By Armando Vazquez
To quote the late artist genius Gil Scott-Heron in his seminal poem written in 1978, A poem for Jose Campos Torres, “I had said I wasn’t gonna write no more poems like this. I had confessed to myself all along, tracer of life, poetry trends. That awareness, consciousness, poems that screamed of pain and the origins of pain and death had blanketed my tablets and, therefore, my friends, brothers, sisters, in-laws, outlaws, and besides, they already knew. But brother Torres, common ancient bloodline, brother Torres is dead. I had said I wasn’t gonna write no more poems like this. I had said I wasn’t gonna write no more words down about people kicking us when we’re down, about racist dogs that attack us and drive us down, drag us down and beat us down but the dogs are in the street. The dogs are alive and the terror in our hearts has scarcely diminished. It has scarcely brought us the comfort we suspected. The recognition of our terror and the screaming release of that recognition has not removed the certainty of that knowledge—how could it? The dogs, rabid, foaming with the energy of their brutish ignorance… I had said I wasn’t gonna write no more poems like this, I made a mistake”
Much like brother Gil, I said I was not going to write any more articles about abuse, brutality and state sponsored law enforcement killings of our people; but then came the police/ICE murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Jakelin(7 yrs. old), Sandra Bland, Mariee (1 yr. old),Alton Sterling, Andres Guardado, Jamar Clark, Juan (16 yrs. Old),Wilmer (2 yrs. old),Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, Tamir Rice, Darlyn (10 Yrs. old), Carlos (1 yr. old), Laquan McDonald, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Meagan Hockaday, Alfonso Limon, Jose Zepeda, Robert Ramirez, Michael Mahoney, Elijah McClain, Paul Rea, and now Vanessa Guillen who disappeared mysteriously on April 22, 2020, and has not been seen or heard of since, to name just a few black and brown murder victim of police across this nation.
All of us in San Diego, Oxnard, Los Angeles and San Francisco throughout California, and throughout this nation, and the rest of the world for that matter, have been brainwashed and indoctrinated from womb to tomb to believe that this country, the United States of America, is a nation of laws. Many of us would agree with that assertion. The current uprising lead by Black Lives Matter and other social justice and police reform activists across the nation fighting against racism, injustice and police brutality and killings begs the question what set of laws are we talking about? The laws for Trump, his billionaire cronies, and super rich folks in general? The laws of white folk’s privilege? The laws for the politically well connected? Or the laws for the rest of us that seems to show no semblance of equity, mercy, empathy or fairness to the justice afford to the aforementioned groups? Exactly which set of laws are we talking about? The countless Trump dumpster fires of lawlessness and fascism has rip off the shameful mask of the American (in) justice system and expose it for what it is; hypocritical, selectively cruel, disproportionately punitive and often deadly for poor folk and people of color in this nation.
Invariably for many people of color in this country our first contact with this evil paradox is with the cops. According to eye witness accounts Andres Guardado was working as security guard when Los Angeles Sheriff opened up on him, shooting and killing him as he ran “away” from the cops in mortal fear. It turns out that Freddie Grey, the 25 year old black man, was killed by the Baltimore police for making eye contact with the cops. That was Grays only “crime” He paid with his life for it! For other black youth like Elijah McClain and Tamir Rice wearing a hoodie or ski cap was enough to get them killed by cops. That sick, violent and warped mind set of the nation’s cops that automatically prompts them to immediately and rabidly escalate an encounter with a person of color to the use of deadly force murder must wiped out of every police department in America. Many of us have mortal fear of the cops in communities of color. Just ask the folks that live in these impoverished and often lawless communities. Ask the barrio and ghetto parents of brown and black male youth what they fear most when these youths go out to “have a good time” on any given weekend in America. The universal response will be a fearful muted choked response, “the cops!”
