The highest concentrated poverty in the United States exists in Fresno. A diverse group gathered recently to discuss how to deal with police brutality that arises from the armed and often violent enforcement of class.
Fresno seemed like just another unknown far-off land to a southbound Toyota minivan full of Berkeley Copwatchers. But upon arrival to a reserved room in the Fresno Public Library, citizens and local activists gave these Berkeley-ites a taste of life in the Valley.
So it was: A six-hour-long Know Your Rights training in a windowless room on Saturday January 15, 2011.
The Fresno Brown Berets teamed up with longtime activist Gloria Hernandez to host Berkeley Copwatch for a mutual exchange of knowledge, experience, and to help us all realize that the copwatching community is far bigger than it might appear.
The highest concentrated poverty in the United States exists in Fresno. Permanent Gang Injunctions have already gone into effect. Between 2002 and 2009 Fresno had 27 police officers involved in repeat shootings of unarmed civilians with no disciplinary action taken against the shooters. Most of them are still on duty.
The cases of police misconduct that were shared throughout the day were some of the worst to reach my ears (but I’m a spring chicken in the Copwatching world). By the end of the training, however, all questions had received answers and everyone seemed comfortable with how to assert their rights. In fact, most of the answers to questions from the audience came from within the audience. Imagine a group – teens, grandmas, families, white, black, brown, Christian, Muslim, Native, male, female, whatever – all rising from their seats, ready to reenter the world outside of Know Your Rights but with their rights in mind, invigorated to empower themselves in the face of perpetual police brutality that Fresno sees more often than most. Everyone knew that to even begin to hold the police accountable community-members have to help spread a changing consciousness around policing. A consciousness that manifests itself in people watching what happens to their neighbors – in their streets – by armed Peace Officers who come from places outside of the local community.
And Fresno Police know about Copwatch. They see that an increasing number of people are watching them and it affects how they treat the public. After the training, later in the night, Fresno Copwatchers took the Berkeley folks out through their streets on just another weekend shift. One group of five Copwatchers documented Fresno Police towing a car because the driver had a suspended license. Another group of six happened to show up at the scene, honestly surprising the two officers on duty. In fact, these officers were caught so off guard by the herd of copwatchers that they called in their Sergeant to answer the copwatchers questions. This Sergeant could not provide any legal justification for why this car was searched and towed only because its driver had a suspended license.
So on it goes: increasingly popular, diverse, and non-violent engagement around police monitoring to send a moral reminder about who these Peace Officers are supposed to be working for.