The Death of Mark Garcia and the Fight for Justice

Revolutionary Worker #923, September 14, 1997

On September 3, 75 people rallied outside San Francisco Police Department headquarters and packed the meeting of the San Francisco Police Commission. They demanded justice for Mark García, who had been brutally murdered by the San Francisco police almost a year and a half ago and whose case had still not been heard by the police commission. Chants rang out, "What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!" and "No Justice, No Peace! Stop the Killer Police!" The beating and torture of Abner Louima and the resistance of the people in New York was very much in people's minds and was reflected in the chant "From NYC to Frisco--Police Brutality has got to go!"

Police Murder and Coverup

Several months ago, at a memorial on the one year anniversary of Mark García's death, his brother Ron--who had trained to be a police officer--angrily spoke about what the police did to Mark on April 6, 1996: "Mark García was robbed and he needed help. He was standing half nude in the middle of Cesar Chavez (Blvd.) screaming over and over again for help. The first two responding officers did not recognize that Mark needed help. Instead they beat him and pepper-sprayed him numerous times. After Mark's hands were handcuffed behind his back, Mark was slammed face first into the ground right over there by the Olympic gas station cashier booth. While Mark lay on the hot cement, wearing no clothing from the waist down, did the police provide him with help? No! Instead an officer grinded a foot in his back for five and a half minutes. No medical attention was provided. These are violations of their own rules.... No solution was used to wash the pepper spray out of Mark's face. Mark was thrown into the back of a police van in a face down position--another violation. Officers did not monitor Mark's position in the back of the police van while on their way to the hospital. The officers delayed in getting him to the hospital. When the officers finally reached the hospital they opened the door to find Mark dead."

Mark's other brother, Daniel, spoke with the RW at the police commission hearing and described how the San Francisco Office of Civilian Complaints (OCC) has taken over 10 months in its investigation of Mark's murder. He said, "Back in November we gave the OCC everything that they needed to investigate my brother's case. Ever since then we have been calling the OCC asking what has been going on, when is there going to be a hearing, what is your decision. Finally last week my other brother called up Mary Dunlop, the OCC's director. She said it was still under investigation. Well, how long it take to investigate seven clear violations of police procedure."

Daniel García read a statement from his family to the police commission describing the pain his family has been put through, first by the murder of his brother and then by the official coverup. "I have pain because my brother was killed by the SFPD. I have pain because the police chief freed the ones who murdered my brother. I have pain because the DA's office refuses to charge the ones who are responsible for my brother's death. My brother died a year and a half ago today. I want all of you to remember this pain that my family and I have. It will never stop for me or for them until we get some kind of justice and closure."

A Stolen Life

"You have murdered an innocent man. Mark García was an innocent man. He has a family that loves him. You took him from his family. His family wants him but they can't get him back because of your brutal cops. You keep these brutal cops on the police force. What are you keeping them there for? They're murderers and nothing is being done about it. Remember Pharoah's army got drowned and this is an army too."

Black woman from Alice Griffith Housing Project to the SF Police Commission, September 3, 1997

Many people spoke to the police commission about who Mark García was and the tremendous loss his murder represents. Mark García was a teamster, he was a recovering addict who counseled and helped many other people with drug and alcohol problems. He was someone that you could call any time of the day or night if you had a problem or needed help. He was married and had two children, 12 and 17 years old.

D'Andre of the October 22nd Coalition Against Police Brutality in San Francisco told the commission: "What kind of a man was Mark García? We talk about stolen lives. I was at Mark's daughter's graduation from high school. She graduated with honors from Los Gatos High School. Her father was not there. This is not right. Her father who did nothing to deserve to be killed. Her father who was a drug counselor. Her father who worked hard for his children and gave them the best protection that he could was not there. You got to bring this down to a personal level. Mark García was not a criminal. He was criminalized because he was killed."

A Latino youth told the commission, "I'm from the Mission District. I grew up several blocks away from where Mark García was killed... It didn't really matter that Mark García was a father. And it didn't matter that he was a family man. It didn't matter that he was a teamster and went above his call of duty as a human being to help his brothers out. That didn't matter. What mattered was that he was a Latino. What mattered was that he was on South Van Ness and Chavez. What mattered was that he did not have property for the police to protect. He was a poor person of color on the street and that was what mattered."

"Don't Let Them
Get Away With It"

The current battle for Justice for Mark García is the latest chapter of an ongoing struggle against police brutality and murder in San Francisco. For the last two years a major focus of this battle has been the police murder of Aaron Williams. On June 27, after over two years of protests, speak-outs and vigils, the Police Commission fired Marc Andaya, the racist cop who led the police beating that killed Williams.

