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Jan 23, 21

Modesto Takes to Streets After Police Kill Unarmed Man; Use Social Media Post as Justification

Report on recent rally and march against the police murder of Trevor Seever in Modesto, California.

In mid-January, over 80 people responded to a call from Turlock Black Lives Matter and rallied outside of the Modesto Police station in solidarity with the family of Trevor Seever, a 29 year-old unarmed man who was shot and killed by a Modesto police officer on December 29th in West Modesto. The youthful and multi-racial crowd chanted, gave speeches, and then took to the streets of the downtown, shouting down several police officers on bicycles that attempted to stop the march.

SOURCE: Turlock Black Lives Matter

The rally ended with people putting up flyers, signs, and posters on the windows and doors of the station. The rally represented the coming together of several groups of local youth of color that formed in the wake of the George Floyd rebellion as well as local anarchists, socialists, and family and friends of Trevor Seever.

The Police Murder of Trevor Seever

The police murder of Seever was horrific and following the release of the police video, made its way into national news, even being covered by the New York Times, a rarity for a story about police brutality from a small city in the middle of California known for agriculture, car-jackings, meth, foreclosures, and coronavirus cases.

On the day of the shooting, according to the Modesto Bee:

[Seever’s mother] said he’d just served an 11-day sentence at the Stanislaus County Jail for his second conviction for driving under the influence. Darlene Ruiz said because of COVID-19 precautions, her son was kept in isolation the entire time. She said he had night terrors and barely slept while he was there…Darlene Ruiz said her son appeared angry when he woke up and left the house. Soon after she said her son texted and told the family to leave the house and to call the police. “He asked us to leave the house; he came and got out some aggression and knocked some stuff over, I just think he was probably fighting some demons; I think he was struggling,” she said.

Soon after the call for help was made, a Modesto police officer came into contact with Trevor. In the video of the shooting, officer Joseph Lamantia can be seen clearly opening fire on Seever upon exiting his vehicle, while Seever stands at the back of a church. As Lamantia continues to approach Seever, he tells him to put his hands up, which Seever does, only to have Lamantia again open fire upon him, as Seever screams out in pain. Lamantia later stated that he waited for other officers to arrive before performing first aid, as he didn’t know if Seever had a weapon, although Seever can be heard on the video stating that he was unarmed. After other officers arrived on the scene and begin administering first aid, Seever can be heard saying, “I’m dying,” while one officer responds dryly, “Sorry bro.” Seever was then transported to the hospital, where he then died from his wounds.

Family of Trevor Seever at Modesto protest against the police. SOURCE: Liberation News

The officer that shot and killed Seever is responsible for several other fatal police shootings, including the killing of Francisco Moran, who was killed by Lamantia in 2010 after police responded to a domestic call. Lamantia, who’s been on the force for 12 years, claimed that Moran lunged at him with a knife; which later turned out to only be a metal spatula. After the shooting, numerous protests were organized by family members and local anarchist and Copwatch organizations, however Lamantia remained on the force.

Rally for Francisco Moran and Others Killed by Modesto Law Enforcement in 2010. SOURCE: Valley Improvement Projects

According to the New York Times:

In 2016, Officer Lamantia was also involved in the fatal shooting of Omar Villagomez, a suspect in a drug bust in Turlock, Calif. The police said that Mr. Villagomez rammed an undercover vehicle while trying to escape. The episode was investigated by the Turlock Police Department and found to be justified. Also in 2016, Officer Lamantia was involved in the fatal shooting of Kim Jackson, a woman who officers said charged at them with knives. The District Attorney’s Office found the shootings of Mr. Moran and Ms. Jackson to be justified.

Officer Lamantia was involved in another encounter in 2016, in which several officers subdued and arrested a man using control holds, beanbag guns and a Taser. The man died a few days later. And last October, Officer Lamantia was also involved in the shooting in Stockton of a man, David Cummings Jr., who was wanted in a double homicide near downtown Modesto.

The numerous killings over a short period of time by officer Lamantia shows how killer cops are shielded from any sort of accountability. According to Mapping Police Violence 1,127 people were killed by police in 2020; making for an average of around 3 per day.

Police Point to Social Media as Excuse for Killing

Beyond the brutal killing of Seever at the hands of officer Lamantia, police also attempted to use a post by Seever on Instagram as justification for his murder.

According to the New York Times:

According to Chief Gillespie, the department recognized Mr. Seever’s name from a safety bulletin released in early December after he posted on social media, “All I want for Christmas is another dead MPD cop.”

According to Seever’s family:

Darlene Ruiz said her son needed help. “I will have to live and die knowing that we are the ones who called 911, and he’s now gone because of that,” she said.

