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Video Released Shows Police Killing Unarmed Man in LA Suburb

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In this June 2, 2013, frame from Gardena Police Department dash-cam video, officers aim their guns at Ricardo Diaz-Zeferino, right, and two friends while investigating a bicycle theft in Gardena, Calif. Moments later police fatally shot Diaz-Zeferino. Hours after a federal judge ordered the release of videos sought by The Associated Press and other news organizations Tuesday, July 14, 2015, a federal appeals court has issued a stay blocking release of the video. (Gardena Police Department)

In this June 2, 2013, frame from Gardena Police Department dash-cam video, officers aim their guns at Ricardo Diaz-Zeferino, right, and two friends while investigating a bicycle theft in Gardena, Calif. Moments later police fatally shot Diaz-Zeferino. Hours after a federal judge ordered the release of videos sought by The Associated Press and other news organizations Tuesday, July 14, 2015, a federal appeals court has issued a stay blocking release of the video. (Gardena Police Department)

BRIAN MELLEY, Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Police car camera footage ordered released by a federal judge show a California man disobeying orders to keep his hands up, but with his palms open by his waist when he was fatally shot by officers two years ago.

Police in a Los Angeles suburb fought aggressively to the keep the videos under wraps, but a federal judge unsealed them Tuesday after news media organizations, including The Associated Press, argued the public had a right to see the footage.

The videos shot from two angles provide different perspectives on the last seconds of Ricardo Diaz-Zeferino’s life as he raises and lowers his hands three times and crumples to the street from a hail of gunfire from Gardena officers.

Judge Stephen V. Wilson said the public had a right to see what led the city of Gardena to pay $4.7 million to settle a lawsuit with Diaz-Zeferino’s family and another man wounded in the shooting that followed a botched report of a bicycle theft early June 2, 2013.

“The fact that they spent the city’s money, presumably derived from taxes, only strengthens the public’s interest in seeing the videos,” Wilson wrote in a 13-page decision. “Moreover, defendants cannot assert a valid compelling interest in sealing the videos to cover up any wrongdoing on their part or to shield themselves from embarrassment.”

Against a backdrop of intense public scrutiny of police shootings nationwide, a lawyer for AP, the Los Angeles Times and Bloomberg argued the videos should be unsealed under a First Amendment right to access court documents.

“The Associated Press, joining with other news organizations, believes it’s important that the public has access to videos like this to better understand the actions of their police officers,” spokesman Paul Colford said.

The ruling comes amid public debates over what footage should be made public as police officers and cruisers are increasingly equipped with cameras to capture evidence that can be used against criminals or to hold officers accountable for their own behavior.

Michael Overing, a lawyer and journalism professor at the University of Southern California, said that in addition to being cited in future court arguments, the ruling could help provide guidance as lawmakers grapple with those issues.

“Right now video is being suppressed,” Overing said. “This is going to help open the floodgates so the public can see it … and see if actions are justified.”

Gardena was joined by police chiefs and officer groups around the state in arguing that making such videos public would dissuade cities from employing the technology.

Wilson said that was a political consideration and not for him to judge.

A lawyer for Gardena and its police argued that releasing the footage would create a “rush to judgment” about the officers’ behavior, but Wilson dismissed that idea during arguments Monday. The judge said the public may see the videos and conclude the shooting was justified, which is what prosecutors decided.

Footage shows the final moments of the encounter as an officer yells, “Get your hands up.”

Diaz-Zeferino and two other men stand with their backs to a sidewalk and arms in the air.

Diaz-Zeferino, who was drunk, then lowered his hands and slowly took about five small steps toward police. He spread his arms out with palms open as if to plead with them. Told to put them back up, he complied, then removed his ball cap and lowered his hands as shots were fired.

Footage shot in front of him shows his palms open and facing upward. Footage from a second camera behind two of the officers to the side of Diaz-Zeferino show his right hand briefly swing out of view at his waist as they fire.

The officers said they feared he was reaching for a weapon.

What the videos don’t show is that he wasn’t armed, and witnesses said Zeferino was trying to tell police they had the wrong men.

The stolen bike belonged to his brother. He and the two other men were friends looking for it.

The unlocked bike was swiped outside a CVS pharmacy. Police dispatchers erroneously reported it as a robbery and made it a high-priority call, raising the specter of armed suspects.

Lawyers for Diaz-Zeferino said the investigation into the shooting was tainted because officers were able to review the videos before giving statements, a courtesy not offered to a member of the public involved in a shooting.

Attorney Samuel Paz said he may ask federal prosecutors to investigate whether the shooting was a civil rights violation.

