What’s the Statute of Limitation on Deja Vu Racism?

By Guest Columnist Nov 20, 2007

by gacebo Ten years ago, two Latino youth, David Moreno and Justin Pacheco were caught up in a street fight in Vacaville, CA, a then largely white, rural community in the San Francisco Bay Area; home to a growing population of people of color. When their friend, Latino teenager, Jeremiah Alvarez English, confronted six white youth who had attacked him the previous night, Moreno and Pacheco went to the aid of Alvarez English, but in the end, Alvarez English was killed by Chad O’Connell, a white youth, who repeatedly knifed him in the back with an 11-inch hunting knife. Despite O’Connell’s confession to police, District Attorney David Paulson charged Moreno and Pacheco with the murder arguing that they committed a “provocative act.” Under an obscure and little-used law, know as California’s Provocative Act doctrine, which originated in 1965 and has been used mainly to convict gang members in Southern California, the doctrine contends that the accused can be held responsible for the bystander’s death by creating the deadly situation. In November 1998, a jury found Moreno and Pacheco guilty of murder. But soon after, the two received help from the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and We Interrupt This Message, who mounted a community-based campaign to support a legal motion for a new trial. Fast forward to 2005. In Northern California’s 90.9% white Lake County, a white homeowner Shannon Edmonds opened fire on the backs of three young black men during a fumbled robbery, killing Rashad Williams and Christian Foster, but missing the fleeing twenty-two year old Renato Hughes, Jr. Sound like déjà vu? District Attorney Jon Hopkins seeks to prosecute Hughes under the same Provocative Act doctrine arguing, “he set the whole thing in motion by his actions and the actions of his accomplices.” District Attorney Hopkins asserts that race played no part in the charges and isn’t willing to pursue prosecuting Edmonds because he was defending himself and his family. Who really believes that race isn’t a factor? From employing the language of “gangs” to creating a victim cum hero portrayal of Edmonds as a man simply “defending his family,” the sad reality of this case is a race-concealed argument. The individual white home owner and the institutional representative District Attorney Hopkins both rely upon conjuring up harmful and racially charged stereotypes of Black men as “gangs” or “aggressors” or “predators” to help set the terms of the debate for this case. The district attorney in the Moreno-Pacheco case relied upon the same stereotype when pursuing the two Latino men without any evidence to back his claim. In the spirit of the successful campaign that led to the Moreno- Pacheco case being overturned, I hope we can do the same for Renato Hughes, Jr.