Young Latinos in California’s Central Valley are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Gangs being the rock and the police being the hard place.
But their troubled lives begin way before they have to face gangs or the police. Most of them come from broken, poor immigrant families that work in the produce fields. And with the severe drought plaguing the state, there hasn’t been much work. The unemployment rate is twice as high as the national average. So by proxy, many turn to gangs.
“It’s about hopelessness, bro,” says Jesse de la Cruz, a reformed gang member from the area with a Ph.D, to Vice, about how gang involvement doesn’t come from being poor. “Look around you, it’s like the Third World, man. People have nothing.”
Those who find themselves even remotely involved with either of the local rival gangs — Sureños, Norteños or any of the related chapters — are led by gang leaders in prison and find trouble fast. They become soldiers who execute orders such as killings and selling drugs.
Once they have to face the police, their troubled lives get more complicated. Assistant District Attorney Thomas Brennan and Lieutenant Froilan Mariscal enforce an injunction established in 2009, b asically a civil action where the city sues the gang for gang-related behavior punishable with jail time. And all the gang activity in the area is the reason Brennan doesn’t offer plea bargains to gang members facing long sentences.
To make matters worse, the city offers very few helpful social programs.
Read more about the long gang history in California’s Central Valley from Vicehere.
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Every day, California farmworkers worry that the pandemic plowing through agricultural hubs will catch them and kill them. They also worry that not working will kill them. Now, there is further evidence that their worries are grounded in reality.
A recent survey – the Covid-19 Farmworker Study (COFS) – points out the grim reality this vulnerable community faces as they work to support the nation’s ongoing need for food services.
California’s farmworker community – now considered essential – is being hit hard by the Coronavirus.
California’s agricultural communities have been hit the hardest by the Coronavirus pandemic. From Imperial County along the U.S.-Mexico border to Fresno County in the Central Valley, these counties are also home to large migrant communities who are considered ‘essential workers’ as they work California’s farms and ranches.
As new details emerge, a grim picture of the virus among farmworkers is emerging. The Covid-19 Farmworker Study (COFS) reinforces the dire warnings that farmworker advocacy organizations made when the coronavirus lockdowns began: The least protected essential workers in the country, toiling under environmental conditions like excessive heat, pollution and dust, are being devastated by the coronavirus, directly and indirectly.
Now, five months into the pandemic, infection rates are spiking. Fresno County is experiencing 435 cases for every 100,000 residents; in Tulare it’s 472 and in Merced it’s 564. The statewide average: 269.
Though county figures say about 31% of overall cases are in the Latino community, some on the front lines estimate that up to 70% of cases from the recent spike have hit in that demographic, in a region where they account for about 42% of the population, according to census figures. Experts agree that official case counts across the state may be low because of testing problems.
And experts agree that fighting Covid-19 in the Central Valley could be an uphill battle. Many farmworkers live in crowded, dorm-like buildings. And thanks to a hostile government, many migrants are fearful of seeking any sort of medical or legal or financial help. Many of the people most at risk do not speak English and are traditionally hard for government to reach. Therefore, packing plants have emerged as coronavirus clusters in parts of the state.
The state is struggling to get a hold on the outbreak but officials have launched a new program they hope will have an impact.
The recent spike in infection rates within the Central Valley has drawn national attention, and now seems to have the attention of Gov. Gavin Newsom. His administration is dispatching three of his Coronavirus ‘strike teams’ to the region to help local officials track cases of Covid-19, inspect workplaces, quarantine the sick, and ramp up testing within vulnerable groups.
Each team, consisting of about a dozen experts on health, housing, public outreach, agriculture and other fields, will try to contain an alarming spread through the region. Much of their work will focus on the San Joaquin Valley, where agricultural fields and crowded food-processing plants have become fertile ground for the virus.
“If you asked me today what our biggest area of concern in a state as large as ours, it is indeed the Central Valley,” Newsom said recently in announcing the deployment. “We need to do more for our agricultural and farmworkers.”
In addition to the strike team, the state is allocating $52 million in federal money to help improve testing and contact tracing within the valley. It’s also spending $6 million in private donations to buy food and other basics for low-income Valley residents whose livelihoods have been threatened by the pandemic.
But for many farmworkers, despite the risk, they have little choice but to continue to work.
California’s farmworkers have long been one of the state’s most vulnerable communities. Now that the pandemic has ravaged the state’s economy, migrant farmworkers are considered ‘essential workers’ and are exempt from many of the protective lockdown orders, forcing them to risk their health while at work.
Meanwhile, the collapse of food service (restaurants and institutions) has le to the shutdown of farms across the state and roughly 20% of farm jobs have been cut – that amounts to nearly 100,000 workers. Those who are still working have largely seen their hours cut. So for many, they have little choice but to return to a dangerous job or risk juggling bills and going hungry.
