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News :: Education & Youth

Family, friends to rally in Watsonville for victims of violence (Peace and Unity 2004)

Family, friends to rally in Watsonville for victims of violence (Peace and Unity 2004)


Sentinel staff writer

Erick Lopez never lived to see the new millennium. Never got to dance with his sister, Elva, when she turned 15. Never went on to become a disc jockey.

Instead his world ended on Halloween night in 1999 after someone in a skeleton mask walked up to him and shot him in the neck with a sawed-off shotgun.

He was 19. He died instantly. There were no last words. Police never found a motive, though from the get-go it was suspected to be gang-related.

He’d been showing some girls a puppy outside his house on Lawrence Avenue and had been talking on the telephone, according to his mother, Martha Valencia.

After he was shot, his younger brother, Steven, then 12, had to move him to get to the telephone and call police.

His mother will always remember her dying son’s last look.

"His eyes were wide open," she recounted Thursday at Santa Cruz Memorial Park, where he is now buried. "And even though he didn’t say anything, it was as if I could hear him saying, ‘Why me, Mom? Why me, Mom?’ "

She then knelt beside the simple, gray gravestone and touched the engraving, which says, "Stay with God and we will meet you there."

Some day, she plans to.

"It’s the worst thing that can happen to a mother," she said, "losing her son."

Peace and Unity
On Sunday, Valencia will march alongside hundreds of others who have lost family and friends to acts of violence in the Pajaro Valley. They will gather at the plaza just off Main Street to share their stories and march through the streets — in what is called the Peace and Unity March.

After the march, a peace rally will be from 1 to 5 p.m.

It’s the 11th straight year the march has been held, and that throngs have gathered, many of them carrying pictures of their sons and daughters, their brothers and sisters, their husbands and wives.

The hope is that the victims will not have died in vain; that their memories will live on; that the violence will someday be slowed, if not entirely stopped.

But even organizers realize that putting an end to violence is wishful thinking, something that occurs only in an ideal world, not in a city like Watsonville, where gang violence has a history that reaches as far back as Mexico.

"Our goal is to try to keep the violence to a minimum," said Luis Alejo, one of the organizers of the march and an attorney for the California Rural Legal Assistance in Watsonville.

"We’ve got so many people losing their lives that we can’t just sit by and wait until people die here. We need to be more proactive. We need to inspire young people. We need to give them more options."

Jessica & Jorge
The Peace and Unity March began in 1994, in honor of Jorge Cortez, 16, and Jessica Cortez, 9, both of whom were shot to death outside El Nopal Bakery on Feb. 13, 1994, just south of the Pajaro River.

First, the brother was shot, then gang members reportedly went back and killed his sister because she saw them do it and they wanted to get rid of a potential witness.

"They went to the bakery to get some bread, and they never made it back home," said Jose Sanchez, who, as a member of the Watsonville Brown Berets — a group of Latino activists — helps organize the march each year.

"It’s important that we always remember their story and the stories of all those who followed them," he said.

Since the march began, 58 people have been murdered in the Pajaro Valley, either at the hands of gangs, domestic violence or somebody drinking too much and going over the edge, Sanchez said.

And there’s a story behind each and every victim. Some times the details are murky. Many of the mothers insist their sons were not members of gangs but hung out with the wrong people at the wrong time.

Unfortunately, more than half the killers have not been arrested, said Alejo, 30, who’s been following the violence closely since he was a junior in college and got involved in the march.

Capt. Eddie Rodriguez with the Watsonville Police Department said the chances of arresting somebody generally increase when there are witnesses and those witnesses must be cooperative.

Whether gang violence is on the rise, he does not know, statistically speaking, but he says it seems to be holding steady.

"It hasn’t gotten any worse or any better as far as I can tell," said Rodriguez.

Justice not served
Some of the mothers whose sons have been killed, however, feel justice isn’t always served because, as Valencia says, often "it’s just Mexicans killing Mexicans, and nobody pays attention after a while."

The gang member who shot Antonio Ramirez Valdivia, 19, as he was leaving an afternoon beach party at Manresa State Beach in June 1994, for example, only served six years in prison, said Rosa de Ramirez, who, to this day, insists her son was never a gang member.

But people never believe her. Too often, she said, the boys are guilty by association.

