A group of Merced area residents gathered in front of the Police Department on Sunday to protest police action in Ferguson, Mo., and to show solidarity with the residents there, where an unarmed black teenager was killed by a white police officer two weeks ago.
About 15 people stood on the corner of M and 22nd streets in Merced, holding signs and occasionally chanting. Some of the signs were marked with the name of the 18-year-old who was shot to death in Ferguson, Michael Brown.
Jesse Ornelas, a member of the Merced chapter of the Brown Berets, took part in the demonstration. “We’re just here to show them that a few of us here in Merced care about the black lives of Ferguson, Mo.,” he said.
A popular hashtag for social media users referencing Ferguson is #BlackLivesMatter, a criticism of the deadly force used on Michael Brown and the military-style police presence in a mostly black community. The shooting has spurred protests and riots in the Missouri community, and the state’s governor has subsequently activated the National Guard.
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Ornelas said he was aware of similar demonstrations in other parts of the state, including Sacramento, Fresno and Stockton. He said he wants the demonstrations to raise awareness about police shootings and to prevent tragedies. “I don’t want to see things like that happen here,” he said.
Demonstrators said they want to see charges issued against Darren Wilson, the officer who shot Brown. They also called for more people of color to be placed on the Missouri grand jury that will decide whether to indict the officer. The nine whites and three blacks on the grand jury have begun hearing evidence.
Some of the demonstrators in Merced came from Fresno and Berkeley. Several local activist groups were represented.
One sign held by a protester was marked with the name Hubertino Vallejo, a 60-year-old Planada man struck and killed in November by a Merced police SWAT vehicle driven by Officer Moses Nelson. The officer was not at fault in the crash, according to the California Highway Patrol.
Gloria Sandoval of Merced stood near M Street while holding a sign that read “Not one more.” She said the saying is one she uses often and, in this case, it means “not one more killing by police.”
She said she’s been following news about Ferguson closely, and she’s troubled by the militarization she saw of the police there. A Pentagon program has supplied about $4 billion of surplus military stockpiles to local police around the country.
She said she would like to see the money spent elsewhere – on education, for example. “If it’s an excess, than why are they doing it? Why are they spending our money that way?” she said. “We have a lot of needs in the community.”