A San Francisco parent writes while awaiting trial for nonviolent civil disobedience seeking accountability for the police killing of Sean Monterrosa
by Maggie Harrison
Dear Gov. Gavin Newsom,
I’ve been writing this letter since the pre-dawn hours of Oct. 3, alone in a Sacramento County Jail cell, disappointed, exhausted, but driven to reach you. I could not rest – not then, in the hours before dawn, locked in a filthy cell, wearing orange stripes and jail-issue underwear; not now, nearly two months later, with justice so distant.
I see with clarity what is so easy for you and our state to do: to jail and criminalize the family of Sean Monterrosa, who speaks out in nonviolent protest, waiting nearly six months on accountability for the state-sanctioned murder of their brother, child, grandchild. They have seen none.
Imagine raising a child, witnessing him come to language, laughter, learning to read, fix things, love, work, question and grow into a 22-year-old with potential, with a future and a role to play in your family, in his school, in his community. And then a tragedy: a police officer misjudges him as a threat.
This police officer – who has fired his weapon on four occasions in the last five years – shoots from the backseat of a moving police truck, firing five times through the windshield. That officer serves in a department with a history of brutality, having used firearms to kill 19 people since 2010.
In this Bay Area city, some officers ritualistically mark their kills, bending the points of their star-shaped badges as a sign of honor. City officials learned of this gruesome tradition and looked away. If this were your child, what would you do?
Sean Monterrosa was unarmed, kneeling, hands raised in surrender, when Vallejo Police Officer Jarrett Tonn shot and killed him with his semiautomatic assault rifle. The windshield was evidence, and the Police Union President Lt. Michael Nichelini is on paid leave for his involvement in the destruction of that evidence.
Solano County District Attorney Krishna Abrams recused herself from Monterrosa’s case; California Attorney General Xavier Becerra declined to investigate. No criminal investigation is currently underway.
A detailed investigative report, “How a Deadly Police Force Ruled a City,” has been published in The New Yorker. The facts are available: It’s time for empathy and action.
Gov. Newsom, you have expressed neither outrage nor concern, even after Sean’s older and younger sisters and 15 othernonviolent protesters engaged in the “good trouble” of an orderly civil disobedience near your home on the four-month anniversary of Sean’s death.
When asked about the case by a reporter, you noted that you’d asked your staff “to take a much more detailed look” at his case, claiming, “we’ll have more to say hopefully very shortly.” After the five-month anniversary, when asked again if you would meet with the family, you said “I’m open to that. But let me get the facts” on the investigation.
Since then, a detailed investigative report, “How a Deadly Police Force Ruled a City,” has been published in The New Yorker. The facts are available: It’s time for empathy and action.
Governor, meet with the Monterrosa family: Sean’s 99-year-old grandmother, his immigrant parents, and his inspiring first-generation sisters who represent our future. Hear them. Guided by their call for justice, leaders in our state can help reckon with the inhumanity that runs deep in policing nationwide.
In the wake of George Floyd’s state-sponsored lynching, Sean saw that inhumanity. Sean’s last communication to his sisters – less than an hour before he was shot – were text messages asking them to sign a petition demanding justice for George Floyd.
Gov. Newsom, you claim to see the inhumanity. You said “[we] should and [we] must” condemn systematic racism in your speech on May 29. You asked “all of us who want to express ourselves” to “do so thoughtfully and gently, but forcefully.”
The Monterrosa sisters and the other 15 nonviolent protesters have complied with this request. You again condemned the legacy of injustice on Sept. 30, claiming, “We are just getting started in this state” in terms of efforts to “improve oversight and accountability” in law enforcement.
As we approach the six-month mark since Sean Monterrosa was killed, the Monterrosa family and their growing numbers of supporters in California and beyond feel heightened urgency for accountability. Drop the charges against the peaceful protesters and launch a formal investigation of Vallejo PD for the murder of Sean Monterrosa.
On Oct. 2, the Monterrosa family and their supporters brought to the governor three clear, reasonable demands:
- Attorney General Xavier Becerra must appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the case and Vallejo PD.
- Officer Jarrett Tonn must be charged and prosecuted for the murder of Sean Monterrosa.
- Officers involved in the shooting and destruction of evidence must be prosecuted criminally.
Governor, you have resolved that California lead the nation. Now you face an opportunity to live up to this ambition. May the words you speak hold meaning.
Maggie Harrison is a San Francisco parent and community college instructor. On Oct. 2, 2020, she was arrested, alongside Ashley and Michelle Monterrosa and 14 other nonviolent protesters demanding accountability for the Vallejo police officer who lethally shot Sean Monterrosa as well as for those who obstructed the investigation. Visit her website, www.maggieharrison.net.