“When the public sees the video and other law enforcement agencies see the video, this is very much a criminal act,” Paz said.

Although the order was stayed by a federal appeals court late in the day, it came hours after the court had released what Wilson said were videos “potentially upsetting and disturbing because of the events they depict,” but “not overly gory or graphic.”

Diaz-Zeferino crumpled to the ground after the gunfire. Eutiquio Acevedo Mendez, who was shot once and injured, toppled to the street and lay still.

Two minutes later, police handcuffed a bloody and limp Diaz-Zeferino. Nine minutes after he was shot, paramedics arrived.

___

Associated Press writer Amanda Lee Myers contributed to this story.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Activism

Greater Justice is Coming: Taking on Abusive and Deadly Policing with New DOJ Leadership

And I am not just talking about justice as an idea. I am talking about a Department of Justice that is willing to take on abusive policing and law enforcement agencies that are corrupted by racism.

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Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta

Thanks to the voters who elected President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, we now have a Department of Justice that actually cares about justice.

And I am not just talking about justice as an idea. I am talking about a Department of Justice that is willing to take on abusive policing and law enforcement agencies that are corrupted by racism.

In his first month on the job, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland reversed a Trump-era policy that made it harder for the Justice Department to investigate police departments and hold them accountable for violating people’s civil rights.

And he was just getting started. In the past few weeks, the Justice Department has announced that it is starting an investigation of the police departments in Minneapolis—where George Floyd was murdered by former officer Derek Chauvin while other officers watched. The Minnesota AFL-CIO has called the city’s police union a white supremacist-led organization.

The Justice Department has also launched an investigation of policing practices in Louisville, where Breonna Taylor was shot to death in her own home.

These investigations will look at more than those individual killings. This kind of “patterns and practices” investigation looks at the big picture to determine whether and how a law enforcement agency is violating people’s civil rights. They are a way to evaluate—and do something about—the impact that systemic racism has in a police department and the communities it is supposed to serve.

“Patterns and practices” investigations can lead to consent decrees — agreements that require police departments to change the way they operate, with oversight from the Justice Department to make sure change actually happens.

In the past, Justice Department investigations and consent decrees have been important tools for getting violent police behavior under control and changing abusive cultures in out-of-control departments.

When the Trump Administration shut down this kind of investigation, it sent a signal to police departments that the Justice Department would look the other way rather than hold them responsible for misconduct. Of course, Trump himself repeatedly made it clear that he was not opposed to violent policing. In fact, he encouraged it.

Biden has spoken personally about the importance of ending police violence and reimagining public safety. He has called on Congress to pass the imperfect but important George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.

Another good sign was the announcement that the FBI is doing a civil rights investigation of the killing of Andrew Brown, Jr., who was shot in the back of the head by police in Elizabeth City, North Carolina.

All of these are important steps in protecting Americans, especially Black Americans, from abusive policing.

Biden has also spoken out against Republicans’ racist efforts to pass new voting restrictions in states all over the country. Biden has called those efforts “sick” and we can count on his Justice Department to do what they can to challenge voter suppression—even though right-wing justices on the U.S. Supreme Court have greatly weakened the tools that the Voting Rights Act gave the department to prevent Black voters from having their rights denied.

The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has just written the Arizona Senate president to raise concerns that a bogus “audit” of ballots from last year’s presidential election that is being conducted by private contractors from the so-called “Stop the Steal” movement could be violating the Voting Rights Act.

There are more signs that we can expect changes at the Justice Department. Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta, who was recently confirmed by the U.S. Senate, started her career as a civil rights attorney by winning freedom for dozens of mostly Black people wrongly jailed in a small Texas town.   And the Senate should soon confirm Kristen Clarke to head the civil rights division, where she started her legal career investigating police conduct, hate crimes, and human trafficking.

Together with Biden and Garland, Gupta and Clarke will save lives, defend civil rights, and give millions of Americans hope that greater justice is coming.

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Bay Area

Asian/Black Relations Can Get Better Together During Heritage Month

Heritage months are ways to benchmark our progress and see what urgently needs to be done now. 

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Tim Mossholder/Unsplash

President Joe Biden has given May a new name. It’s no longer Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, as proclaimed by Obama in 2009.  And it’s definitely not Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, as proclaimed by Jimmy Carter in 1978. It’s Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Month, as proclaimed by Biden on the last day of April this year. 

That’s our new umbrella. A big one, incorporating everyone. From the East Bay’s Rocky Johnson, the father of Dwayne the Rock, an African American/Samoan American. To Vallejo’s Gabriella Sarmiento Wilson, a/k/a H.E.R., the African American Filipino of Grammy- Oscar-winning- songs fame.

