grows up Valdez fears he will search the web for information about what happened to his father and read the comments people made about the incident. Guzman was an undocumented immigrant — and Valdez recalls comments that said he deserved what he got because he shouldn’t have been in this country in the first place. Other comments she saw characterized him as a person Valdez doesn’t recognize. Because he was so young, Josiah’s memories of his father are scarce and Valdez doesn’t want negative comments to paint an unfair picture of the man he was.

“I don’t teach my kids negativity,” Guzman said. “But this is the aftermath.”

Valdez filed a federal civil suit against San Jose State over the death of her partner, which was recorded on cameras worn by the officers involved. She believes the footage from the incident should be released to the public in this case, and in all others like it, so the right people can be held accountable.

In Alan Blueford’s case, the officer who shot him was also wearing a lapel camera it was switched off before he shot the 18-year-old. His mother has become an activist as well, and is working to create the “Alan Blueford Law,” which would require the prosecution of any officer who turns off or otherwise tampers with their camera equipment in an incident where they kill someone. In addition, their pension, under the proposed law, would be transferred to the family of the victim.

Recognizing that families in these situations have minimal government support, Mollie Costello teamed up with Blueford to help make the law become a reality.

“It’s not like you have money set aside for burial costs, or what happens when you can’t work,” Costello said.

Blueford and Costello also opened the Alan Blueford Center for Justice in Oakland as a hub for healing in the community. The center serves as a place for people to grieve, create art and find support in each other. Blueford has found solace in “helping hearts heal,” and aims to be a resource and an advocate for those touched by police violence.

“If we change the laws, not only will it be justice for Alan, it will be justice for all,” Blueford said. “Although I am speaking out for my son, somewhere there is another mother who cannot speak out for her son, and he has no justice. Nobody is calling his name.”

Valdez, too, works to be a voice for families in similar situations. In a televised interview on MSNBC Nov. 4, filmmaker Quentin Tarantino mentioned Guzman’s name in a comment about police violence in America, giving a nod to her efforts. “Wow,” she said. “I’m being heard.”

Piper also organizes friends and family members of police brutality victims as a means of support and activism. She created a Facebook account for the sole purpose of keeping in contact with the loved ones of those gunned down by law enforcement. She participates in marches and works to reach out to the youth in her community. It’s painful, she said, but she does it for her son.

  • Click the buttons to hear audio from Dolores Piper

Despite activism across the nation, the issue of violence between law enforcement and citizens remains unresolved. Blueford and Piper don’t want another mother to lose her son, and Valdez hopes other children don’t lose their fathers the way her son has. They are tired of hearing about fatal encounters with police because, as Blueford put it, “with each case you relive your own story.”

In the meantime, these women have pledged to continue to fight in the names of those lost. They will continue to seek better protections from police and for better support for the families left behind in the aftermath. Blueford, Piper and Valdez’s activism is what helps them carry on through their losses.

“My healing thing is to try and bring other families together so they know they are not alone because I know what it feels like,” Valdez said. ”We’re going to get through this together.”

An open letter to Facebook Analysts, re: Ferguson

Wednesday, November 26, Bay area residents gather in Oakland to protest the decision not to indict Darren Wilson, a policeman who shot and killed an unarmed 18-year-old black boy in Ferguson Missouri on August 9. Here, demonstrators march through the streets of Downtown Oakland, chanting "Hands up, don't shoot" in unison. (Helen Tinna/ Golden Gate Xpress)
Wednesday, November 26, Bay area residents gather in Oakland to protest the decision not to indict Darren Wilson, a policeman who shot and killed an unarmed 18-year-old black boy in Ferguson Missouri on August 9. Here, demonstrators march through the streets of Downtown Oakland, chanting “Hands up, don’t shoot” in unison. (Helen Tinna/ Golden Gate Xpress)

America the free, the beautiful, the progressive.

Unless you happen to be a young black man, then you are automatically a thief. Or a rapist. Or a murderer, and general delinquent who smokes weed, and therefore deserves to die.

