In the year since 22-year-old Sean Monterrosa was shot and killed by Vallejo police while kneeling and raising his hands, not a lot has changed, but it is clear that police reform advocates are pressing hard on the California state legislature — and having some impact.
The killings, however, continue, a fact evident by the number of families from across the Bay Area who had loved ones killed just this past year, a few of whom gathered at Sunday’s rally in front of San Francisco’s City Hall honoring Sean Monterrosa as part of Tucan’s Weekend.
Family represented Antwane Burrise, who was killed July 15, 2020, by Stockton police; Shayne Sutherland, killed Oct. 8, 2020, by Sacramento police; Angelo Quinto, killed Dec. 23, 2020, by Antioch police; and Trevor Seever, killed Dec. 29, 2020, by Modesto police. Just in April 2021, 26-year-old Mario Gonzalez was killed by Alameda police, one of several killed by police across California.
They were joined by families of Oscar Grant, killed by BART police on Jan. 1, 2009; Mario Woods, killed by the SFPD in the Bayview on Dec. 2, 2015; and others who have long demanded justice, to no avail.
“The power of the police to use deadly force is one of the most significant responsibilities we can give any public official. That responsibility must be guided by common sense legislation that is about protecting human rights and saving human lives,” said Oscar Grant’s uncle, Bobby Johnson, who wore all white, with a massive, bloody bullet hole etched on his back.
Black and white photos of hundreds of Californians killed by police over the years surrounded him on stage and were laid out on the ground.
“My nephew was murdered, and I’m still mad about it. If you don’t get mad, there’s gonna be a knock at your door, and it’ll be one of your family members, and you’ll be standing right here with us,” Johnson said.
In addition to recounting the stories about their family members and the lives that were cut short, the mothers, sisters, brothers, and other relatives who spoke called on the 200 people in the crowd to help support different pieces of legislation that could help curb police violence and improve accountability in a tangible way.
“So let’s just talk about the legal ways that you can handle this Vallejo police department,” said Elaine Brown, 78-year-old former chairwoman of the Black Panther Party. She called for the recall of Solano County District Attorney Krishna Abrams and Vallejo Police Chief Shawny Williams.
“The whole goddamn Vallejo Police Department, which is a murderous police department that needs to be put under receivership … they need to be monitored, they need to be changed,” Brown said.
Since their brother was killed on June 2, 2020, through the windshield of an unmarked police car, Monterrosa’s two sisters have been fighting for police officer Jarrett Tonn to be held accountable, and for an investigation into the Vallejo police department and destruction of the damaged windshield.
They have also been advocating for Senate Bill 2 (SB-2), which would allow the state of California to take away police certifications and prevent the common practice of rehiring fired police in different departments.
The California state senate passed SB-2 on May 26 and is awaiting a vote in the assembly. California is one of four states without an official decertification process.
“Police are the only licensed profession who currently cannot be decertified for unethical and harmful actions. Virtually everyone else from barbers to lawyers will lose their license if they violate the trust placed by them in the state,” Ashley Monterrosa said.
The mother and sister of Angelo Quinto addressed the crowd and announced that Assembly Bill 490 (AB-490), which would ban restraint tactics that cause asphyxia, passed in the assembly on June 2 and will now proceed to the senate. Quinto, 30, was experiencing a mental health crisis in his Antioch home and was killed by police officers kneeling on his neck.
“Thank you for inspiring us to work as hard as you do,” Quinto’s sister Bella said looking down at the Monterrosa sisters from the stage, explaining that she was “new to this” but felt driven to push for justice for her brother, having seen Monterrosa’s family’s determination.
Because change, even when excruciatingly slow, is possible.
“When we stand up as a people and say, ‘we don’t consent,’ we change things,” said Lee Merritt, attorney for the Monterrosa family.
Merritt described a case in Dallas, Texas, in which a police officer was sentenced to prison for killing 15-year-old Jordan Edwards, explaining that a conviction was successful, even in a Republican state with a conservative Trump-appointee prosecutor.
Of the Ahmaud Arbery case, Merritt said, “The laws in Georgia changed so that there’s a new hate crime law in Georgia, and that the vigilante law from the Civil Rights era was removed from the books.” In February, 2020, three white men chased down and shot Arbery as he was jogging in the suburbs.
It is possible that more change is on the way in the Bay Area, too. On May 13, Attorney General Rob Bonta announced that the California Department of Justice is conducting an independent review of Monterrosa’s case.
“Solano County District Attorney unilaterally abdicated her responsibility as the elected district attorney and refused to conduct a review of the Vallejo Police Department’s investigation of the incident,” Bonta said in a press release.
Further, Assembly Bill 1506 (AB-1506), which goes into effect on July 1, 2021, will require a state prosecutor to investigate “incidents of an officer-involved shooting resulting in the death of an unarmed civilian.”
Meanwhile, families of victims of police violence will soon receive relief as well; newly passed Senate Bill 99 (SB-99) will allow for their compensation and access to victims services. Senate Bill 710, also passed by the senate on June 2, will require district attorneys who receive money from police departments to recuse themselves from cases involving alleged police misconduct.
“Even for somebody like me, that doesn’t really pay attention, [this rally] brings about a better awareness,” said Qwen Stewart, a volunteer from Vallejo who got involved with the rally because her husband was helping with photography.
“Because you wouldn’t believe so many people that are just stuck in their own little community, and they have no idea things are going on.”