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Vol. 78/No. 43      December 1, 2014

Fighters speak out against
cops’ killings in Bay Area

BURLINGAME, Calif. — Members of three families with relatives killed by police told their story at a speakout at the International Association of Machinists hall here Nov. 15.

All three killings took place in cities south of San Francisco and in each case they were followed by protests by family and community members.

“The police killed my brother. We were also failed by the health system,” said Matt Chang, whose brother, Errol Chang, suffered from schizophrenia.

Chang said that instead of being able to get the treatment needed for his mental illness, his brother was put in jail, including in solitary confinement for four months. “Then they offered him a plea bargain,” he said. “So my brother emerged from this, not as someone who needed help, but as a convicted felon.”

Chang showed a video of the tank and SWAT team the police brought to their home in Pacifica March 18, the day his brother was killed. Errol Chang, who was having a psychotic episode, had barricaded himself inside the house and at one point leaned out the window with his hands up. Before shooting him, the cops threw flash grenades at the house, as well as at bystanders who were filming outside.

After the killing family members, friends and neighborhood residents and others held a vigil in Pacifica that received widespread news coverage. “People from the community called the TV station and told them they need to cover this,” said Teresa Gutierrez, a childhood friend of Errol’s, who attended the speak-out.

“There’s a disconnect between the citizens and the cops. They are supposed to protect and serve. Instead they are killing,” said Tony Serrano, the brother of Yanira Serrano, who was gunned down by a San Mateo County sheriff on June 3 in Half Moon Bay, a few miles down the coast from Pacifica.

Yanira Serrano, 18, also suffered from a mental illness. Tony Serrano described his experience trying to get help when his sister refused to take her medication. Instead of the medical assistance he asked for when he called 911, Sheriff’s Deputy Menh Trieu arrived. Within 30 seconds he fatally shot Yanira, who had a knife in her hand that she had been using to cut fruit.

While his sister lay dying on the ground, Trieu pointed his gun at Tony Serrano and prevented him from coming to Yanira’s aid.

“I am here to support these other families,” said Dolores Piper, who described the police killing of her nephew, 15-year-old Derrick Gaines, in South San Francisco in 2012. “The police had no business stopping him on that day,” she said. “He was taken from us.”

The meeting was co-sponsored by the Militant Labor Forum and the three family members who spoke. Among the 45 people in attendance were members of area unions, including a member of the American Postal Workers Union who brought information on the struggle against the slashing of jobs and facilities at U.S. Postal Service.

Eric Simpson, a Militant correspondent who covered the police killing of Yanira Serrano, praised the courage of the families who protested the killings with news conferences and disciplined protest actions.

“Police are never friends of labor,” Simpson said. “During a strike they protect scabs and attack strikers. The job they’re are trained for is to preserve the privileges of a tiny minority.” Simpson encouraged active support for growing fights against police brutality across the country, from California to Chicago to Ferguson, Missouri.

“I’m really proud of my people that helped me organize the rallies,” said Serrano. “By coming out into the streets, by screaming about this, we are opening doors. We are seeing more people talk about these things.”

The Serrano family and many of those who participated in the protests in Half Moon Bay are residents of Moonridge Housing Apartments, a complex built for workers in local flower and mushroom greenhouses. During the speakout, a mural painted by Moonridge residents was projected on the wall. Serrano said they are fighting to have the mural, titled “Yanira Serrano’s Mariposa Mural,” set up in a location that can be a reminder of his sister and their fight.

“They try to put you in the position that you’re the evil ones. But we’re not going to let them,” Serrano said. “We’re going to keep on fighting.”
Related articles:
As grand jury decision nears, actions protest cop’s killing of Michael Brown
Atlanta forum discusses fight against cop brutality
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