Now, that is a strong statement. However, over the course of the past five years, America’s melting pot has reached the point of boiling over, as, time and time again, minorities are murdered in the streets, their killers going free by and large, and profiting as well.

Welcome to post-racial America, where guilty until proven innocent is the new normal, and minor crimes such as theft deserve an on-the-spot death sentence.

The same excuses are trotted out like show ponies, by media outlets and Facebook analysts with degrees in armchair investigation alike. “If this was a black cop shooting an unarmed white male, what do you think would happen then?”  Surely not the same level of media coverage, but this precise incident has happened, with the cop being acquitted of all charges. This cop did not get a fat deal offered to him by a news outlet for an exclusive interview. There are no kick-starters being funded in support of his acts. This particular murder is in equal parts a profiling issue and police state issue, in which cops are granted a level of nigh-immunity for their actions. This is definitely a problem, this also is not the most pressing incident at hand.

The problem at hand is the fact that these killings are happening in higher frequency in minority neighborhoods, and, in the case of Ferguson, the straw that broke the camel’s back. Mike Brown, whether or not he committed that robbery, did not deserve to be gunned down , nor did his body deserve to lie in the street for four hours, a half-assed attempt at blocking the crime scene erected around him.

Take into consideration one of the more recent incidents – the Tamir Rice shooting. Reports of a twelve-year-old playing with a pistol in a gazebo were phoned in to the Cleveland Police Department. The caller stated that he believed the gun was a fake one in the call to 911. That much can be agreed on by the general public. From there, facts deviate into “they said” versus video evidence. The gun in question was in fact a pellet gun, sans orange toy indicator cap.  Police reports versus surveillance video paint two different tales: testimony from the cop claims that he did not follow orders to put his hands up.

Two seconds. That is the approximate amount of time between the cop car coming to a stop and the police firing on him. Then there is the three minutes and forty-nine seconds between the call for help and first-aid being administered. Did those almost four minutes have that much of an impact on his survival? It may have. That is not stopping public reaction, however. How can you justify the murder of a twelve-year-old because his father has previous convictions for domestic abuse? You cannot, full-stop. Tell that to the news sites that are trotting out this story, however, dragging his name through the mud.

There is also Eric Garner and Oscar Grant, if you want to check out a couple of the more high-profile cases over the past few years. Michael Brown is not an isolated case, a one-off.

The trending hashtag, #BlackLivesMatter is another sticky topic and it has been hijacked to push a number of agendas. Looking at you, Matt Walsh and your incredibly shitty opinion piece on outlawing abortions to preserve black lives. This is not an opportunity to piggyback on a larger cause to push your own questionable agendas. We know that black-on-black crime is a problem, thanks for the reminder. It needs work, but what it does not need is commentary from the cheap seats. Abortion is a whole other ball game, but we will not even delve into pro-life versus pro-choice, with a healthy dose of bootstrapping and not wanting to help contribute to the upbringing and care of a child whose life you forced to happen by not allowing an abortion.

The counter-hashtag/trending topic “All Lives Matter” is another issue in which people attempt to hijack a conversation that needs to be held. Yes, all lives matter, and no one is disputing that, but now the issue at hand is that minority lives are being severely undervalued in comparison to non-minorities. The same people championing this counter-hashtag are undoubtedly the same ones who take offense to being told “Happy Holidays,” rather than “Merry Christmas.” No one is valuing one above another, this is the focus that needs to be addressed because it is most prevalent.

Stop trying to make everything directly relevant to yourself.

Fact of the matter is that the Michael Brown shooting was not one isolated event. This is one shooting in a long line of many, both law enforcement and otherwise. No case is ever black and white, or black versus white, in these cases. Some go punished, many more do not. Protests are being labelled as riots, because this is what the news outlets pick up on—not the quiet protests, but the disruptive, destructive elements that are a small part of a whole. No, not every protestor is out there breaking windows and looting stores. This level of protest creates an unsafe environment and an intense level of civil unrest, no one is lauding this. What the ultimate goal is to bring attention to these occurrences in a time where we have supposedly progressed past our bigotry and racism because there’s “equality” in the world.

