Bloody police-inflicted beat down puts spotlight on racial injustice

Demonstrators+protest+in+front+of+the+San+Rafael+Public+Safety+Center+regarding+the+excessive+use+of+force+towards+a+San+Rafael+gardener+by+SRPD+officers.

Henry Manning

Demonstrators protest in front of the San Rafael Public Safety Center regarding the excessive use of force towards a San Rafael gardener by SRPD officers.

Systemic racism in the criminal justice system is an ongoing issue throughout the U.S., but many Marin citizens don’t realize it occurs in their own backyard. A San Rafael police body camera video revealed a man, “Mateo,” beat up by officers over an open container violation on the evening of July 27. The video quickly amassed views over various social media websites and news outlets, sparking outrage against the San Rafael Police Department (SRPD), leading to peaceful protests in San Rafael. 

Fairfax educator, writer, and impact documentary filmmaker Barbara McVeigh has a history of participation in the LatinX community. When McVeigh heard of the attack on Mateo, she was appalled.

“What the cops did to Mateo was absolutely out of line. It showed a spirit that the police are carrying of being a bully, escalating [situations] rather than de-escalating,” McVeigh said. “I think Mateo showed himself as a very caring person… he said he could not really drink and hang out with his buddies because neighbors complained they were too loud. He clearly showed himself during that film as being receptive and handling a situation that was a complete violation against him.”

McVeigh feels the situation helped bring attention to racial and class divisions in the Marin community.

“[Mateo and his contemporaries] are the working class in this community. Most of them are still immigrants without papers. They are paid incredibly low wages, sometimes not paid at all. They are exploited and they are abused,” McVeigh said.

McVeigh has met and bonded with individuals coping with this same experience.   Once immersed in their lives, she was shocked at the discrimination and cruelty they faced in her community.

“I harbored a single mother and her two kids in my apartment because she had no place to live and was being very exploited. I went with her to some homes to get house cleaning work, and I was just in shock at how she was treated by people. People treat their dogs better than [they treat] some of these working women,” McVeigh said.

McVeigh feels that the new attention, which came to light at Mateo’s expense, will force the SRPD to do better with systemic racism. She hopes the incident will remind Marin citizens to treat all people with common decency.

“I think the silver lining [of recent protests amidst the Mateo attack] in this is that it’s helping the Latino community come together, and for us to pay attention to them and their value,” McVeigh said. “I think the police can really take a hard look at themselves and start rethinking who they are.”

​​Although half of the people shot and killed by police in the U.S. are White, Latin Americans are shot at a disproportionate rate. The Washington Post (2022) reported that Hispanic Americans are shot by police at a rate of 29 per million compared to white Americans at 16 per million. While Mateo was not shot, the same racial motive is relevant.

Protesters march towards the San Rafael Public Safety Center in protest of the bloody arrest of a San Rafael gardener by SRPD officers. (Henry Manning)

Stephen Pringle, a realtor from Fairfax, attended two protests in support of Mateo. 

“It’s been so frustrating over the last few years seeing so much police violence against people of color,” Pringle said. “What made me go [to the protests] was I am fed up with seeing [police brutality] in the news with George Floyd and other [victims], and having that [in Marin] really upset me because these are our people that we should be looking out for in the Canal and our community.”

Pringle is deeply disturbed by racial profiling and injustice in police systems across the country.

“If you… Google black police officer beats white man  [nothing] comes up. Then, reverse that, and see what comes up,” Pringle said. “If you google black officer beats white man there’s a link in there that has all these videos that show that white police officers react differently to white people.” 

Attending the protests gave Pringle a sense of solidarity with people of color in his community. He admired the strong Latina women who took the initiative while protesting and rallying the crowd. Stephen feels that the inclusion of more women in police forces would be a positive change.  

“We need more people of color in our police force and also more women. [The police are] historically and currently dominated by what I call the “old boys club” – white males. It adds to this machismo allowance,” Pringle said.

Pringle feels this over-dominance of the white male police officers belittles other officers and leads them down the same cruel path; a path that they would not follow otherwise.

“The other officer [at Mateo’s arrest] was a Latina woman… I think she played into this old boys club… I [think she would have been more understanding] of Mateo’s situation if that big white male hadn’t shown up,” Pringle said.

Pringle thinks reconstruction of the police department is key to stopping violent attacks like that of Mateo and many others before him. He also stresses the need to spread awareness about the SRPD.

“The old boys club is scary because they all protect each other. There is no citizen’s oversight right now, and there needs to be,” Pringle said. “People don’t want to talk about it, when I go on Marin IJ and make comments [about police], you would not believe how many pro-white, pro-police, people go off on me.”

AWHS students are getting involved in the peaceful protests as well. Sophomore Maya Estrada feels peaceful protests are a step in the right direction of publicizing the issue of racially motivated police brutality in Marin. 

“I went to the protests so I could show my support for [Mateo’s] family members and the community members of San Rafael… I also went to the protests because I believe the amount of [police] force used [on Mateo] was very wrong,” Maya said. “[People] aren’t going to let [what happened to Mateo] slide because this has happened before and has gone under the radar in the past, but bringing awareness to this situation really matters.”

Concerned citizens wonder about the fate of the officers who beat Mateo. Scott Eberle, the Public Information Officer of the SRPD reports that there are two officers on administrative leave as well as a supervisor under investigation for this event.

“We have hired an independent investigator. The Marin DA’s [District Attorney] office is also investigating this. We are trying to be as transparent as the law allows without compromising the integrity of the investigation,” Eberle said.

Eberle also announced that the SRPD is attempting to improve and learn  from its mistakes.

“We are currently looking at our Use of Force Policy, our training, and working on rebuilding trust with the community [to conclude the situation],” Eberle said. “We would like to hold community forums with the Canal Community and are actively involved in other community engagement events.” 

In the aftermath of the bloody attack on a Latino man in the Canal, concerned individuals are coming together to protest against the SRPD.