From Ferguson to San Diego…

From Ferguson to San Diego, How the Black Student Justice Coalition is Leading the Way on Criminal (In)Justice Issues in San Diego, CA

By Rachel Scoma                                                                                                                                      San Diego Socialist Campaign
February 16, 2015

The Black Student Justice Coalition (BSJC) blasted onto the scene after organizing a strategic “die-in” (a form of protest where activists simulate being dead, in this case to represent Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager who was shot and killed in Ferguson, MO by white police officer Darren Wilson and left dead on the ground for four and a half hours) at the San Diego City Council Inauguration. The protest created a media bonanza when Lorie Zapf’s aide made comments that the protestors were “f****** idiots” and said she “wanted to shoot them”. Providing the residents of San Diego a brief moment of transparency from our civic leaders and revealing what the ruling class truly thinks of democratic voices who oppose the status quo.

While demonstrating at this event, the group made sure to hand each Council Member a list of demands that included: 1.) The Need for a Special Prosecutor for all “Deadly Force Cases”;  2.) Clear-cut investigation procedures when cops use Deadly Force; 3.) Tactics to address “systemic and structural racism” present in policing practices; 4.) A Review Board that has real power to hold police accountable including the power to subpoena witnesses and the power to remove offending officers from duty.

Both Myrtle Cole and David Alvarez said they would read the documents and provide feedback. Ms. Cole went an extra step and proposed that the City Council Committee for “Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods” address the demands on their agenda. You can find out more about this event here:

Mark Jones, the lead organizer of the BSJC explained, “My hope in starting the group was to bring the National Movement of Ferguson to San Diego, starting with the list of demands drafted by activists there and tailored to our needs here. It was a big win to get on the City Council Committee agenda in just a few months. We will continue to meet with local officials about our concerns and build support for these policies within the community. However, we will not stop there.” Mr. Jones went on to explain that the problems facing black and brown folks, “goes beyond police brutality and requires that we direct attention to attacking laws and leaders who are directly responsible for the most harrowing and unjust experiences suffered by people of color in San Diego.”

Specifically, Mark Jones and the BSJC will continue organizing to address police brutality at the local level as outlined in the demands above, but have also committed to addressing the laws that give police the authority to interfere in poor communities of color: Curfew sweeps, gang injunctions, and San Diego District Attorney’s failure to process Prop 47 petitions reducing certain felonies to misdemeanors.

Curfew Sweeps: In the last four years alone, 2500 minors in City Heights and Southeast San Diego have been arrested by the San Diego Police Department for walking the streets past 10:00 p.m. The SDPD is quick to point to the lower crimes rates among juveniles as proof that curfew sweeps are successful, but local NBC 7 news and Keegan Kyle from Voice of San Diego have uncovered that juvenile crime is down throughout the city and the state, regardless of curfew sweeps. Read more here: Additionally, rather than make our communities safe, these policies and their racist enforcement (the police focus only on the southeast portions of the City) set up a “School to Prison” pipeline, whereby our youth are being labeled criminals, placed on probation, monitored, and rearrested for the most minor offenses, all stemming from the original offense of being out past curfew. It must be noted, that though the law encapsulates all of San Diego city, the police are not enforcing these laws in places like La Jolla, Mira Mesa, Mission Valley, etc. etc.

Gang Injunctions: Gang injunctions are civil court orders that attempt to address crime by using a lower legal standard to label someone a “gang member” than required by the criminal justice system, resulting in serious civil liberties violations. Law enforcement use them as a tool to label people gang members and restrict their activities in a defined area. Gang injunctions make otherwise legal, everyday activities–such as riding the bus with a friend or picking a spouse up from work late at night–illegal for people they target. Getting listed in the injunction as a “gang member” is often arbitrary because of the lower legal standard and merely wearing the wrong color shirt.

Prop 47: In the 2014 November election, California voters voted in favor of Prop 47, a ballot measure that would reduce several non-violent offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. This means that many people stuck in our already overcrowded jails would be free to go home. Mark Jones explained the BSJC met with the San Diego Public Defenders office who has already filed approximately 18,000 petitions on behalf of approximately 2500 people to release them from jail. However, Bonnie Dumanis, the San Diego District Attorney has refused to process the vast majority of these petitions, allowing these people to stay in jail, in direct contravention to the California Constitution, the will of the voters, and what justice demands. The BSJC plans to work with other activist groups to organize a campaign to flood Bonnie Dumanis’ office with calls from the public, demanding that she process these petitions.