If your Black Friday shopping is disrupted by BART being blocked, imagine how Thanksgiving must have felt for the Brown family—their whole lives have been disrupted while Darren Wilson walks away. These minor breaks in your routine are not hurting you, save for causing annoyances. What is hurting is the public sentiment of anti-protestors, the pro-Wilson supporters. The fact that Brown’s mother never married his father, and that his grandma raised him means that dysfunctional minority family units are the issue to these people. The lack of family values creates thieves. Because, you know, criminals are never spawned when born in wedlock.

You may not like how people are reacting to this incident, and the resulting court decision. However, by opening your mouth, and regurgitating quotes from off-brand “news” sites such as “Right News Daily,” or “Conservative Now,” you are not helping the issue. Nor are you helping with blanket statements such as calling protestors “uneducated, welfare-grubbing idiots” and scoffing that they need “real jobs.” Stop undervaluing the problems of others because they do not apply to you, nor do they fall in line with your own social/political agenda.

You are justified to your opinion and free to voice them, but you need to not freak out and throw out shitty infographics that boil down to a lot of stupid text over a photo as your “checkmate, protestors” offensive to being questioned. While you are at it, stop side-stepping around the valid questions posed to you, and patting yourself on the back when you manage to turn the debate inward, to black-on-black crime, or questioning why Obama is not promoting healthy family ideals in minority families. Pretty sure we all know what the reaction would be if Obama started a campaign to encourage family togetherness in minorities.

You may not be part of the “problem” as it is. You may say you are “color-blind” and claim that “facts are facts,” behind your phone screen, sharing articles you barely skimmed just to look as if you are aware of current events, but you definitely are not helping in moving toward resolution.

*This is an editorial piece and does not necessarily reflect the views of the staff or the publication.

Caught in the crossfire of Ferguson Protests

On New Year’s Day in 2009, twenty-two-year-old Oscar Grant was shot and killed by a BART police officer at Fruitvale station. On February 26, 2012, just shy of his seventeenth birthday, Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida. On Aug. 6, eighteen-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson, Missouri police officer.

These occurrences took place in different cities across the US, but they all shared one too many similarities. Those killed, were unarmed Black men and their shooters were White males.

In Grant’s case, BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to two years in county jail. In Martin’s case, Neighborhood Watch George Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder and shortly proved not guilty. After a grand jury hearing to determine whether a crime was committed in Brown’s shooting, the jury agreed not to indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson.

Following each case, both peaceful and violent protests erupted when the demonstrators demanded justice for those killed. The movement #BlackLivesMatter sparked after Zimmerman’s 2012 acquittal as a call to action against racism.

According to a study done by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, in 2012 at least three-hundred-thirteen African Americans were killed by police officers, security guards, or self-appointed vigilantes. The study highlighted the militarization and brutality coming from law enforcement against black people.

On Nov. 24, when the announcement of Ferguson’s twelve-member grand jury’s decision not to indict Officer Wilson made headline news across media platforms, nationwide protests flared.

I happened to be stuck in the unexpected crossfire in two different cities last week, in Downtown Los Angeles, while I was visiting my family for Thanksgiving, and in Oakland, on my way home from the airport.

Last Tuesday, I took a trip downtown to my favorite museum, The California Science Center, which I always make an effort to visit on nearly every trip home. Little did I know that a short distance away in Leimert Park, protesters began marching down Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in my direction shouting, “Hands up, don’t shoot.”

la protest

Later that evening, protestors would downpour on the 101-freeway, blocking traffic in both directions, and lead demonstrations in various areas across the city. That day, nearly two hundred people would be arrested by the Los Angeles Police Department, according to Chief Charlie Beck. Arrests were made on multiple violations of disturbing the peace, one assault on a police officer and a handful of curfew violations.