"He grew up with the guys who were in the gangs, but he was never a member himself," she said. "God knows better, and that’s all passed, but I march every year because we have to show other parents that what happened to us can happen to them if they don’t pay attention."

But even when attention is paid, there are some things that are simply beyond a parent’s control.

Valencia knows this all too well. She paid a great deal of attention to Erick.

She still does. She visits his grave at least once a week, whether it’s planting flowers or just saying "Hello."

Some day, she said she hopes to reopen his case and find the killer.

Carlos Echevarria, 29, of Watsonville was arrested in connection with Erick’s death but was acquitted in Santa Cruz Superior Court nearly a year later.

He told police that somebody framed him by beating him up and stealing his Ford Thunderbird, the vehicle last seen at the scene of the crime.

"Whoever it is, I’d like to see him brought to justice," she said. "Not only for me, ... but for Erick."

On Aug. 14, Elva, her daughter, turned 15.

At her quinceañera, she brought out the framed picture of her brother and danced with it. It’s the same photo that’s on his gravestone.

"It was sad," said Valencia, who cleans houses for a living and has since moved from Watsonville to Scotts Valley. "But he was there in spirit, and we sent him an invitation by balloon."

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News :: Globalization & Capitalism

Ohio Roofing Company Aids Hurricane Victims

A lack of oversight, generous contracting deals and poor planning mean that government agencies are shelling out as much as 10 times what the temporary fix would normally cost.

I ran across this one in the Merc. Just another way we're getting screwed.

NEW ORLEANS — Across the hurricane ravaged Gulf Coast, thousands upon thousands of blue tarps are being nailed to wind-damaged roofs, a visible sign of government assistance.

The blue sheeting — a godsend to residents whose homes are threatened by rain — is rapidly becoming the largest roofing project in the nation's history.

It isn't coming cheap.

Knight Ridder has found that a lack of oversight, generous contracting deals and poor planning mean that government agencies are shelling out as much as 10 times what the temporary fix would normally cost.

The government is paying contractors an average of $2,480 for less than two hours of work to cover each damaged roof — even though it's also giving them endless supplies of blue sheeting for free.

"This is absolute highway robbery and it really does show that the agency doesn't have a clue in getting real value of contracts," said Keith Ashdown, vice president for Taxpayers for Common Sense.

As many as 300,000 homes in Louisiana may need roof repairs, and as the government attempts to cover every salvageable roof by the end of October, the bill could reach hundreds of millions of dollars.

The amount the government is paying to tack down blue tarps, which are designed to last three months, raises major questions about how little taxpayers may be getting for their money as contractors line up at the government trough for billions of dollars in repair and reconstruction contracts.

Steve Manser, president of Simon Roofing and Sheet Metal of Youngstown, Ohio, which was awarded an initial $10 million contract to begin "Operation Blue Roof" in New Orleans, acknowledged that the price his company is charging to install blue tarps could pay for shingling an entire roof.

But Manser defended his company's contract, saying Hurricane Katrina damaged so many homes and wiped out so much infrastructure in and around New Orleans that it would be impossible to install permanent roofs quickly. The rapid response to the crisis, Manser said, required contractors to mobilize hundreds of construction crews, truck supplies halfway across the country and house and feed armies of workers — at a tremendous set-up cost.

Simon Roofing, the Shaw Group of Baton Rouge, La., and LJC Construction Co. of Dothan, Ala. — the government's three prime blue-roof contractors in Louisiana — have spent millions to lease hotels, hire catering companies and set up computer databases to track and bill the government for their work.

"When you have 400 or 500 people staying out of town, you're paying a whole lot more overhead than you normally do," Manser said. "I couldn't imagine being paid any less, well, scratch that, I guess I could. People will do a lot to get work."

Jim Pogue, a spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers, said the agency strictly followed government-contracting requirements and did all it could to get the best deal possible for the roofing work, given the magnitude of the task and the need to protect vulnerable homes as quickly as possible.

Pogue also said that the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which by statute is in charge of the program, asked the Corps to manage the program because FEMA's resources were spread thin.

Contractors watching from the sidelines, however, said they'd be happy to do the work for a fraction of what the government's paying.

Mike Lowery, an estimator with Pioneer Roof Systems in Austin, Texas, said that while he couldn't calculate how much it might be costing contractors to house and feed workers, even with astronomical overhead the companies would have plenty of room to make a profit.