On the job, however, workers lack control of their own safety. Fewer than half of those surveyed said they had received masks from their employers. Even among those who had, they had received them once or a couple of times. (Farmworkers generally wear face coverings to protect themselves from pesticide dust, dirt and the sun. More than 95 percent of those surveyed said they are masked in the fields.)
Social distancing is still an idea, not a reality, for many of those surveyed. In some cases, farmworkers who asked for better protections, such as more distancing in the fields, or hand sanitizer, have faced retaliation. Crew bosses have punished them by cutting their hours or days, advocates said.
The proliferation of security and surveillance cameras has revealed cases of police malpractice and brutality that usually target Black and Brown minorities. These cases range from people being stopped by police cars and then getting beaten up following a minor discussion, to instances in which police officers fire their weapons with fatal consequences. Since the bashing of Rodney King in 1991, a case of police brutality that was caught on camera and sparked outrage in the Black community, the police has been increasingly scrutinized and instances in which procedure is not followed lead to legal battles.
Such was the case involving Officer Ray Villalvazo and teenager Isiah Murrietta-Golding, who was fatally shot by the officer during a chase in Fresno, California.
The chase happened after Isiah and his brother were approached by the police while driving a car. They were suspects in the killing of a man who had been shot and then crashed his car into a tree the day before. Isiah’s brother later pleaded guilty to the murder. The footage of Isiah’s death has resurfaced due to a wrongful death lawsuit that is being contested. Yes, Isiah shouldn’t have run away, but, according to the teenager’s father, who acts as the plaintiff, the killing was premeditated and unjustified. Also, there is a justifiable suspicion in these cases when it comes to discrimination towards minorities.
The incident took place in April 2017, but the heart-wrenching footage has just been released.
The incident took place while police was chasing Murrieta-Golding, an unarmed suspect. The fact that he wasn’t carrying a weapon is key, as the use of blunt force was ultimately unnecessary because the suspect did not represent a clear and imminent threat to the officers. However, an Office of Independent Review investigation concluded that the shooting was justified because the policemen believed that Murrieta-Golding was reaching for a weapon. As the Daily Mail reports, independent reviewer John Gliatta wrote: “‘The reasonableness of force is based on the officer making a split second decision after observing the suspect reaching for his waistband area several times during the foot pursuit”. But the footage questions whether the decision was really made in a split-second.
Yes, Murrieta-Golding was wanted in connection to a homicide . Yes, as we have said he was a fugitive and the officers were within their rights to capture him, but that does not mean they had to shoot him while he was running away.
The cop’s partner says “Good shot!” after the gun is fired… as if they were hunting or playing a video game.
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the video is the soundtrack, in which you can hear Villalvazo’s partner praising him for the shot. “Good shot!”. That is as wrong as it gets, from any point of view in which you wish to analyze it. It objectifies the suspect turned victim and makes killing seem inconsequential, like not a big deal. We can only imagine the suffering that was inflicted to Murrieta-Golding’s family after hearing these words. This kind of language is totally dehumanizing, and an affront to anyone who has been the victim of police brutality or who has lost a loved one in a similar way.
This takes police brutality to a whole new level: it reveals systematic cruelty.
Murrieta-Golding was shot on the back of the head after he had jumped a fence. He died three days later in the hospital. The boy’s father watched the video and now he believes that the use of lethal force was not justified. Legal analyst Tony Capozzi told ABC30: “From the video, the officer just comes up, crouches down, and shoots”. This description is chilling as it describes a calculated, cold action that does not seem to have been a “split-second decision”.
The plaintiff’s attorney is now pushing to consider the shooting unjustified, and the bodycam footage potentially supports the claim.
As ABC 30 reports, plaintiff’s attorney Stuart Chandler, who represents the boy’s father, said: “Isiah and his brother were considered possible or probable suspects. There was not a warrant for their arrest. There was no conduct by Isiah that day to ever show that he had a gun – because, of course, he didn’t”.
In the bodycam footage we can see the teenager stopping and then jumping the fence surrounding a daycare facility, at which point the officer aims and shoots. Chandler continued: “The law says there has to be an immediate threat of death or serious bodily injury, which clearly there wasn’t. This young man was trying to run away. And you can be as critical as you want about how you shouldn’t do that, but it doesn’t give police the right to use lethal force”. The trial is set for October 2020. And Chandler is gearing up for the case, having recently told CNN: “The fact that the police department and the city of Fresno’s police auditor all agreed that this shooting was justified is troubling in light of the video that clearly shows that it’s not”.