Peaceful protests, vandalism, looting, and rioting began within moments of the announcement to not indict Wilson and this ongoing series of protests show no signs of ending anytime soon even after his resignation from the force. Each day, an impactful protest is highlighted in lieu of justice for Brown.

On Friday Nov. 28 my plane landed in the Oakland International Airport at 10:40 a.m. I quickly picked up my bags from the baggage claim carousel and jetted to the new AirBart service that takes you from the airport to the Oakland Coliseum BART Station. I ran from the drop off point to a BART train headed to San Francisco. I did not run fast enough and missed it. As I waited at the station an announcement came through the speakers that said, “…delays system wide due to civil unrest at West Oakland Station.”

I along with the rest of the holiday travelers with confused looks on our faces boarded the next BART train, unknowing of what was actually going on. The train conductor made it clear that he didn’t know what was going on either and that we would have to get off at Lake Merritt Station.

In the meantime I opened up my Twitter feed and was shocked by what I found. At approximately 10:45 a.m., five minutes after I landed, demonstrators dressed in shirts that read #BlackLivesMatter chained themselves to BART trains at West Oakland Station. BART service was halted to and from San Francisco.

bart shut down

 

Their purpose was to interrupt black Friday commerce, specifically to say that Black lives matter in wake of the court decision in Ferguson, according to an interview with Protester Mollie Costello by NBC.

As I waited outside of Lake Merritt Station with an overstuffed suitcase in hand, sun baring down on my shoulders and my phone with eight percent battery life, I debated whether to pay for a $50 Lyft ride home. My other option was to try my luck at hopping on a bus, in a part of town I am unfamiliar with, and a phone that would die in the next fifteen minutes.

Partially because I am cheap, I decided to wait with the hundreds of stressed out commuters and give them a listening ear. Some complained of being late to work or meeting up with friends, others worried of missing Black Friday sales.

Two hours later the announcement was made that trains were resuming and the look of worry melted off of people’s faces. As the large mass of people stood waiting downstairs for the train to approach, fourteen people in handcuffs chanting, “Black lives matter,” being led by police made their way up the station stairs.

That is when it hit me. The week before while watching Jon Stewart’s film Rosewater that showed footage of the citizen’s revolt against the Iranian government, I thought to myself, “Why can’t anything like that ever happen here?” Where a group of people standing up together and fighting for something powerful and in turn creating awareness towards something meaningful. Right before my eyes, it was happening. A tear fell from my eyes as I witnessed fourteen individuals in handcuffs walk past me, chanting and still showing signs of hope. They were fighting for the justice of one man, a man they did not know, for the betterment of an entire race and nation.

lake merrit vid

good

In that moment, I remembered those from earlier in the day complaining of their ruined Black Friday plans and the negligent anger and stress they felt. That sense of anger, fear, and confusion was only a fraction compared to the families, friends, and community members who witnessed someone they loved be killed by someone whose job is to protect them.

ruined bf

haha ruined

Later that evening, demonstrators broke down police barricades to protest on San Francisco’s Union Square during Macy’s tree lighting ceremony. The protest quickly escalated into a violent one; police were verbally harassed, windows were broken, stores were looted and shoppers were locked inside stores. The San Francisco Police Department announced that there were seventy-nine arrests that night. A total of five cops were wounded during the protest when passersby threw rocks and bottles, according to police chief Greg Suhr.

After watching countless of videos of the protest that night, I noticed the hate that they had against the policemen. Protestors shouted in their faces, spit in their direction and went as far as throwing things at them. Putting all cops in one category and treating them like they are all the same. This beat down on law enforcement contradicts their message to end stereotypes and racial profiling.

Just like not every cop is the same and not every person is the same, not every protest is the same. Tuesday, hundreds of protesters around the county participated in a walk out in support of Ferguson. They walked out of jobs and schools at 12:01 p.m. central time, the same time Brown was shot last month.

Screen shot 2014-12-02 at 1.37.21 AM

Will these righteous acts make a difference? Perhaps it is too early to tell, but the nationwide gatherings are inspiring and are bringing people from all walks of life together to fight for a purpose.