Purple Berets


Patriarchy -- A Really Bad Idea

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What We Do

The backbone 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.

But advocacy 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
In 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.

This lack 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.

Besides direct 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 the World
Here are some of the many cases we've built campaigns around and through those campaigns wrestled better conditions for women victims of violence.

"Lupe" 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.
The domestic 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.

The "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 county.

In 1996, 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.

When 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.

Our 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.

In our 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
We 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.


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Web Site by S. Henry Wild