Something cold, inhumane and often times evil happens to a cop when she/he patrols the barrios or the ghettos of this nation. Law enforcement in the ghettos and barrios of America has always devolved into a deadly drama of “us” versus “them” militaristic game of survival and the community has been losing for 245 years. Why is this so? At this point is where the vast majority of the disingenuous American public faint naiveté, stupidity and ignorance, why indeed! We, the American public create this militarized law enforcement monster. Because in America we have been indoctrinated to fear those folks that do not look like us, talk like us, live like us. In pathetic and brainwashed panic we discern, that “they” have come to snatch and steal “our” hard earn material bounty and blessings. So we must arm ourselves, our police officers, and our military to the teeth to make sure that the “empowering democratization and browning of America” never ever happens.
For 245 years the American policing narrative has been to blindly fund, grant, concede, acquiesce, and rollover (like the fear driven lapdogs that we are) at every turn to the demands of law enforcement. This collective community cowardice come at a huge price, where common sense, legal, moral, ethical and innovative/restorative community safety programs are systemically maligned, discounted or ignored. So the nation’s cops, the old policing narrative demands, must have full control of all the funding, community “safety” programs ,guns, laws and militarized toy, we are held hostage to one violent and often deadly “community safety” policing model.
And if that was enough then the orchestrated and racist war on crime, drugs, gangs, immigrants law enforcement hysteria of the past 50-60 years and the American cop was afforded even more unrestricted authorization and power to proceed with every costly, stupid, inept, and deadly new experiment that the police wanted to roll out in the ghettos and barrios of this nation. The predominately white American public gives the cops a free and unfettered pass, as long as the cops’ brutal and often lawless macho war games are conducted in the barrios and ghettos of this nation. So the barrios and ghettos get the tanks, the armored vehicles, the war on crime, the war on drugs, the war on gangs, the gang injunctions, the no knock laws, the three strikes, the zero tolerance, the mandatory and enhanced sentences, the elimination of the Miranda rights; we are the new slave beneficiaries of the law enforcement prison industrial complex that further enriches and safeguards the plutocratic class and their acquiescent lapdogs and flunkies.
The modern militarized cop is a creation of our worst delusional and sick fears; this is the modern police Frankenstein monster that we have created. And for the past four or five decades this police monster has been given free and unrestricted license to wreak havoc and death here in Oxnard and throughout the nation. Meagan Hockaday, the 23 year old black woman from Oxnard, was perhaps inebriated, in full psychological meltdown, allegedly with knife in hand when she allegedly attacked the OPD cop; she was shot and killed almost instantly by the officer. Sandra Bland, a brilliant mind and activist, was profiled pulled for simple traffic infraction, she got into it with the cops, she was arrested and a couple day later she commits “suicide” at the hand of the cops in Texas. We will never know their side of the deadly encounter with the police. Sometimes, and far too frequently, when we, in the hood, make stupid, bad or fear driven decisions with cops it invariably can cost us our lives. Sometimes we are just the innocent victims of police murder.
The violent and deadly psycho-policing genie (Trump) is out of the bottle, it is now the horrible truth that has universally been revealed that we are a nation of violent hypocrites, living in a nation controlled by greed, violence and money; and that the more money you have, the more justice you can buy or exact on your enemies, foreign and domestic.
Brothers and sisters we must take a hard sober look at what we have become as a nation; and at this very historic moment decide where we want to go with this current and abiding pathological myth that we are a nation of one set of laws for all of us. We are not and in our gut we know it! So where do we go America?
In its 115 year history Oxnard has stupidly self-inflicted more black eyes on its reputation than an inept drunk hockey team, all because of race and fear. The current Civil “Gang” Injunctions rank as two of the worst black eyes ever self-inflicted, despite the fact that Oxnard for its population and size continues to ranks as one of the safest city in the entire nation. So why is Oxnard so safe and its citizenry so fearful? For 115 years there has been a democratic power sharing and citizenry communication vacuum. The Mexican/Latino population that represents approximately 80(or more) % of the population in Oxnard have had little to no political decision making power. A people that hungers for inclusion, justice and democracy is a people that have systemically been oppressed for 115 years. Conversely the small yet omnipotent ruling white population have had a run of uninterrupted control of the city for 115 years.