She said her son was demonized by police when they included with the release of Lamantia’s body camera video information about a post made from her son’s Instagram account in early December that stated “a good cop is a dead cop” and “all I want for Christmas is another dead MPD officer.” Darlene Ruiz said a detective came to their home and interviewed Trevor Seever about the posts. Seever told the detective a friend got a hold of his phone and made the posts. He was never charged with any crime related to it. Seever’s family questions whether Lamantia ever saw the officer safety bulletin that was reissued when officers were on their way to make contact with Seever. But his family said it doesn’t matter because he never posed a threat.

As Trevor’s family has pointed out, it is unclear if Lamantia was aware of Seever’s Instagram posts; but this is besides the point. Why are Modesto police monitoring people’s social media posts to begin with? The fact that Modesto police are putting so many resources into surveillance of everyday people’s social media is telling; the fact that they are then using personal opinions as justification for murder is horrific.

Online Threats from the Far-Right Ignored

What is even more troubling about Trevor’s case, is that when one compares the response by the Modesto Police Department to continued online threats from local far-Right groups against members of the public over recent years – a clear pattern emerges: police give violent far-Right groups a pass and often coordinate directly with them.

Neo-Nazi Derrik Punneo brutally stabbed multiple antifascists in Sacramento at a demonstration in June of 2016. Months later he rallied in support of Ann Coulter outside of a Republican fundraiser in Modesto (center photo).

For instance, in the lead up to a Republican organized fundraiser in Modesto in the early summer of 2017 that featured the racist Nativist Ann Coulter, numerous members of far-Right groups stated on social media that they would engage in violence against counter-protesters. Police were aware of these threats of violence, but stated they could do little against them. Thanks to the release of numerous internal documents via Freedom of Information Act requests, we now know that in reality, the police spent a massive amount of money into guarding the event against a possible ‘ANTIFA’ riot. In fact, the local fusion center even down played the threat of violence from white supremacists, who indeed showed up to support Coulter, while claiming that anti-racist and antifascist groups posed more of a threat – to property. 

As one commentator wrote:

[The] Central California Intelligence Center (CCIC) had safety concerns for “potential violence” at the event due to anti-fascist (Antifa) extremist activities, posing “the greatest threat to public safety” — as opposed to the white supremacist groups that Antifa was formed to oppose. This is in line with the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center (NCRIC) where MuckRock noted their reports about the “radical left and radical right violence,” blaming Antifa for instigating violence in every single altercation involving their opposition.

Such findings came only months after members of the violent skinhead gang the Golden State Skinheads stabbed multiple counter-protesters in Sacramento; only to have police work with them in an attempt to ID anti-racist and antifascist protesters. Some of these same individuals also rallied in support of Ann Coulter and were welcomed with open arms by event security.

More recently, in the lead up to a “Straight Pride” rally last August that was organized in part by members of the Modesto area Proud Boys and attended heavily by Qanon supporters and other far-Right groups, organizers made threats that the event would not be “family friendly” and posted memes featuring far-Right killer, Kyle Rittenhouse.

On the day of the rally, police provided security outside of the home of local “Straight Pride” organizer and Republican operative Mylinda Mason, as Proud Boys and Boogaloo Boys gathered. Grassroots journalists noted that the “Straight Pride Coalition” that was working closely with far-Right groups, also contained local chaplains who worked directly with the Modesto and Sonora Police Departments. Later in the day, Modesto police blocked off the streets for the far-Right protest and refused to intervene to stop them from crossing the street and harassing counter-protesters. The day ended with an attempted murder; as one far-Right protester attempted to run over a counter-demonstrator with his truck.

Central Valley Proud Boys/Militia leader and DC Coup Participant Jenya Marie. SOURCE: FACEBOOK

As the Sierra Foothills Stump later documented, many of the same people associated with the Proud Boys in Modesto who helped organize the Straight Pride rally went on to attend the far-Right storming of the US capitol in an attempt to stop the results of the 2020 election and keep Donald Trump in power.

Rest in Power Trevor Seevor

Working-class Modesto residents like Trevor Seevor get police visits when they make political posts that the cops don’t like – posts which are later used to justify their own murders. Meanwhile, police roll out the red carpet for neo-Nazis, Proud Boys, and those on the far-Right. And ironically, it’s the far-Right storming of the capitol on January 6th that politicians in DC are now using as justification for wanting to give police and the government even more power to surveil and police dissent, even though its everyday people and the movements that they are apart of, which will end up feeling the brunt of this repression.

All Power to the People!
Justice for Trevor Seevor!

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