Tensions are high in Salinas, an overwhelmingly Latino community on the central coast of California with a large number of farmworkers, where a demonstration was held on Sunday, May 25. Organizers reframed the ‘March Against Salinas Police Brutality‘ into a ‘March for Respect, Dignity and Justice,’ and worked extremely hard trying to control the entire messaging. For example, a woman living in Prunedale arrived at the pre-march rally in Closter Park in Alisal (East Salinas) with a small cardboard sign reading, “#FTP.” She was quickly approached by yellow-vested organizers and told she was not allowed to display her modest sign because it was not inline with the message and guidelines desired by the organizers.
The May 25 demonstration was called in response to the Salinas Police Department killing three people within the last three months. On Tuesday, May 20, officers shot and killed 44-year-old Carlos Mejia outside of a bakery at the corner of Del Monte and North Sanborn. They said he posed a threat because he was carrying garden shears and lunged at police, however videos taken from multiple perspectives do not show Mejia lunging, rather he was moving away from the officers. The killing of Mejia was preceded by the SPD killing of Osman Hernandez at Mi Pueblo market on May 9, and Angel Ruiz on March 20. Ruiz was shot by three Salinas Police Officers simultaneously in a Wing Stop parking lot. A video of the Carlos Mejia killing went viral, and on Wednesday, May 21 hundreds of people took to the streets of Salinas.
In “Notes from the Street and Struggle in Salinas,” Josh Baltimore reports, “Thursday afternoon, two groups on opposite sides of North Sanborn. ‘Amor y paz’ demonstration in front of the Breadbox Recreation Center did not allow people from the anti police violence protest to join them because their message was ‘too violent.’ One person was turned away because her sign read ‘We Want Justice.’ LULAC (League of United Latin-American Citizens), UFW (United Farm Workers) and MILPA (Motivating Individual Leadership for Public Advancement) have been working with ‘government officials’ to spread a message of ‘peace’ and an end to violence. Counterinsurgency is in full effect.”
Shortly after preventing the woman from Prunedale from carrying her “#FTP” sign, yellow-vested organizers of the May 25 demonstration surrounded Mario Buda, a Bay Area resident holding a sign with “FTP” in red spray-paint, and insisted that he not carry his personalized sign. Buda respectfully listened to the desires of the organizers, but declined to put his sign down. Several of the yellow-vested organizers stepped closer to Buda, taunted him, and again demanded he not carry his sign because it would offend the police and be the wrong message for the media.
As people began to support Buda, the yellow jackets took a few steps back, but others quickly stepped up. One member of the peace police, likely a high ranking official since she was wearing three César Chávez buttons on her yellow vest, insisted on handing someone her flyer with guidelines for the demonstration. An elder gentleman expressed support for Buda and declared, “The world has gotten heart from Salinas standing up, and we need to do that more.”
I asked Buda why he carried the sign and he replied, “to express my outrage about cops murdering people.” Buda was repeatedly harassed by organizers during the rally, however he carried his sign throughout the demonstration.
I spoke with Margaret Serna Bonetti who was speaking on behalf of Carlos Mejia’s family. Bonetti said that Mr. Mejia had been very traumatized before he was killed by Salinas Police Officers on May 20. Mr. Mejia was from El Salvador, where most of his family still is, and had lost his mother within the past six months.
After I spoke with Bonetti, reporters for FOX and CBS immediately began interviewing her. Bonetti was saying that the Mejia family would be holding a press conference on Tuesday, May 27, 12 PM, at Salinas City Hall, and then a service at Saint Mary’s Church the following day, May 28 (more details to follow). In the midst of being interviewed by FOX and CBS reporters, several yellow-vested organizers interrupted Bonetti and stated that she was not delivering the message the organizers wanted represented.
Prior to the march, a woman read a list a demands through a megaphone from inside the gazebo in Closter Park. The demands are: 1) Investigate all police killings in Salinas going back 10 years. 2) Fire Salinas Police Chief Kelly McMillin. 3) Arrest all the killer cops in Salinas. 4) Form a Citizen’s Police Review Board for Salinas.
Demonstrators converged in Salinas from across the state. Anti-police brutality movements were represented from cities including Los Angeles, Oxnard, Fresno, Santa Cruz, Oakland, Sacramento, and Santa Rosa.
Although organizers of the march tried hard, they were not able to prevent all participants from displaying or vocalizing anti-police sentiments. Manuel Quintero, born and raised in Salinas, carried a sign stating “Sin Justicia No Hay Respeto (Without Justice There Is No Respect).” Quintero said he was at the demonstration because it was very unjust how the Police killed Carlos Mejia. “There was a better way to stop him. They did not need to kill him.”
UPDATE 5/26: Press Conference on Tuesday, May 27, 12pm, at City Hall to announce: Legal Action Against Salinas Police for Killing Mr. Carlos Mejia.
Salinas High School Student Instructed To Not Display “Fuck The Law” Shirt
At the rally in Closter Park prior to the march, I spoke with a young person that had “Fuck the Law” written on her shirt. She, a student at Salinas High School, said people should be able to express how they feel, and that it was appropriate for her to have “Fuck the Law” on her shirt.
When I photographed her marching later in the day, her shirt was mostly covered by a hybrid USA/Mexico ‘Unidos’ flag which she was displaying.
Today (May 27) in Santa Cruz I spoke with two people that have been working with the organizers of the march, including before, during and after. At the rally before the march, they witnessed a group of yellow-vested organizers surround the young Salinas High School student while she was with her friends, and instruct her to not display her shirt. These witnesses that I spoke with said they personally spoke up on behalf of the young woman, saying that she was from Salinas and should be able to express her grief while wearing her personalized shirt.
Evidence is mounting that so-called community organizers, including UFW and LULAC (unions with local and national bases), as well as a college instructor and leader at a non-profit organization, are collaborating in some form with the Salinas Police Department and other government officials to silence and distort anti-police sentiments within the community of Salinas.
** The UFW accepts sponsorship from corporations such as Chevron, Budweiser, Southern California Gas Co., AT&T, and Southwest Airlines. (source)
Bradley Allen is a photographer, Indymedia volunteer, and website developer living in Santa Cruz, California. All photos are free for non-commercial reuse, on non-commercial websites (So Not On Facebook). For other use, please contact me. Photo credit and a link to this article is appreciated. Support local independent media.