What We Do
of the work of the Purple Berets has been direct advocacy, advocating
for women with police and the district attorney, helping to ensure
that their voices are heard and that their cases move through
the criminal justice system. Almost without exception, the cases
of women we have advocated for have gone significantly better,
most times resulting in prosecution and conviction despite the
initial refusal by police and/or assistant district attorneys
to even file charges.
on individual cases is only the first step. We then choose cases
that can make change for all women, cases that highlight the barriers
women face in their quest for justice. Using advocacy, direct
action, grassroots organizing, and well-targeted media work, we
then build a political campaign to change local policy and procedures.
Again and again, our effective organizing has made it politically
impossible for law enforcement officials to continue to protect
the perpetrators in their midst.
The Need for Organizing
Sonoma County, California in 1992, out of the 181 forcible rapes
reported to police only 11 resulted in rape convictions (a conviction
rate of just 6%); 1, 998 domestic violence calls resulted in only
30 cases (1.5%) charged as felonies; and 1,444 reports of child
sexual assault resulted in felony charges in only 31 cases (2.1%).
This record of the utter failure to prosecute violent crime would
be intolerable in any other crime category and would lead to cries
for the district attorney's resignation; yet this was the norm
in the category of violent crimes against women and girls.
of access to justice has a devastating, at times deadly effect
on women and girls. The Purple Berets have been organizing around
these crucial issues since 1991. We work primarily with low-income
and immigrant women and girls who have been victims of gender-based
violence, providing direct advocacy on their criminal cases. Over
the years we have maintained bilingual/bicultural advocates, and
have built a strong contingent of young activists with a broad,
political organizing base.
advocacy, we work more broadly with women who want to go public
with their individual cases. We choose cases that put a human
face to the egregious discrimination and that highlight the specific
conditions that must be changed if we are to create equal justice
for women in the criminal justice system. Using a variety of tactics
(e.g., grassroots pressure and educational campaigns, demonstrations
and other types of direct action, coalition organizing, well-targeted
media campaigns) we make these cases rallying points for the community
to leverage the necessary changes in law enforcement.
Cases That Changed
are some of the many cases we've built campaigns around and through
those campaigns wrestled better conditions for women victims of
was a 13 year-old non-English-speaking child who was first
sexually assaulted and then subjected to a sexual assault
exam in a language she could not understand, among other violations
of her rights and dignity. Working with the local rape crisis
center, we organized a joint press conference in coalition
with other women's and immigrant rights groups and the National
Lawyers Guild, exposing the pressing need for Spanish-speaking
police services, sorely lacking in our county at the time.
The end result was a marked increase in hiring of Spanish-speaking
law enforcement officers throughout our community.
violence case of Teresa King was a litany of repeated, brutal
violence that only escalated each time it was treated as a
counseling problem rather than a crime by the criminal justice
system. Our exposure of law enforcement's apathy in her case
illustrated the consequences of treating domestic violence
as a victimless crime. Teresa's case accompanied Senator Tom
Hayden's bill to end domestic violence diversion (i.e., sentencing
to counseling instead of jail) as it made its way through
the California legislature. Hayden's bill was successful.
Aided by Teresa King's courage in going public, domestic violence
diversion ended in California in 1996.
"Equal Justice for Women and Children" petition was a campaign
that created a coalition of more than 20 local community
groups demanding substantive change in the criminal justice
system's handling of crimes against women and children.
The petition called for an end to domestic violence diversion,
a doubling of district attorney resources devoted to these
crimes, increased hiring of female and Spanish-speaking
police officers, and mandated arrest on domestic violence
and domestic violence restraining order violations among
other things. Attacked and called "radical" by the district
attorney and police officials at the time, virtually all
the petition's provisions have now been instituted in our
Marķa Teresa Macias, mother of three young children, was
murdered by her husband Avelino in the town of Sonoma. In
the year before her death, Teresa had reported Avelino's
physical and sexual abuse of herself and her children. In
the months leading up to the murder, as his violence and
threats to kill escalated, she obtained a domestic violence
restraining order and reported at least 22 violations of
that order to the Sonoma County Sheriff's Department. Yet
despite a policy that mandated arrest on restraining order
violations, the Sheriff's Dept. never arrested Avelino Macias
and instead stood by silently until he tracked Teresa down
and took her life.
the news of Teresa's murder hit the press, Tanya Brannan
of the Purple Berets and Marie De Santis of Women's Justice
Center immediately began investigating prior police contact
with the family. What we uncovered was a meticulously documented
record of law enforcement's utter disregard for Teresa's
safety and her repeated reports of Avelino's violence.
exposure of this case resulted in massive media coverage,
a California Attorney General's investigation, a local Blue-ribbon
Committee investigation, the creation of special domestic
violence units in our largest police agencies, and a landmark
$15 million federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of the
Macias children. Already the lawsuit has spawned a federal
appeals court decision stating that women have the right
to hold law enforcement legally accountable for their response
to violence against women.
investigation of the murder of Teresa Macias, we uncovered
shocking domestic violence incidents involving two sheriff's
deputies, brothers Mark and Steve Lopez. According to restraining
order documents, Deputy Mark Lopez had left a death threat
for his girlfriend (also a sworn law enforcement officer)
saying, "You will die bitch." His brother Steve had brutally,
almost lethally beaten his wife, banging her head up and down
on the floor until he was pulled off her by a roommate, according
to police reports. Still no criminal action was taken and
both deputies remained on the force. After a relentless Purple
Berets' organizing and media campaign, both deputies were
finally fired. And in January of 1998, Steve Lopez was tried
and convicted of felony domestic violence. As a result, he
can never again be a police officer in California.
A Model of Grassroots
Organizing for Change
hope these cases and the changes they have wrought will inspire
you to organize in your own community to end gender-based violence
once and for all. We're available to do workshops and trainings
and to speak with groups who want to organize on this model.