The Mexican/Latino community in Oxnard is very much disenfranchised and voiceless because it has no power and the elite ruling class is ever fearful of losing its power and control. Former City Manager Greg Nyhoff early on in his short tenure in Oxnard quipped, “Where are all the Latinos in the city?” I guess the guy could not find us and left. I do not know if the new man, Alexander Nguyen, see the Latinos or Black any clearer than the old city manger. The truth is of course that we are here, we have always been here! NOW we must demand police reform that has community stakeholders at the table at all times, funds to operate culturally and ethnically congruent empowerment and enrichment programming by reputable community based organization, full and equal democratic participation in the civic life of Oxnard.
Chiques Organizing for Rights and Equality (CORE), the Oxnard community, and the Oxnard Police Department (OPD) are at odds about the future of the two current Civil Gang Injunctions. Recently we pointed out to the OPD and Chief Whitney that the police budget for the proposed fiscal year 2020-2021 roughly $73,000,000 dollars (with an additional whooping $40 million that has been negotiated into the next three years by inept city administrators and the all-powerful police union) and that as far as we can discern the city does not spend ONE dollar in independent community based restorative/rehabilitative social service programs for our troubled and at-risk youth, this has to change if we are to proceed with an equitable and restorative 21st century community safety model. The former Café on A/Acuna Art Collective has presented on various occasion to various Oxnard city officials our Restorative, Wellness and Green programming that we created, developed, and operated over three decades in greater Oxnard, we have never had eve a curtsey call to tell us that they were not interest in our best practices programs that has save the city of Oxnard and its resident hundreds of thousands of dollars over the three decade period that we operated our programs.
Nonetheless, The Acuna Art Collective, the KEYS Leadership Academy, Oxnard Multicultural Mental Health (OMMH) collective, CORE and others are working with other community organizations and leaders of the community to develop effective, humane and universal access to restorative and rehabilitative programs that provide jobs, vocational training, educational opportunities, mental health and substance abuse counselling to our at-risk youth and troubled adult population in greater Oxnard. A serious investment into these social service programs will be far less expense than the roughly $70 million dollars that we spend solely on a police force that is must have the community at the table when funding and safety programs are discussed look to the community for safety innovation and dynamic partnerships.
We must my brothers and sisters go to love, nonviolence and reconciliation and bring the cops along; that will lead us to justice and peace! There is no other path if we are to save this nation. How can we possibly justify and live with ourselves if we continue down the same evil, violent and horrific world of apartheid “American style” where less that 1% of the mega-rich rigs and control the entire capitalistic game by sic’ing the cops, ICE, the military and every other “law enforcement” apparatus under their control? In a country where the upper and middle class is drowning in delusional fear of losing everything that they have worked so hard to acquire; and the rest of us (the poor and people of color) smolder in our hopelessness, despair, rage and hatred ready to explode like an apocalyptic volcano the likes that no one has ever witnessed or experienced, that will rain justice for all or buries us all in fire and brimstone once and for all. Justice for all or peace for no one, no matter your riches.
Love demands action and that requires we put down the fear, the hate, and weapons, and open our hearts, souls and minds to the simple demands of peace. Peace and love are the greatest community safety paradigms, but this will require us to roll up our sleeves and work hard with mindful and patient hearts to begin and new 21st century community safety practices that will turning even the most trouble and beaten down residents and communities into franchised, productive and mindful individuals or sectors of our communities. In these uniquely dangerous and perilous times we have been shown that we are in this mess together, all of us! Together, only together can we transform our hearts, souls and minds; extend a caring hand to help uplift our brothers and sister, and slowing begins the massive redemptive job of transforming this we all love town and this nation into a just, equitable and peaceful world. We have nothing to fear and our humanity to regain, love will illuminate our path!
Armando Vazquez, M.Ed. is Executive Director of Acuna Art Gallery/Café on A, Executive Director for The KEYS Leadership Academy and Chairman of the Oxnard Multicultural Mental Health/coalition
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Citizens Journal.