In normal circumstances, Lowery said, his company would charge $300 to tarp a 2000-square-foot roof in Austin. For that same size job, the government is paying $2,980 to $3,500, or about 10 times as much, plus additional administrative fees that can't be readily calculated.

The government doesn't pay contractors per roof, but for every square foot of blue tarp its workers tack down, according to copies of the three contracts for the New Orleans area obtained by Knight Ridder.

The Shaw Group is getting paid the most for installing the tarps, $1.75 per square foot. Simon Roofing's contract calls for $1.72 per square foot, and LJC Construction gets $1.49 per square foot.

Send Simon Roofing an email.

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News :: Media Criticism

The Web: Internet voting still a long way off?

Republicans devise new ways to steal elections - just like in 2000.

Some of the recommendations to improve electronic voting technology made by the election reform commission headed by former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker provide only "marginal" improvements in election security, but they do keep the concept of Internet voting alive for now, experts tell UPI's The Web. By Gene Koprowski

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News :: Media Criticism

Networking: Virus writing for profit

Spammers collaborate with criminals - for profit.

Unscrupulous e-mail marketers are collaborating with criminal virus writers to combine selling questionable goods and services online with attempting to steal information from consumers, experts told United Press International's Networking. By Gene Koprowski

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News :: Health & Drugs : Technology

Astrodome Radio Station Blocked

HOUSTON -- KAMP 95.3 "Evacuation Radio Services", a low-power FM station for Hurricane Katrina evacuees housed at the Astrodome, is still stuck in limbo. Although the group trying to organize the station has wrangled three 90-day licenses from the FCC, as of Thursday, they were being stymied by a handful of temporary administrators content to maintain radio silence.

While basic needs -- food, water, clothing, shelter -- have been met with remarkable hospitality, the survivors of the hurricane inside the Astrodome complex say they continue to suffer from a lack of information. Parents struggle with paperwork to enroll their children in school while simultaneously attempting to locate housing and employment, not to mention lost family members. Most evacuees sit alone on cots, passing the time playing cards or dominoes. Short blasts of information periodically echo from the Astrodome's PA speakers.

Inspired by the crisis, volunteers gathered Sunday in Tish Stringer's small apartment in the Museum District of midtown Houston, planning to broadcast hourly updated information evacuees would need to move forward with their lives. The group thought the ability to quickly speak to tens of thousands of people across multiple arenas would be invaluable, to both evacuees and aid workers alike.

Support poured in from wireless nonprofits like the Prometheus Radio Project. All levels of government seemed excited by the idea, including Houston's Mayor Bill White, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and federal agencies like the FCC and FEMA.

But late Sunday evening, the troubles began. According to KAMP, Rita Obey, a local official from Harris County Public Health Services, gave them a laundry list of prerequisites. The most notable of these was the command to procure 10,000 personal, battery-powered radios -- and batteries.

"She said she was afraid of 'people fighting over the radios,'" said Liz Surley, a KAMP volunteer. "She made us promise not to play any rap music, because she thought it might incite some of the evacuees to violence."

Obey denies she requested the radios.

"I requested samples," she said Thursday. "We never asked them to provide radios -- they offered them."

The group, already operating on a shoestring budget, began a frantic search for the radios they needed. By Monday they had all 10,000 in a warehouse in Houston, waiting to be purchased from and delivered by a distributor.

"They were local and they were waiting for us," noted Surley. Everything was once again in place to go.

Tuesday, two KAMP technicians scouted out a skybox high above the arena floor as a potential radio site with Astrodome staff. Nina Jackson, another administrator, assured the technicians that their request was heading up the chain of command at the Astrodome. Mike Jones, the local Houston rapper who once used his cell-phone number as a self-promotional rhyme, called to offer his support (and presumably left his number).

Wednesday morning, things looked good for KAMP. They had the equipment. They had the licenses. They had the content ready to begin broadcasting. They hoped to install their transmitters in the Astrodome that evening, then begin broadcasting at 9 a.m. the next day.

The volunteers were overjoyed. Many took the cat naps they hadn't allowed themselves earlier in the week, despite getting only two or three hours of sleep a night. Some sheepishly called their employers, apologizing for their spotty attendance. One radio operator rushed to fill out a final FEMA form that had been overlooked.

