The New Resistance to Vallejo Police Violence

16 min
A Vallejo PD officer goes over paperwork in this images from May 2008 in Vallejo, California.  (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

This month, Vallejo Police released body camera footage from the February 2018 shooting death of Ronnell Foster. Vallejo police fatally shot Foster after attempting to stop him for a minor traffic infraction. Foster was riding his bike in the dark without a light before being chased by police.

A year later, the same officer involved in the Foster shooting fatally shot 20-year-old Willie McCoy. Officer Ryan McMahon was one of six officers who shot McCoy, who was reportedly found sleeping in his car in a Taco Bell parking lot with a gun on his lap.

Now, the families of both men and other victims of police shootings are flooding Vallejo City Hall in protest – and they’re getting some help.

“What feels different now is that it's not just black and brown people complaining,” said Otis Taylor Jr., metro columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle. “You have residents who've lived in Vallejo for decades who now see that all this attention coming to this city -- this negative attention -- has to do with the police department.”

A new resistance is taking shape in Vallejo, and residents say they’ll keep coming back to city hall until changes are made at the Vallejo Police Department.

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Vallejo is a city of about 120,000 residents who make up one of the most racially mixed cities in the country. And it has one of the highest rates of police shootings per capita in Northern California and the third highest in the state, according to a recent NBC News investigation.  In 2012, the rate of fatal police shootings in Vallejo was 38 times the national rate and 20 times more than Oakland and San Francisco.

“People are saying that... there's no responsibility,” Taylor said. “I think that's what it boils down to. These events have happened and no one has been held responsible.”

While the sense of rage in Vallejo has existed for years, there appears to be traction behind this movement. In recent weeks, residents have made headlines for emotional protests at Vallejo City Hall. Cat Brooks, a well-known activist from Oakland, and civil rights attorney John Burris have thrown in their support. The families of Stephon Clark and Oscar Grant have joined the protests in solidarity.

“If this was Oakland or San Francisco you would have people in the streets day after day after day,” Taylor said. “Vallejo is just far enough away. You only have the Vallejo Times Herald -- one news organization. Things go unchecked. And as we're seeing Vallejo people are dying as a result. That's not hyperbole. This is what's happening.”

The city of Vallejo has agreed to work with the U.S. Justice Department to improve the police department's culture and its policies. It's brought in former Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan as a special adviser to work on community relations. Howard comes from the Oakland Police Department after abruptly resigning amid controversy. Vallejo is also looking for new police chief after its current leader retires this summer.

“If there aren't changes made at the top that say ‘if you do this, you will be held responsible,’ someone else is going to die,” Taylor said.

Click the "listen" button above to hear the full 16-minute interview with podcast guest  Otis Taylor Jr., Metro Columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. Or find the episode on your favorite podcast app on your smart phone. See link below to subscribe.

Click here to read more from Otis Taylor.

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