Dear Governor Gavin Newsom,

I’ve been writing this letter since the pre-dawn hours of Oct. 3, alone in a Sacramento County Jail cell, disappointed, exhausted, but driven to reach you. I could not rest—not then, in the hours before dawn locked in a filthy cell, wearing orange stripes and jail-issue underwear—and not now, nearly two months later, with justice so distant. I see with clarity what is so easy for you and our state to do:  to jail and criminalize the family of Sean Monterrosa who speak out in nonviolent protest, who has waited now nearly six months for accountability for the state-sanctioned murder of their brother, child, grandchild. They have seen none.

Imagine raising a child, witnessing him come to language, laugh, learn to read, fix things, love, work, question, grow into a 22-year-old with potential, with a future, with a role to play in your family, in his school, in his community. And then a tragedy: a police officer misjudges him as a threat. This police officer—who has fired his weapon on four occasions in the last five years—shoots from the backseat of a moving police truck, firing five times through the windshield. That officer serves in a department with a history of brutality, using their firearms to kill 19 people since 2010. In this Bay Area city, some officers ritualistically mark their kills, bending the points of their star-shaped badges as a sign of honor. City officials learned of this gruesome tradition and looked away. If this were your child, what would you do?

Following Sean Monterrosa’s death at the hands of Vallejo police, community members gather at 24th and Mission to honor his life on Friday, June 5, 2020. Photo: Chris “L7” Cuadrado Credit: Chris “L7” Cuadrado

Sean Monterrosa was unarmed, kneeling, hands raised in surrender, when Vallejo Police Officer Jarrett Tonn shot and killed him with his semi-automatic assault rifle. The windshield was evidence, and the police union president, Lt. Michael Nichelini, is on paid leave for his involvement in its destruction. Solano County DA Krishna Abrams recused herself from Monterrosa’s case; California Attorney General Xavier Becerra declined to investigate. No criminal investigation is currently underway.

Governor Newsom, you have expressed neither outrage nor concern, even after Sean’s older and younger sisters and 15 other nonviolent protesters engaged in the “good trouble” of an orderly civil disobedience near your home on the four-month anniversary of Sean’s death. When asked about the case by a reporter, you noted that you’d asked his staff “to take a much more detailed look” his case, claiming “we’ll have more to say hopefully very shortly.” After the five-month anniversary, when asked again if you would meet with the family, you said “I’m open to that. But let me get the facts” on the investigation. Since then, a detailed investigative report, “How a Deadly Police Force Ruled A City,” has been published in The New Yorker. The facts are available. It’s time for empathy and action.

Governor, meet with the Monterrosa family, his 99-year-old grandmother, his immigrant parents, and his inspiring first-generation sisters who represent our future. Hear them. Guided by their call for justice, leaders in our state can help reckon with the inhumanity that runs deep in policing nationwide.

In the wake of George Floyd’s state-sponsored lynching, Sean saw that inhumanity. Sean’s last communication to his sisters—less than an hour before he was shot—were text messages asking them to sign a petition demanding justice for George Floyd.

Governor Newsom, you claim to see the inhumanity. You said “[we] should and [we] must” condemn systematic racism in your speech on May 29. You asked “all of us that want to express ourselves” to “do so thoughtfully and gently, but forcefully.” The Monterrosa sisters and the other 15 nonviolent protesters have complied with this request. You again condemned the legacy of injustice on Sept. 30, claiming, “We are just getting started in this state” in terms of efforts to “improve oversight and accountability” in law enforcement. As we approach the six-month mark since Sean Monterrosa was killed, the Monterrosa family and their growing numbers of supporters in California and beyond feel heightened urgency for accountability. Drop the charges against the peaceful protesters and launch a formal investigation of Vallejo PD for the murder of Sean Monterrosa.

On Oct. 2, the Monterrosa family and their supporters brought to the Governor three clear, reasonable demands:

  • California Attorney General must appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the case and Vallejo PD.
  • Officer Jarrett Tonn must be charged and prosecuted for the murder of Sean Monterrosa.
  • Officers involved in the shooting and destruction of evidence must be prosecuted criminally.

Governor, you have resolved that California lead the nation. Now you face an opportunity to live up to this ambition. May the words you speak hold meaning.  

Maggie Harrison is a San Francisco parent and community college instructor. Alongside Ashley and Michelle Monterrosa and fourteen other nonviolent protesters demanding accountability for the Vallejo Police Officer who lethally shot Sean Monterrosa, as well as for those who obstructed the investigation, she was arrested on Oct. 2, 2020.