But at 4:30 in the afternoon, KAMP received word that their request had been denied. RW Royall Jr., the incident commander of the Joint Information Center -- the group temporarily governing the operations of the Astrodome campus -- told KAMP they could not install their equipment. They had been officially, finally denied.

According to KAMP, Royal claimed the Astrodome was not able to provide power to KAMP's low-power FM transmitter. When KAMP offered to bring in enough batteries to power the equipment off the Astrodome's grid, they were still denied.

Obey, speaking to Wired News, explained that the JIC couldn't see a use for the radio station when they had the ability to communicate via the loudspeaker system and newsletters.

"I did not see the utility," said Obey.

Wednesday evening, the volunteers sat together on the balcony of Stringer's apartment, smoking cigarettes and trying to figure out what they did wrong, even as donations and support continued to be offered from around the world.

"Last week you could just go right inside (the Astrodome)," said one volunteer who declined to be named. "We should have just set up then and gotten permission later."

Others tried to lighten the mood.

"Maybe we should change our call sign to DAMP," joked Harbeer Sandhu, another volunteer.

"If Clear Channel would have done this...," Surley trailed off, implying the radio giant wouldn't have had nearly as much trouble setting up a station.

In the end, no one was sure what they could have done differently. They had the resources and support from dozens of influential people.

"We got caught up with the power behind us," said Sandhu. "We lost sight of the power we had."

On Thursday, Obey explained the decision to ultimately refuse the low-power FM station request.

"With limited resources, you err on the side of FEMA and the Red Cross over entertainment."

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News :: Media Criticism

Text messaging for businesses climbs

Robber barons of technology foist more "productivity" enhancing technology on workers.

Customer-service technicians at Kodak photo developing units glance at their mobile phones when they receive a text message from their dispatcher. They get reminders, directions and instructions for their next project, and then go out and complete the assignment, wirelessly. It's an increasingly common scenario for businesses, experts tell UPI's Wireless World. By Gene Koprowski

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News :: Arts & Culture : Resistance & Tactics

Last Night Santa Cruz in the Metro

About Last Night via Metro Nüz
Nüz: About Last Night

After years of struggling to keep the event afloat, organizers of FIRST NIGHT SANTA CRUZ have finally called it quits, citing a lack of funding and community involvement as the primary reasons. Predictable responses from organizers and city officials abound, but the news elicited a different sort of response from local underground community activist RICO THUNDER, who also helps organize the GUERRILLA DRIVE-IN events.

"When I heard that First Night had finally collapsed in on itself in a corpulent pile," says Thunder, "I thought, of course. Exactly."

Having just returned from BURNING MAN to "a shitload of overwhelming information about Katrina and New Orleans," Thunder was thoroughly disgusted with the federal government in particular, but also government in general.

"Our government cannot and will not keep us safe, happy and free," says Thunder. "I came back feeling like, What the fuck? These are the people we depend on to tell us what we can and can't do? Are we crazy? Our institutions can barely manage their own affairs."

Thunder insists he doesn't hate government officials, but he thinks they're "largely irrelevant in our lives.

"WE make this country. And WE make this city. And WE make our communities. Us. Not a bunch of elected yahoos. We are what make our communities connected and vital and full of life."

"This is our town, our celebration, our night," continues Thunder, "the last night of the year. And the last night that we'd make the mistake of depending on anyone else for our safety, our freedom, our entertainment, our education."

Now, Thunder and various members of the community are organizing LAST NIGHT SANTA CRUZ to fill the void--and they're inviting you and everyone you know to help.

Organizers are describing it as "a New Year's Eve parade of freaks, clowns, gamelan, politics, fire, samba drums, punks, pirates, art, bikes, hippies, art cars, zombies, marching bands, moms, dads, kids and music."

Already, various members of the community are chiming in on chat boards promising participation and support.

"I just think it's a great idea," says one supporter, "to show that you don't need a committee and multiple meetings and an approved budget to have fun on New Year's Eve--just get dressed up and take over. Sounds great to me."

For more information, visit



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News :: Media Criticism

Wireless World: Stopping wireless ID theft

A New Jersey State Superior Court judge this week ordered a company that had acquired customer names from a major wireless carrier without its permission to refrain from selling those customer profiles to others and to surrender the names and transaction records. The order in the case of Verizon Wireless vs. Source Resources Inc. is the latest round in the ongoing war centered on stopping ID theft today, experts told UPI's Wireless World.
By Gene Koprowski

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