By Marielena Castellanos
Family members who have lost loved ones at the hands of police along with a number of community leaders and supporters were out in full force to call attention on police shootings at several events held in the region as part of a National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality.
At one of the observances,Bri Rivera once again demanded justice for her uncle, Raul Rivera, who suffered from mental illness, after he was fatally shot by police in the South San Diego neighborhood of Nestor in May of this year.
“What happened to Raul is not an isolated act of violence, but rather a systematic act of violence that has historical context. It’s an act of violence that overwhelmingly impacts people of color,” she said.
Rivera said she has been working with a group families impacted by police brutality who developed a list of demands which include charging responsible officers with murder, enacting mandatory disciplinary actions for police involved in killings without paid administrative leave, and the reallocation of funds from law enforcement to psychological and medical professionals.
The leadership of the current and former district attorney was questioned by several people throughout the day felt including from Richard Olango Abuka, the father of Alfred Olango who was fatally shot in 2016 by an El Cajon police officer.
Alfred Olango was shot after he pointed what turned out to be a metal vaping device. Olango’s sister had called police asking for help, her brother was acting erratically. Former District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis found that the shooting was justified.
A press conference was also held for Earl McNeil, who died after being arrested in May of this year after suffering severe brain damage while in custody of police. Back in September of this year, District Attorney Summer Stephan said that neither National City police officers nor San Diego Sheriff’s deputies would face charges in McNeil’s death.
The medical examiner’s report said he could have suffered a heart attack from methamphetamine found in his body or from the long period of time he spent in police custody.
A recent report published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found blacks, Latinos, and Native Americans are disproportionately killed by police.
Nadia Contreras, with People Over Profits San Diego, and several others talked about the profits made from putting people in jail.
“We are worth more dead or incarcerated,” she stated.
Ryan “Flaco” Rising, a formerly incarcerated student leader at San Diego City College who has been out of prison for three years also talked about the profits made from prisons.
The California Legislative Analyst’s office states it costs an average of about $71,000 per year to incarcerate an inmate in prison in the state. Over three-quarters of the costs are for security and inmate health care. Since 2010, the average annual cost has increased by about $22,000 or about 45 percent.
Ending the practice of using the chokehold in San Diego also came up at a panel discussion at San Diego City College. Chokeholds can cause permanent brain damage and the Racial Justice Coalition of San Diego pointed out that historically chokeholds have been used disproportionately against minorities.
Calls for a stronger police review board in San Diego were made by several people including Andrea St. Julian, with the Earl B. Gilliam Bar Association. An effort to place the issue before voters in the upcoming election failed at City Hall earlier this year. St. Julian said creating a new panel could have a greater impact.
Aeiramique Glass, a restorative justice practitioner, spoke about her own experiences and said she suffered excessive police force during an arrest at a peaceful protest.
Glass also talked about the influence of unions who represent police officers. She said a number of police chiefs have told her they want to fire officers, “But police unions are so powerful.”
During a City College panel discussion and at a vigil in City Heights, others talked about seeing a stronger community involvement and other alternatives to policing including less police involvement as solutions to excessive use of force.
Catherine Mendonca, co-founder of United Against Police Terror, helped organize the vigil in City Heights. Mendonca talked about some of the changes she sees would help reduce police shootings.
“Police should not be the first to be called for a mental health evaluation. Medics should be called, social workers should be called. Not men in uniforms with guns and tasers regardless, if a PERT person arrives with police, that’s the problem. They arrive with police. We need med techs, someone that can monitor a person’s mental health,” Mendonca said.