William Bowser, Aaron's uncle, was at the hearing for Mark García and spoke with the RW, bringing out links between Aaron's and Mark's murders. Both Aaron and Mark died after being repeatedly pepper-sprayed by the police. After Aaron's murder the police department issued new guidelines on the police use of pepper spray. These guidelines were ignored by the cops who murdered Mark. "In 1995 the pepper spray issue came up with Aaron. And they made all these changes, saying they were going to do this, they were going to do that, and yet Mark García dies a year later from a tremendous amount of pepper spray. Pepper spray hasn't been researched. It's just something they decided to use on human beings and it's killing people."

William also talked to the RW about the importance of people standing together to take on cases of police murder. "My 80-some-year-old father said, `Don't let them get away with it.' As soon as he found out that Andaya was fired he died the next day. You don't let them get away with it. I couldn't let them get away with it. Even if I had to stand out there by myself. But it's a lot easier when you have people behind you letting you know you're doing the right thing. I couldn't have done it without people standing behind me that believe in what I was doing and who stuck with me."

A wide range of forces were present at the protest and police commission hearing. There were representatives from Policewatch in San Francisco, Copwatch in Berkeley, the Violence Prevention Coalition, the October 22nd Coalition Against Police Brutality, Compañeros del Barrio, the Coalition on the Homeless, Food Not Bombs, the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade, the International Socialist Organization and others. People were determined to intensify the struggle against police brutality and fight each and every case of police murder.

A Black woman activist told the commission, "We will continue to return to this commission with each and every in-custody death. Starting with Aaron Williams, William Hankston, Mark García and all...We know who the killers are, we know where the killers are, we just don't know why you are letting them stay there."

Keith McHenry of Food Not Bombs, one of the co-founders of the October 22nd Coalition, has been arrested over 100 times and has faced harassment and death threats from the police for providing food to the homeless and organizing against police brutality. He said, "We've showed that we are not about to stop organizing against police brutality, even if we have to risk our lives to do so."

Teamsters Protest Murder of Mark García

A significant part of the struggle for justice for Mark García has been the involvement of the Teamsters Union. Mark was a member of the Teamsters Union Local 85, from 1982 until his death in 1996. His grandfather, Nick García, fought in the "Bloody Thursday" San Francisco general strike in the 1930s. His father, Paul García, was a teamster from 1941 to 1980.

At the Police Commission hearing a letter from the Executive Board of Teamsters Local 85 was read. The letter said in part: "Brother García was clean and sober for two years before his death. He helped many others as a drug counselor. In November of 1995 he upgraded his commercial license to Class A. He passed the road test without any negatives noted by the examiner. Just one week before his tragic death, Brother García passed a drug test which is part of our ongoing anti-drug program. We are writing to express our concerns regarding the entire incident and how it was handled...We support the García family in their relentless pursuit of justice and to stop the kind of actions that led to this tragic event."

The letter from the Teamsters was sent to the police commission and the OCC on June 3. Neither the police commission nor the OCC has responded to the letter. When a speaker asked why the commission had not had the courtesy to respond, the commissioners squirmed uncomfortably and claimed that they never received the letter. When Mark's brother Daniel, who is also a teamster, tried to address the commission and present them with another copy of the letter, a police Captain shoved him aside and grabbed the microphone.

Later, Daniel talked with the RW about the support that he has received from the Teamsters. He said, "My family, the García family, has been in the labor movement for 63 years. A lot of these teamster brothers know of my grandfather, who was part of the San Francisco General Strike, and that's part of the reason why they give us this respect. They also know what it means for a father and a mother to lose a son." Daniel also told the RW about how some of the teamster brothers that Mark had helped as a drug counselor had helped get the Executive Board to take a stand in Mark's case.

Stepping Up the Fight
Against Police Brutality

Daniel García was active in organizing for the first National Day of Protest Against Police Brutality last October and has been organizing to make this year's actions even more powerful and determined. Daniel always reminds people that, "your brother, your sister, your son or your daughter could be the next victim of the police." In his statement to the police commission he said, "Don't be afraid. Demand that those who are involved in the coverup are brought to justice--the uniformed gangs in blue, the murdering ones who kill our people. The ones that killed my brother. That killed Aaron Williams. That killed Hankston. That have killed many people in San Francisco. I see it every day when I come to San Francisco. I see nothing but police brutality. Why is it still going on?"

Daniel also talked with the RW about the importance of people taking to the streets in New York demanding justice for Abner Louima. "Just a week ago, 9,000 people gathered in New York against police brutality. That was people who just came out from their homes and offices and their stores. People are going to stop being afraid and they will come out on October 22."

A Latino woman activist with Compañeros del Barrio and the Social Justice Committee of Saint Peter's Church in the Mission also spoke about police harassment in the Mission and the need for people to confront it. She said, "In the Mission we are harassed every day by these police officers. They passed laws against immigrants. They have cooperated with the INS to come and harass our women and our children, our husbands and our sons.... Let us open our eyes. What you are going to have here is riots because we are tired of what is going on. I am a Catholic woman. A woman who believes in god. But I believe there comes time when we have to stop injustice...."

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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