Despite how huge the umbrella is incorporating more than 23 million people from more than 20 countries of origin, we are all American. And we’re the fastest-growing group in the nation, set to double in size, overtake the Latinx population and, with 46 million people, become the largest ethnic group in America by 2060. 

And so we’ve come to expect people seeking to divide us up. During a Zoom conference of attorneys general last week, a member of the audience had a question. “There seems to be an emphasis on attributing anti-Asian violence to white people,” said a white male to the panel. “And I’m just wondering if it is healthy to do that, or an effort to do that…when in some incidents, the attacks were committed by non-white people.”

Essentially, the man was saying, “Don’t blame white people,” implying that Blacks have often been perps in some high profile crimes against Asians. 

But it seemed more like a question to drive a wedge to break up our solidarity.

Fortunately, civil rights activists John Yang knew exactly how to answer that one. 

“Yes, there have been attacks on Asian Americans by people that are not white, no question about that,” he said. “But I would ask everyone to be really, really careful about what the actual statistics are, because the statistics show that the predominant number of people attacking Asians are Caucasian.” Then he referred to some high-profile cases in the Bay Area where Blacks attacked elderly Asians, once again pointing out it was the exception, not the norm.

It was the right response to avoid creating divisiveness and to let everyone know that the only way to end racism is to fight it together.

But he also said something that rang true to most Asian Americans. 

“Let’s be clear, there (are) elements of anti-Blackness in the Asian American community, that we do need to unlearn as well,” he said. Then he made it personal. “And that’s something that I’m going to call out on myself, and in our community, and we would ask everyone to do the same thing as we’re all learning together.”

It was a rare candid public moment that unveiled a sense of friction between Asian and Black communities that has existed since the days I wrote op-ed pieces in the 1990s in the Tribune. 

Heritage months are ways to benchmark our progress and see what urgently needs to be done now. 

Like the speaker said, a lot of it involves calling out where we have fallen short of the ideal.

That’s what Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Heritage Month is really for—to learn the good, and unlearn the bad, together. 

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Bay Area

Newsom Announces New Round of Stimulus Checks, Budget Surplus of Nearly $76 Billion

If approved by the Legislature, the $600 payments announced Monday would go to income-eligible taxpayers who did not receive the first stimulus payment as well as additional $500 payments to families with dependents and families living in the state without legal permission.

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California residents who made up to $75,000 last year would be eligible for a $600 stimulus check under a budget proposal Gov. Gavin Newsom outlined Monday in Oakland.

     In a briefing at the Spanish Speaking Unity Council, Newsom said the state would spend some $12 billion on the payments, made possible by a projected general fund surplus of $75.7 billion. 

     Roughly $38 billion in total from that surplus would be used for pandemic relief programs like the stimulus checks, $5.2 billion to assist low-income renters pay off their back rent and $2 billion to help residents pay off unpaid utility bills. 

     “We think this is a significant, direct not only stimulus, but direct relief to millions and millions of Californians in need,” Newsom said.

     The state sent out initial $600 stimulus payments earlier this year as part of Newsom’s initial budget proposal in January.

     Those payments, which the Legislature approved in February, were targeted at residents who made less than $30,000 in 2020, received the California earned-income tax credit or filed their taxes with an Individual Tax Identification Number. 

     Just as with those initial payments, the $600 checks Newsom announced Monday would be dispersed to state residents regardless of their immigration status, as people living in the U.S. without legal permission were not eligible for the three federal stimulus payments issued over the last 15 months.

     If approved by the Legislature, the $600 payments announced Monday would go to income-eligible taxpayers who did not receive the first stimulus payment as well as additional $500 payments to families with dependents and families living in the state without legal permission.

     “I love saying Oakland, California, is the most unapologetic sanctuary city in America,” Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said at the briefing. “I also commend Gov. Gavin Newsom for recognizing that our immigrant workers will be taken care of by the state of California.”

     The funding to assist with unpaid rent and utilities, Newsom said, is part of an effort to pay off all back rent owed in the state as a result of the pandemic. 

    The governor noted that the results of studies on the amount of back rent owed in the state have varied between $2.5 billion and north of $5 billion, but the proposal sets aside $5.2 billion for back rent out of “an abundance of caution.”

      Newsom is expected to tease out other portions of his May budget proposal revision this week before unveiling the full proposal on Friday.

     Newsom and the state legislature will then have until June 15 to approve the budget before the new fiscal year begins on July 1. 

   

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